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A Bay Area Guide to Cold Dishes for Hot Weather

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An abundant platter of fillings for make-your-own Vietnamese spring rolls, with shrimp, beef, fried egg rolls and more.
Tigon's make-your-own-spring-roll spread makes for a fun and refreshing communal dining experience. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Find more of KQED’s picks for the best fall 2023 events here.

Heading into fall, there are certain fundamental truths every Bay Arean knows: that summer here is (mostly) a lie. That September tomatoes are sacrosanct. And that the hottest damned day of the year often falls on some random weekday in October. This is the season of not lighting our stoves, when mostly all we want to do is drink aguas frescas inside an air-conditioned room.

Thankfully, our local food scene is well prepared for this seasonal scorching. Here are 10 of my favorite dishes to beat the heat.

A plate of cold soba with dipping sauce and a side of tempura.
Slurping cold, slippery soba on a hot day is an A+ sensory experience. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Cold Soba at Soba Ichi

2311A Magnolia St., Oakland

Hot days were simply made for cold noodles — or is it the other way around? Either way, it’s hard for me to separate the two, and the few times a year when Bay Area temperatures edge toward triple digits, I start thinking about heading to West Oakland’s Soba Ichi for a plate of soba. The restaurant serves these traditional buckwheat noodles a number of ways, of course, but my favorite is when the noodles are served cold with a dashi-based dipping sauce. Slurping those cold, slippery noodles while the sweat drips down your face: That’s an A+ sensory experience right there. An ice-cold lemon chu-hi also doesn’t hurt.

An elegantly plated Peruvian cebiche: raw fish topped with a crinkled piece of fried trout skin, with trout roe and assorted seaweeds arranged on the plate.
The trout cebiche is notable for its undercurrent of briny ocean umami. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Cebiche at Pucquio

5337 College Ave., Oakland


On a sweltering hot day, sometimes the only thing I want to eat is chilled seafood — say, a simple poke bowl or a classic, caper-studded “Sicilian sashimi” from Swan Oyster Depot (if I didn’t have to wait in line for two hours). For me, the apex of this genre can be found at Pucquio, an often-slept-on Peruvian joint where every cebiche on the menu is a stone cold killer. You’ll want to get a couple of them to share: The classic cebiche de pescado (made with rockfish during my recent visit) is bright and bracing, super-charged with a zip of citrusy ají limo chile heat. My favorite, though, is the comparatively mellow trout cebiche, which comes topped with crispy trout skin, as well as marinated trout roe that adds an undercurrent of briny ocean umami. Eat with a spoon so you can get a bit of each component in every bite.

A spread of Vietnamese spring roll fillings next to a plate covered with lettuce and herbs.
Fresh herbs and vegetables keep Tigon’s bánh hỏi light and refreshing. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Bánh Hỏi Dặc Biệt at Tigon

10086 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito

You might already know that fresh spring rolls are a Vietnamese hot-weather staple — something about the combination of pliable rice paper wrapping, crisp lettuce, fresh herbs and, often, cold meat or shrimp that makes for such a refreshing bite. The bánh hỏi đặc biệt platter at El Cerrito’s criminally underrated Tigon takes this general principle and kicks it up eight or nine notches. The base of the platter is the tidy little rice noodle bundles known as bánh hỏi, on top of which the chef has arranged a huge spread of beef, chicken, shrimp, crispy egg rolls and fried bean curd. You dip a round of rice paper in warm water; arrange your meats, noodles and fresh herbs and vegetables on top; and voilà — a make-your-own spring roll party that’s festive and communal, without anyone having to break a sweat. Note well: The $38.50 đặc biệt platter is probably enough food to feed a family of four, but there’s also an option to pick just one or two proteins if you come in a smaller group.

Hand holding a white plastic takeout container of saucy meat skewers arranged over a bed of white rice.
Daly City’s Fil-Am Cuisine offers exquisite summer barbecue vibes all year round. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

BBQ Skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine

66 School St., Daly City

Every time I step inside this Daly City meat stick institution, the smell of a summer barbecue hits me like a tidal wave of nostalgia. Fil-Am Cuisine boasts the same kind of sweet, charred meat and friendly Asian aunties that I associate with family get-togethers from when I was a kid. Even the prices seem like they’ve been time-warped from the early ’90s. Connoisseurs of crispy, carbonized edges, this is your spot. And whether you walk away with a fistful of skewered chicken or pork (why not both?), you can’t go wrong. Cash only.

An Ethiopian veggie combo: six colorful spreads dolloped on an injera-lined metal plate.
The cool, garlicky buticha — the scrambled egg–like dip in the front-left quadrant — is part of what makes Messob’s veggie combo one of the best around. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Buticha at Messob

4301 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

My friend and former KQED food writer Ruth Gebreyesus first turned me on to the buticha at Messob. This easy-to-miss slip of an Ethiopian restaurant serves what might be my favorite veggie combo in the Bay — especially the iteration that comes with a scoop of cool, refreshing buticha. At lesser restaurants, this cold chickpea flour dip often resembles an onion-y hummus, or a bland egg salad of sorts. Messob’s buticha is more flavorful by several orders of magnitude, with a texture akin to soft-scrambled eggs and a garlicky punch that had me dipping my injera back into it again and again.

Some Like It Harra at Reem’s

2901 Mission St., San Francisco

There’s something uniquely pleasing about scooping up a cool dip or spread with a hunk of warm, fresh bread. In some ways, that’s the whole organizing principle around Reem’s, an Arab bakery where the hot pita alone is worth the trip to the Mission. One of my favorite ways to eat it is with labneh, a strained yogurt dish that’s a classic hot-weather treat in much of the Arab world. For her “Some Like It Harra,” chef Reem Assil spices up the labneh with garlic chile morita oil, toasted sesame seeds and a jammy soft-boiled egg. Perfect for pita dunking. (Note: Reem’s Mission location is temporarily closed and is expected to reopen after Labor Day weekend. Its smaller kiosk in the Ferry Building remains open.)

A Burmese tea leaf salad, premixing, with piles of various seeds and nuts arranged on the plate.
Mandalay’s fermented tea leaf salad is probably the most flavorful version in San Francisco. (Courtesy of Mandalay/Facebook)

Tea Leaf Salad at Mandalay

4348 California St., San Francisco

If you tell me it’s so hot that you just want to eat salad for dinner, I’ll take that to mean we should go out for Burmese food. After all, Burmese tea leaf salads are one of the jewels of the Bay Area’s immigrant food scene. My favorite is Mandalay’s extra-pungent version, which isn’t cut with any lettuce — just cabbage, a huge dollop of fermented tea leaves, lime, shrimp powder and an assortment of nuts, seeds and other crunchy-toasty things. Forget your boring tossed salads: Here’s a salad that manages to be refreshing, nutritious and righteously funky.

A bowl of cold ramen noodles topped with grilled pork belly and a halved soft-boiled egg, with dipping broth served in a separate small bowl on the side.
For many ramen aficionados, tsukemen is the preferred choice for muggy days when you don’t want to drink a steaming-hot bowl of soup. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Tsukemen at Shugetsu

2944 S. Norfolk St., San Mateo

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “too hot for ramen,” but if I’m sweating even before I sit down at the noodle counter, I’ll look to see if the menu includes tsukemen, or dipping noodles. Just like the best tsukemen shops in Tokyo, Shugetsu lets you have whatever size bowl of thick, house-made noodles you want (regular, large or XL) for the same price, with the option to request them cold, as is traditional — both for cooling-off purposes and so that the noodles maintain their springy texture. The idea with tsukemen is to dip the noodles into a super-concentrated broth, too salty and intense to drink on its own, coating each bite with the perfect amount of flavor and fat. This is where Shugetsu shines: The rich, tangy dipping broth, blasted with dried-scallop umami, is simply fantastic. Pro tip: When you’ve slurped up your last noodle, ask the server for the “soup-wari,” a kettle of plain chicken soup that they pour into your remaining dipping broth — diluting it just enough so you can drink it like a normal, if uncommonly tasty, soup.

The cross section of a tuna salad sandwich made with thick slices of milkbread.
The conbini-style tuna salad sandwich features Kewpie-style mayonnaise and thick, bouncy milkbread. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Konbini Tuna Salad Sandwich at Ok’s Deli

3932 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

Deli sandwich weather means a short break from our usual programming of cheesesteaks and hot pastrami: It’s cold cut weather. Egg salad weather. At Oakland’s newish Ok’s Deli, most of the sandwiches have some Asian American twist — and just about every one of them is a certified hit. Lately, I’ve been especially enamored with the deli’s take on a tuna salad sandwich, which takes all of the classic elements — line-caught tuna; pickles, onion and celery chopped super-fine; and lots and lots of mayo — and Asia-fies them ever so slightly through the lens of Japan’s incredible convenience store sandwiches. So, the house mayo is Kewpie-adjacent. The bread is Ok’s delightfully bouncy house-made milk bread. And the sandwich, as a whole? Refreshing as a cool blast of convenience store AC.

A steaming vessel of chicken ginseng soup with a whole cornish hen.
‘Fight fire with fire’ with BN Chicken’s soul-replenishing samgyetang. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Samgyetang at BN Chicken

2725 El Camino Real, Santa Clara


For those who like to zig when everyone else is zagging, consider that in Korea, it’s customary to eat samgyetang — a bubbling-hot chicken and ginseng soup — on the very hottest days of the year. The idea is that causing yourself to sweat more actually cools you down; meanwhile, the medicinal properties of the soup’s ginseng, garlic and dried jujubes help refill your stamina bar. It’s “fighting fire with fire,” as Koreans are fond of saying. And there’s no better place to do it than at Santa Clara’s BN Chicken, an entire restaurant dedicated to the steamy, soul-replenishing pleasures of samgyetang. The soup comes in a stone bowl, which keeps things boiling-hot for the duration of your meal. Rip into the whole Cornish hen to dig into the glutinous rice and aromatics stuffed inside, and dip chunks of the tender meat in salt as you go. And if the hot soup approach isn’t working for you? Not to worry: BN Chicken also serves a top-notch version of the bracingly vinegary, ice-cold noodle soup known as naengmyeon.

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