Thomas J. Story

We tasted our way through the West last year. Here are our top finds to add to your shopping list ASAP

Ellen Fort and Maya Wong  – February 25, 2020 | Updated March 29, 2020

All year long, Sunset editors have been on a mission to find the pantry items we can’t live without. In our quest for the best, we’ve tried hot sauces, seasoning blends, nut butters, dried pastas, ice creams, and salts. Additionally, we sampled a range of ingredients that reflect our ever-evolving, deliciously diverse culinary culture: spicy organic chili oil, full-flavored heirloom turmeric, and saucy Cuban beans. 

We went through weeks-long rounds of blind tastings to find the foods and drinks that weren’t only top-notch in taste, but made with a Western state of mind. Which is to say we were looking for products made with whole ingredients, produced sustainably, in small batches when possible, and that are foundational to everyday cooking. Enjoy this highly discerning (and super tasty) list of the products we have in our own pantry and constantly recommend to friends—and now, to our readers. 

Superior Snacks

Supreme Crunch Unlocked 

Barbara’s Cheese Puffs
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Barbara’s Cheese Puffs are truly the crunchiest specimen in the category, giving certain other cheese puffs with cheetah mascots a run for their money. Each bite is salty, cheesy, and healthier than average. $2

The Sweet Potato Cheese Puffs That Didn’t Even Last 10 Minutes in Our Office

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We are crunchy snack fiends here at Sunset, and these Cheesy Cheddar Sweet Potato Puffs from Spudsy didn’t even last 10 minutes—a testament to its crunchy snack power ranking. Each crunchy puff is made from rice flour, pea protein, sweet potato powder, and vegan cheddar seasoning, meaning it’s vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO certified. $14

The Ultimate Corn Chip

Have’a Corn Chips are California-made tortilla chips that are thick enough for heavy salsa or guacamole and uniquely salty thanks to a dash of soy sauce. $2

Grain-Free Tortilla Chips from a Mexican-American Family Brand

The tortilla chips from Mexican-American brand Siete are grain-free, but they’re also perfectly crunchy, full-flavored, and damn delicious. Every flavor—think straight-forward Sea Salt, tangy Lime, or the Tex-Mex inspired Nacho—is made with products like cassava flour, avocado oil, and ground chia seeds. $33/6 bags

Just-Enough-Butter Microwave Popcorn

Boomchickapop Popcorn
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

The magic of microwavable popcorn lies in its ability to master just the right amount of butter per serving and pop almost every kernel in each bag. Boomchickapop is truly the movie-night snack miracle. $3 

Snackable Salt and Vinegar Chips Made from…Beans?

Beanfields, a tortilla chip-like snack made from beans, gives you fiber, protein, potassium, and all that good stuff. But they aren’t chalky and don’t fall apart in your mouth like other virtuous snack foods. Our favorite so far is the Himalayan Salt & Vinegar. $20/6 bags

Conveniently-Shaped Rice Cakes for When You’re Feeling Snacky

Lundberg Family Farms, the California brand known for its disc-shaped rice cakes, expanded into convenient snack royalty with their new Organic Thin Snackers. Each flat square cracker—available in flavors like Lightly Salted Brown Rice and Basil & Thyme—measures about three inches long, and comes in packs of six for grab-and-go workday lunch ease. $21/6 bags

A Homegrown Snack

Sticky Rice Chips
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

After discovering the joys of toasted coconut from his mother’s recipe, Vincent Kitirattragarn launched a snack company. Sticky Rice Chips combine toasted organic rice, coconut milk, sesame seeds, and more. $48/12-pack

A Seaweed Snack That’s Nutty, Salty, and Sweet

Think of these savory-sweet gimMe Seaweed Thins as a smaller version of seaweed sheets but with seeds and nuts sprinkled on top. Each bag of this roasted organic seaweed gives you a nice boost of fiber and protein, and comes in flavors like Almond Sesame, Sriracha Almond, and Toasted Coconut. $45/12-pack

A Strong Case for Eating Dried Fruit with the Rind Intact 

We never put much thought into eating skin-on dried fruit until we tried Rind Snacks. This office-friendly snack is chewy and sweet in all the right ways, while also packing a nice-to-have dose of fiber and antioxidants. Choose from flavors like Orchard Blend (sweet persimmon, tart apple, and tangy peach) or Straw-Perry (red apple, Bosc pear, and strawberry). $18/3-pack

The Granola You’ll Devour in Less Than a Week

If you consider yourself somewhat knowledgeable in the world of supermarket granola, odds are you’ve heard of Purely Elizabeth (or had a breakfast-obsessed friend recommend the brand to you). The brand’s Vanilla Almond Butter flavor is made up of grain-free clusters and lightly sweetened with coconut sugar. Eat it with yogurt or by the handful—either way, it’s hard to resist. $7

Everyone Loves a Maui Onion Chip 

Hawaiian Brand Kettle Chips
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Sweet! Salty! Crunchy! These golden-hued kettle chips get their unmistakable flavor from sauteed onions and are the type of snack to be devoured in one seating. Trust us. $4 

The Cocoa-Dusted Snack That Made Cashews Our New Favorite Nut

Cashews never seemed like the most alluring nut (what can compete with buttery Brazil nuts?), but Karma Nuts changed our minds. The brand’s Cocoa Dusted Wrapped Cashews (a.k.a. skin-on cashews) are a crunchy, chocolatey, air-roasted treat that will leave you genuinely bummed when you reach for another handful and realize you already finished off the bag. $25/12 snack packs

The Crunchy Chickpeas That Transform Any Homemade Trail Mix

If you have a bag of almonds and cashews lying around your pantry, then you’re one ingredient away from having a simple (albeit, very satisfying) trail mix on your hands. All you need is a bag of Biena Chickpea Snacks in Barbeque to mix in. They’re tangy, sweet, spicy, and smoky, but if that’s not your thing, try the Honey Roasted or Rockin’ Ranch varieties. $18/4-pack

Colorado Makes Really, Really Good Hummus

Black garlic adds a satisfying caramelized, roasted flavor to Hope Foods’ Louisville, Colorado-crafted spread. Chickpeas, tahini, and olive oil have a new best friend. $4

Natural Cookie Bites from a Santa Barbara B-Corporation 

These Clean Cookie Bites from Santa Barbara-based Sun & Swell Foods give you the taste of some classic dessert flavors (cacao, lemon coconut, oatmeal cacao chip), but contain no preservatives, refined sugars, or syrups. The bite-sized balls are naturally sweetened with dates and are easy enough to pop in your mouth on the way to work, after a hike, or on a camping trip. $20/6 snack packs

Breads and Crackers

A Gluten-Free Sourdough

Bread Srsly Classic Sourdough
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Each loaf of Bread Srsly Classic Sourdough is made using traditional fermentation and rises for more than 12 hours. $58 for 2 XL loaves 

The Best Crackers in the Game

Whether you’re grabbing a bag of Classic Seed Crackers or Crunchy Cassava Crackers, Cult Crackers’ organic square-sized bites are made with ingredients like corn flour, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, cassava, and hemp seeds. Eat them with hummus or go the cheese route and serve them on a charcuterie board. $16/2-pack

The Platonic Ideal of Crackers 

Hayden Flour Mills' Semolina Crackers
Courtesy of Hayden Flour Mills

Courtesy of Hayden Flour Mills

Hayden Flour Mills’ semolina Mini Crackers are made with heritage wheat from small Arizona farms. They’re crispy and thick—the ideal plus-one for hummus or tapenade. $6

Local Meats

Spread Unlike Any Other

'Nduja from La Quercia
Courtesy of La Quercia

Courtesy of La Quercia

This ‘Nduja from La Quercia is a spicy spread composed of fully cured prosciutto and speck with red chile pepper, presented in a cheeseboard-appropriate four-ounce tube. $7 

Every Charcuterie Board Should Start with This Salame

Journeyman Meat Co.’s Sonoma Bianco is an Italian-style dry salame that delivers on the most satisfying part of cured meat: a moist, chewy texture with fat that lingers in the mouth. Chardonnay, rosemary, and sage make this Healdsburg-made sausage a standout on a cheese plate or on its own. $15

A Salame Snack for Every Occasion 

For when that charcuterie craving hits and there’s no wine bar in sight, the little pepperettes in an Olympia Provisions’ Pepperette Sample Pack are both adorable and delicious. They come packed into a small, rectangular cardboard box that fits into a pocket so you can bring a spicy, meaty snack to any location. $7

The Best Bacon out There

Thick bacon like this one from Berkeley-based The Baconer isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s responsibly sourced from pork belly, handmade in small batches, and comes in either maple sugar or smoky paprika flavor. $68/4-pack

Kick the Tin to the Curb

Spanish Anchovy Fillets
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Ortiz’s salty jarred Spanish anchovy fillets win points for texture (meaty, no bones), flavor (oh-so-much umami), and practicality (seal the cap and throw it back in the fridge). $13

Smoked Salmon on-the-Go 

Patagonia Provisions Wild-Caught Salmon
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Patagonia Provisions’ wild-caught salmon is presented in shelf-stable pouches, ready to top salads or grain bowls at a moment’s notice. $14

Tasty Veggie and Vegan Options

The No-Meat Jerky That Pleasantly Surprised Us 

Mushroom Jerky
Courtesy of Pan’s

Courtesy of Pan’s

This applewood barbecue-flavored Mushroom Jerky won us over with a chewy, meaty texture and extra umami. $9

A Veggie Burger That Beats the Rest 

Hodo’s toothsome burgers are nutty and packed with umami from organic vegetables and shiitake mushrooms. The texture—truly the key to a good veggie burger—is springy and lends itself to any application, from a traditional burger to patty melts or salad toppings. $6

Creamy, Chive-Filled Cheese

Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Cheese
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Miyoko’s Creamery “cheese”—made from cashews, coconut oil, chives, rice miso, and nutritional yeast—has a buttery texture that’s great on sandwiches, crackers, and apple slices. Adding a round to your cheeseboard will please the whole crowd. $10

The Tastiest, Most Convenient Ready-to-Eat Foods

Amy’s Kitchen Makes the Best Lazy Dinners Ever

Amy’s Kitchen’s Pesto Tortellini Bowl
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Frozen dinners, as nostalgic as they may be, can be tricky to prepare; too long in the microwave and it’s game over. Amy’s Kitchen’s Pesto Tortellini Bowl is made with organic wheat-flour tortellini that’s stuffed with ricotta cheese for a satisfying bite that won’t get gummy or overcooked. You’ll use your last tortellini to scoop up every bit of the cheesy, herby pesto. $6

You’ll Want to Eat These on the Trail

These dehydrated meals aren’t just convenient—they’re actually delicious. From beef stroganoff to curries, there are options for everyone. Check out a variety of dessert options from mango sticky rice to dark chocolate cheesecake. $6-11

Always Keep One of These Instant Oatmeals at the Office

This isn’t your overly sweet, artificial 60-second oatmeal. Mylk Labs’ oatmeal cups are hearty, non-GMO certified, and naturally sweetened without refined sugar. Try the Roasted Almond and Himalayan Pink Salt for a subtly sweet, slightly salty combination using California almonds and organic coconut sugar, or the Toasted Coconut and Cassia Cinnamon for a crunch of unsweetened toasted coconut shreds that are perfectly crispy and golden brown. $20/6-pack

Your Everyday Roe 

Tsar Nicolai’s Golden Pearl Trout Roe
Courtesy of Tsar Nicolai

Courtesy of Tsar Nicolai

There’s no wrong answer when it comes to how to use Tsar Nicolai’s Golden Pearl Trout Roe. The bright orange pearls pop in the mouth for a pleasant, clean taste of the sea. Top almost anything with it, from soups to toasts to salads, or eat it on its own with salty potato chips and crème fraîche. $25

Tart, Creamy Cottage Cheese Makes a Comeback

Cottage cheese isn’t the sexiest dairy product on the market, but it’s long been one of the sturdiest vessels for topping with fruit, used as the base of creamy dips, and in baking. Now Cowgirl Creamery’s iconic cottage cheese, which features curds from organic milk that are dressed in crème fraîche, is back on shelves around the West Coast, bringing fans the very best version of an underappreciated cheese. $50/case of 12

Cozy Bone Broth Without the Hours-Long Wait

Homemade bone broth is amazing, there’s no denying that, but we don’t all have hours to let a pot of chicken bones, water, herbs, and spices simmer to perfection. This shiitake, sage, and shallot broth from FOND is full-flavored and still gives you the cozy homemade soup feeling of wearing your favorite cable-knit sweater without an hours-long wait. $96/12 jars

Premade Hard Boiled Eggs You’ll Actually Be Excited to Eat

Pre-Cooked Free-Range Eggs from Peckish
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

You’d never know these jammy eggs topped with crispy quinoa came from a box. But this on-the-go snack delivers quality food in a pinch. Perfectly pre-cooked free-range eggs from Peckish are paired with punchy seasonings like Everything Bagel, Salt & Pepitas, and Chili-Lime Rancheros. By subscription; from $55/month

A Texturally Awesome Cornmeal Crust for the Pickiest Pizza Eaters

Budding Bay Area pizzaiolos can use Vicolo Pizza’s cornmeal pizza crust as a blank slate. It’s a weeknight dinner savior you should always keep on hand for when the pizza cravings strike. $6/2 crusts

Just Like Your Favorite Slice-House Pizza, but Grain-Free

Cappello’s gluten-free almond flour crust Italian pies will convert store-bought pizza naysayers nationwide. Topping options like Sheep’s Milk, Uncured Pepperoni, and Italian Sausage with Roasted Peppers let you know you’re in the new era of thin-crust dinners. $12

Healthy Bars We Can Get Behind

Our Favorite on-the-Go Bar for the Perpetually Late Person 

Organic blue agave, sliced almonds, raisins, coconut flakes, and chia seeds mingle with rolled oats for a soft-baked cookie-like consistency. Each toasty bar is made in New Mexico. $26/box of 12

The Bar Made for Chocolate Lovers

Sweet but not too sweet, these HEYFRIDA Dark Chocolate, Coconut, and Collagen “energy” bars are said to hydrate skin, increase elasticity, and promote new collagen production. But besides that, they just taste really good. They’re fudgy and chewy, and are the ideal size for throwing in your bag on your way out the door. $24/8 bars

A Green Smoothie in Energy Bar Form

Meet the public transit-friendly option of a healthy green smoothie: OHi Superfood Bar in Super Green. The gluten-free snack gets its deep green color from vitamin-rich spirulina and chlorella (a favorite algae in the wellness world) and isn’t just a clump of dessert-like mush disguised as nourishment. You can actually see whole almonds, as well as pumpkin, hemp, and chia seeds. $25/box of 8

The Best Oils out There Right Now

Freshly Squeezed

Séka Hills Olive Oil
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Séka Hills’ oil is bottled directly after milling to preserve freshness. Use it up within a few months of the harvest date while it’s still fresh, bright, and bold. From $12  

Joshua Tree’s Most Recognized Olive Oil

You don’t have to pay a visit to Joshua Tree’s beloved Wonder Valley Oil Shop to get a taste of their signature oil (although the renovated gas-station shop is worth a trip on its own). The harvest blend is bright and herby with a slight hint of pepper. $34

The Kitchen Staple

You’re in good hands with anything from Chico’s California Olive Ranch, particularly its Everyday Oil. $14

The Trendsetter

Brightland Olive Oil
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

L.A.-based Brightland makes smooth, nutty, extra-virgin oil produced from hand-picked heirloom olives sourced from a single-estate California farm. $37

An Olive-Oil Subscription That We Wish We Had Known About Sooner

The subscription-based model of Fat Gold means you get a glossy tin of this California olive oil four times a year. Each shipment includes a quarterly zine by owners Kathryn Tomajan and Robin Sloan with ideas about how to use their product. $169/year

The Non-Olive Oil 

La Tourangelle’s Hazelnut Oil
Courtesy of La Tourangelle

Courtesy of La Tourangelle

The delicate flavor La Tourangelle’s Hazelnut Oil is fantastic for cooking or drizzling, bringing a rich, nutty flavor to whatever it touches, even standing in for canola oil in baked goods. $15

The Seasonings Worth a Space in Your Pantry

Add Sunshine to Every Dish

Salt-Preserved Lemons
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Salt-preserved lemons are a great way to add briny, bright acidity to any dish. Chop them finely for salad dressings, garnish soup, or serve slices alongside rich meats. $12

Japanese Furikake to Sprinkle on Everything

This Japanese topping consists of dried chopped seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, salt, ground shiso leaf, and sometimes salmon flakes, dried egg, or wasabi. You can put this Nori Fume Furikake Rice Seasoning on plain rice or eggs, or do the most California thing ever and sprinkle it on avocado toast. $6

Everything Tastes Better with Tajin

Cucumber spears on their own are just fine, but they’re infinitely tastier with a sprinkle of Tajin Clasico Seasoning, a Mexican-made seasoning that adds a mouthwatering, puckering savory lime zest ending with a mild heat. It’s hard to go back to plain veggies afterwards. $4

Taste Real Turmeric for the First Time 

Freshly harvested, single-origin turmeric is the name of the game from Diaspora Co. Owner Sana Javeri Kadri works with farmers in India to bring the best product to the United States, showcasing the true earthy nature of what’s become one of the spices of the moment. $12 for 2.47 oz.

Your Go-to Miso for an Extra Dose of Umami

Miso should always be in your fridge. Specifically, Miso Master’s Organic Mellow White Miso, which we like to add to salad dressing, soup bases, or vegetables for a salty, earthy, umami-fied upgrade. From $6

The OG California Seasoning 

Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Bragg’s salty, fluffy flakes are the nutritional-yeast original. The cheese-y flavor is ideal for anything that is improved by salt, from popcorn to dressings, dips, roasted vegetables, and more. $9

Nutritional Yeast Gets a Flavor-Packed Upgrade

New nutritional yeast line WonderDust has a fine, delicate texture that’s ideal for popcorn (or toast, or salad, or vegetables—the list goes on) and comes in a variety of fun flavors. Choose Spicy (a Togarashi-style spice blend with chile and black sesame) for a bit of heat or Original (flavored with miso and tamari) to keep it classic. From $6

The One True Truffle Salt 

Balinese Salt Infused with White Truffles
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Chef alums of the French Laundry started Truffle Shuffle on a quest to create the world’s best truffle salt. They’ve succeeded by sourcing crunchy Balinese salt infused with white truffles for a fragrant, umami addition to any dish. $20

A Taste of Oregon’s Coast

Jacobsen Salt’s large flakes of crunchy salt harvested from the Oregon coast are ideal for use in cooking or as a textured finishing salt. $13

The Salt That Makes Garlic Breath Totally Worth It

If you like Jacobsen’s finishing salt, try their Infused Black Garlic Salt on roasted fish or root vegetables to add a caramelized garlic flavor. Keep it in your cabinet for personal use or break it out at your next dinner party for a garlicky conversation starter. $12

The Trader Joe’s Essential

Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

If you buy one thing from this cult-favorite supermarket, make it a bottle of Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend featuring sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea-salt flakes, dried garlic, and dried onions. The blend goes well with anything from farro to roast chicken. $7

A Salt Forged in San Francisco

Omnivore Salt creator Angelo Garro is a longtime blacksmith, forager, and chef—this salt is just as ambitious. Use the fennel and chile-spiked salt as an elemental rub for grilling and roasting or as a foundation for sauces, soups, and dressings. It adds just enough flavor for complete versatility while perfectly seasoning any dish. $10

The Flaky Salt Used by Copenhagen Chefs

SALTVERK, a sustainable, hand-harvested salt from Iceland, is a favorite among Copenhagen chefs like Christian Puglisi (Relæ and Bæst), David Zilber (head of fermentation at NOMA), and Richard Hart (formerly of San Francisco’s Tartine, now CPH’s Hart Bageri). Beloved for its distinct umami flavor, the flaky salt is hand-harvested from the seawater of Iceland’s remote Westfjords and made using a long-forgotten 17th-century process that is powered by 100% geothermal energy. $11

The Absolutely Necessary Sauces, Jams, and Condiments

A New Favorite Salsa

Papalote Original House Salsa
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Smoky, tangy, and creamier than your average salsa, Papalote Original House Salsa has a perfect mid-level heat that slowly builds after a few seconds. $7

Chefs’ Secret Weapon 

Red Boat’s barrel-aged fish sauce made from fermented wild-caught black anchovies and sea salt is a staple for chefs like Momofuku’s David Chang. It packs a sweet, salty, fishy, funky punch. $13 for 2

Actually the Best Jarred Pasta Sauce We’ve Tasted 

Sweet Italian plum tomatoes make the base of this Marinara Sauce from Rao’s Homemade, the jarred sauce that rivals homemade (yes, really). Keep it smooth and plain on its own, or make it your own by adding Italian sausage, caramelized shallots, or a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. From $6

A Sweet-Spicy Hot Sauce to Drizzle on Tacos and Eggs

This Blue Agave Sriracha from Yellowbird has layers to it. Red chiles, garlic, and organic blue agave go a long way to make this a welcome addition to anything from tacos to fried eggs. Drizzle it on its own or mix it into mayonnaise for an easy spicy mayo. $11

An All-Natural Sweetener Made from Dates 

Just Dates Syrup
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Organic California medjool dates give Just Dates’ single-ingredient sweetener a silky texture with notes of caramel and molasses. Plus you get all the nutritional benefits of the whole, natural fruit (low glycemic index, high levels of antioxidants). $8

Small Batch Preserves Done Right

Berkeley-based jam maker June Taylor Jams sources fruit from local, Northern California farmers for her traditionally made fruit jams, conserves, and preserves. Flavors like blood orange, lemon verbena, and Royal Blenheim Apricot and Ume Plum make the products stand out. From $18

If You Love Stone Fruit, You Need This Jam

The intensely fruity Plum and Get It Jam from Bay Area-based Jamnation uses Flavor King pluots from a family-run organic orchard near Chico, California to get its rich, sweet stone-fruit taste. The hybrid of 70 percent plum and 30 percent apricots gives this red-hued colored jam a balanced, honeyed fruit taste with slightly tart skins to balance it out. $14

Why Aren’t You Spreading This on Your Toast? 

Coconut Jam
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Also known as srikaya, coconut jam is a breakfast staple of Southeast Asia, usually thickly spread upon a slice of buttered toast. Hey Boo’s thick, sweet version tastes pleasantly of coconut and mango, with a rich, eggy flavor. Spread it on whatever suits your fancy, from toast to cake to biscuits. $12

The Fruitiest Local Honey Is from Hawaii

Rare Hawaiian Honey Company mixes passionfruit purée into honey from Puako for a thick, creamy consistency. We like it with Greek yogurt or hard cheeses. $18 for 8 oz.

It’s Classic for a Reason 

The ingredients are minimal in Huy Fong Foods’ signature Sambal Oelek condiment: fresh ground chilis. No additional garlic or spices means you get a condensed, straightforward spice to use on noodles and stir-fries. $3   

Survey Says: You Can Put This Spicy Condiment on Everything 

Fly by Jing Chili Crisp
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

A superb chili crisp isn’t just spicy. It’s nutty, unexpected, and deeply flavorful with texture and crunch. Fly by Jing founder Jenny Gao’s chili crisp uses classic Sichuan erjingtao chiles, rare tribute peppercorns, and cold-pressed organic rapeseed oil for a nutty, bright, tongue-tingling sensation that’s not off-the-charts spicy. $15 

Mayonnaise Made with Avocado Oil

We’re just going to say it: Burgers taste better with mayo. All you really need is a humble layer of the condiment on a lightly toasted bun, like this healthy-ish one from Better Body Foods made from cage-free eggs and avocado oil instead of the usual canola oil. $11

Nut Butters and Other Spreads

Classic Peanut Butter Done Right 

Justin's Classic Peanut Butter
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Almond and cashew butter are fine but peanut butter is still king. Justin’s is smooth and spreadable, but it’s also about what it’s not: crumbly, gritty, or wildly oily. $5

The Natural, Vegan Option for Peanut Butter Purists

Keep it simple and stop at MaraNatha’s Organic Creamy Peanut Butter. Ideal for PB&J sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, and homemade peanut sauce, this classic is adored for good reason. $7

The Pastry Chef-Approved Cookie Butter 

According to Belinda Leong, owner of James Beard Award-winning bakery b. Patisserie, Trader Joe’s popular Speculoos Cookie Butter is a winner. “Speculoos is like an Alsatian (northeastern French) ginger snap. I spread it on bread, croissants, and cookies. I especially use it during the holidays to make b. Patisserie’s apple Speculoos cookie butter almond croissants,” Leong says. $11

The Organic Tahini You’ve Probably Seen All over Instagram

Made from ground sesame seeds and sourced from Humeria in Ethiopia, Seed + Mill’s now-classic tahini is vegan, gluten free, organic, and kosher. Seeds are roasted at precise temperatures to lock in the natural toasted, nutty flavor, making this spread the ideal addition to smoothies, baked goods, and any piece of toast that needs extra flavor. $10

Coziness in a Jar

PB Love Co Almond Butter
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Almond butter out of a daydream. PB Love Co’s product melts in your mouth with a bright sweetness and a spicy cinnamon bite. $12 

Better Butter 

At 85 percent butterfat content, Straus’s rich California-made European-style butter has a high smoke point and a just-salty-enough taste, and is ideal for everything from searing meat to cooking pancakes. $9

Pasta, Beans, Rice, and Grains

The Pasta Your Sauce Craves

Semolina Rigatoni
Courtesy of Semolina Artisanal Pasta

Thomas J. Story

Los Angeles-based Semolina brings the texture and flavor of handmade pasta to the mainstream. It’s organic, slow-dried, and bronze-die extruded, making it an ideal sauce vehicle with a dense chew. $8

Pasta for the Gluten-Averse

Banza Bowties are the exception to often gluey, gluten-free pastas. With fewer carbs and way more protein than wheat pasta, these chickpea noodles are a week-night dinner savior. $25/6 boxes

Gluten-Free Tortellini That Doesn’t Fall Apart in Boiling Water

Taste Republic’s Gluten-Free Four Cheese Tortelloni holds together amazingly well, has a luscious chew, and by some magic of its fabrication doesn’t fall apart in the water like other gluten-esque brands. Plus the ricotta, asiago, mozzarella, and parmesan blend is just the right balance of sweet, salty, and a little bit earthy. $50/6-pack

We Can’t Stop Slurping These Bouncy, Chewy Ramen Noodles 

These fresh yellow-hued noodles from the Oakland-based Asian comfort foods company Nona Lim are the foundation of an easy weeknight meal. Give them a quick boil, top with one of their savory broths (miso, spicy chicken), and whatever protein you have on hand. $30/6-pack

Instant Ramen for Noodle Nerds

Sun Ramen
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Sun is the brand ramen shops across the country depend on for springy, tender noodles. Home chefs can buy them with a handy broth flavoring packet for an instant bowl of comfort without the effort. $8

Give Dried Ramen an Upgrade with Forbidden Rice Noodles 

These long, dark noodles from Lotus Foods are made from heirloom black rice, along with white and brown rice flour instead of wheat. Since the noodles come dried, you can store them in your pantry for an in-the-moment ramen fest. $2

Oregon-Made Noodles Made for Rainy PNW Weather

Oregon-based Umi Organic’s newest noodle kit includes fresh, organic ramen noodles with a miso sesame sauce kit you can eat hot or chilled. The entire kit only takes two minutes to cook, and is exactly the kind of meal you want to eat when it’s dreary and wet outside. $8

Bag of Beans 

A Dozen Cousins’s bagged version of Cuban black beans is our kind of convenience food: the beans come pre-seasoned and pre-cooked and taste garlicky and indulgent. $25/6-pack 

Leveled-up Legumes 

Rancho Gordo has the freshest beans in the business. Luscious heirloom varietals like scarlet runner and black-and-white-spotted vaqueros are grown throughout the West in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. From $6

The Optimal Almond Flour for French Pastries and Gluten-Free Pancakes 

Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Bob’s Red Mill blanches and grinds California-grown almonds into a fine meal that gives you a nutty flavor and moist texture at the same time. This isn’t just for gluten-free baked goods—quality almond flour is key for making traditional French macarons and financiers. $13 

The Holy Grail of California Rice 

In the canon of California rice, Koda Farms is tops. Since 1928, this Japanese-American family has been farming rice in California’s Central Valley, providing mochiko rice flour and sweet sho-chiku-bai grains beloved by chefs. From $8

Pantry Staples

A Chef’s Tomatoes

Bianco Di Napoli Tomatoes
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Arizona pizzaiolo Chris Bianco teamed up with third-generation canner Rob Di Napoli to can organic plum tomatoes from Yolo County, CA. The meaty, sweet tomatoes are the ideal base for pizza and pasta sauce. $45/6-pack of 28-oz. cans

The Classic Deli-Style Pickles You Should Always Have in Your Fridge

The Mother’s Puckers pickles from Santa Barbara-based Pacific Pickle Works are everything you want in a fermented cucumber. They’re garlicky, sour, crunchy, tart, and kept as simple as possible. The ingredient list is short, the size is satisfyingly large (half-sliced!), and there’s no added sugar. $9

The Do-It-All Chocolate Chip for Baking (and Snacking) 

Guittard's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Too often, store-bought chocolate chips are bland and chalky. Guittard’s semi-sweet chips are a lovely exception, with 46 percent cacao and a subtle vanilla kick to them. Also ideal for nibbling while the oven preheats. $5

Pancake Mix That’s Just as Good as Homemade Batter

While people who make homemade batter swear they’ll never go back to store-bought mix, Old School Mill challenges them with a minimalist mix of flours that yields the fluffy old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes we all crave. $6

Top-of-the-Line Drinks and Beverages

A-Plus Whole Milk for Dairy Purists

Straus Family Creamery Organic Cream-Top Whole Milk
Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Straus Family Creamery Organic Cream-Top Whole Milk is straightforward, and that’s what makes it a classic. The farm’s pasteurized milk is known for its traditional “cream on top” look (don’t worry, just shake to emulsify before opening), and works for creamy pasta sauces or drinking a glass on its own. $3/quart

Everyday Milk for Discerning Dairy Drinkers

Clover has been a staple in the Bay Area and beyond for many years, working with 29 different dairy farmers in Northern California to source pristine milk from sustainably raised cows. $4/half-gallon

Baristas Love This Oat Milk, and So Do We

Oatly Barista Oat Milk
Courtesy of Oatly

Courtesy of Oatly

Modern coffee shops love this non-dairy milk for its foaming abilities, but it’s not just reserved for tattoo-clad baristas. Swedish brand Oatly’s now-signature version is mildly sweet and thick enough to enrich coffee the way whole milk does. $25/six quarts  

An Almond Milk We Can All Agree On

We’re no strangers to the joys of almond milk. Actually, we’re the opposite. We tested lots, and found many that were too thin, too sweet, or unnecessarily complicated. Three Trees keeps it simple with two ingredients: filtered water and organic almonds. $7 

A Flavored Milk for Grown-Ups 

Alexandre Family Farm's Caramel Milk
Courtesy of Alexandre Family Farm

Courtesy of Alexandre Family Farm

Skip boring old chocolate milk in favor of Alexandre Family Farm’s Caramel Milk. It’s like drinking a crème brûlée straight from the bottle, in the very best way. $3

Ice Cream of the West

The Most Californian Cone

Thomas J. Story

Thomas J. Story

Central Coast milk and cream get infused with tangy lemons from Eureka, CA, before swirls of sweet marionberry preserves from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are added. It’s a combination that sets the Santa Barbara brand’s supremely Western flavor Eureka Lemon & Marionberries apart from the pack. $12/pint

Vegan Ice Cream for the Most Discerning Ice Cream Snobs

Seattle-based Frankie & Jo’s makes plant-based ice cream that somehow nails the supreme creaminess of traditional scoops. This cashew and coconut milk-based flavor includes swirls of rich chocolate sauce and chunks of almond flour tahini cookie dough. $56/four pints