Dandelion Chocolate's nibby horchata. (Eric Wolfinger)

7 Best Horchatas in the Bay Area (+ Recipes!)

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You may have noticed that plant-based milks are insanely popular right now. Hemp, macadamia, oat, hazelnut, flax, coconut, cashew, walnut, and even pea milk are sprouting like spring flowers in the grocery aisles. But before you abandon tradition, you should know about this old-school milk alternative that's making a splash around town.

Horchata—that suspiciously brown-tinted rice milk ladled from a plastic barrel in your local taqueria—is getting a makeover at Bay Area restaurants and bakeries.


Although most of us think of it as a Mexican beverage, horchata actually originated in Valencia, Spain, where it was made from barley. Everywhere horchata lands, locals tweak the recipe with their own particular flourishes. The Moors added almonds and tiger nuts, which are a kind of groundnut. In El Salvador horchata is made with morro seeds, while Venezuelans add sesame seeds and Puerto Ricans dose their horchata with coconut and, of course, rum.

In keeping with this tradition, Bay Area chefs and baristas are taking local liberties with the ancient libation. Here's a taste of horchata options available nearby, including three recipes you can make at home.

Chisme

(Courtesy of @chismesf)

Chicago Style

It may be hard to imagine what a Chicago-based restaurant could add to SF's well-established taco culture, but if you haven't tried Chisme Cantina's succulent pulled chicken or jackfruit tacos, cauliflower ceviche, or elote, pop in for a treat. Finish off your meal with their sumptuous coconut horchata. // 882 Sutter St, (TenderNob), chismesf.com

Nopalito

(Eva Kolenko, Ten Speed Press)

Organic + Seasonal

Nopalito uses brown rice to add richness to both their almond and seasonal strawberry-almond horchatas. As with all of their offerings, Nopalito sources local, sustainable, organic ingredients where possible. // 1224 9th Ave (Inner Sunset); 306 Broderick St (Lower Haight), nopalitosf.com

Make it at Home

Nopalito incorporates almonds for a nutty flavor, and uses agave nectar instead of sugar since it blends more easily. The nuts make for a richer consistency than you'd find in a typical agua fresca, somewhere between a glass of milk and a smoothie.

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups cooked long-grain brown rice, preferably organic

1 cup raw almonds

¾ cup plus two tablespoons agave nectar

¼ teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

Oaxaca-Style Horchata

1 cup cleaned and stemmed strawberries

½ cup agave nectar

1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Horchata (preceding recipe)

Directions:

Pour 3 cups water into the bowl of the blender or large mixing bowl and add the brown rice, almonds, agave nectar, and cinnamon. Let soak overnight. Blend in a high powered blender until smooth, then mix with an additional 6 cups water. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Serve over ice.

Oaxacan-Style Horchata

In a blender, combine the strawberries, agave nectar, lime juice and salt; blend this syrup until smooth.

For each serving, fill up a 1 ounce glass with ice and fill three-quarters of the way with horchata. Pout two ounce Oaxacan-style syrup on top.


Reprinted with permission from Nopalito, copyright 2017 by Gonzalo Guzman. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Milkbomb

(Courtesy of Milkbomb)

Bomb-Ass Ice Cream

Somebody had to drop this and we're glad Milkbomb accepted the mission. Look for horchata ice cream on their exotic menu and pair it up with an eclectic barrage of toppings, cones, and pastries. // 1717 17th St (Potrero Hill), milkbombicecream.com

Dandelion Chocolate

(Eric Wolfinger)

Chocolate Lovers

Dandelion Chocolate's Lisa Vega infuses almonds, hazelnuts, and chocolate nibs into their rich nibby horchata. Pair it with a chocolate canelé. // 740 Valencia St. (Mission), dandelionchocolate

Make it at Home

Vega makes the Latin American non-dairy drink her own with the addition of cinnamon, roasted Camino Verde nibs, and hazelnuts for a thick, chocolatey, slightly nutty drink. Serve it over ice.

Ingredients:

½ cup uncooked long grain white rice

½ cup blanched almonds

½ cup blanched hazelnuts

¾ cup cocoa nibs

1 cinnamon stick

4 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 cup almond milk*

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds and hazelnuts in an even layer on a baking sheet. Toast nuts for 5-8 minutes, until golden.

In a large mixing bowl combine the rice, toasted almonds, toasted hazelnuts, nibs, and cinnamon stick.

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a pot to make a simple syrup. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour syrup over the nuts and rice in the bowl. Stir.

Using a blender, blend mixture on high speed until as smooth as possible and completely liquified (we use a Vitamix and blend on high speed for three minutes. If you have a regular blender, blend for at least 5 minutes). The cinnamon stick will soften in the liquid and does not need to be removed before blending.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer set over a pitcher. Strain out as much liquid as possible, pushing on the solids with a spatula or spoon. Discard the solids that remain in the strainer.

Blend the liquid again on high speed for about two more minutes, and strain again as described above.

Stir in the almond milk. Serve over ice. Horchata will keep in the refrigerator for one week.

* Dandelion uses Califia Original Almond Milk, but any unsweetened almond milk will work.

Reprinted with permission from Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S'more, copyright 2017 by Dandelion Chocolate, Inc. Published by Clarkson Potter /Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, A division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Boba Guys

Balls or Cubes with That?

With eight Bay Area locations, Boba Guys fills a horchata niche no one realized existed: optional tapioca balls or cubes of almond jelly or grass jelly. // Multiple Locations, bobaguys.com

Chica Oakland

(Courtesy of @randya817)

Down and Dirty

While the brunch menu at Oakland's Chica includes the expected cast members of chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, the stars of the show are the fried chicken torta, featuring chicken thighs marinated in chorizo spices, and the eggs Benedict-O, which uses housemade lemon bread as a base to support seasonal veggies, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. Their horchata is a traditional recipe; we like it "dirty" with a shot of espresso. // 303A Oakland Ave. (Oakland), chicaoakland.com

Make it at Home

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked long grain rice

4 tablespoons vanilla extract

6 cups cold water

2 cinnamon stick

1/4 cup piloncillo (unrefined Mexican sugar)

1/2 cup evaporated milk

White sugar to taste

Directions:

Place rice, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, 4 cups water, cinnamon, and piloncillo into a container and let sit overnight or until piloncillo is dissolved.

Pour into a blender and blend for a minute or two. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Add the rest of the water, vanilla extract, and evaporated milk to the liquid.

Add white sugar to taste.

Recipe courtesy of Maria Esquivel, owner/chef of Chica.

Terra Mia

(Courtesy of Tierra Mia Coffee)

Desayuno de Campeones

With locations on both sides of the Bay, Terra Mia jumpstarts our day with their Latin-inspired pastries and caramel-y horchata lattes. Fight mid-afternoon nap attacks with the frappe version. // 3188 Mission St. (Bernal Heights); 2001 Broadwa, (Oakland), tierramiacoffee.com

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