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moving to Berkeley

  • r

I've been dreading this moment, but it's time to post
the question: where are good eats in Berkeley/Oakland?
You see, I'm leaving NYC -- my born and bred home --
for a PhD program (min. 6 years) at Berkeley. All my
hard-earned restaurant knowledge will be for nought as
I step forth, like a babe, onto untread territory!
During a weeklong house-scouting excursion last month I
stumbled into a lot of great restaurants, reassuring me
about the potential for great eating. Besides Chez
Panisse, can anyone offer any tips? I eat everything,
everything, everything, everything.

Thanks.

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  1. f
    Frank Language

    Psst, Rachel: I've forwarded your plea to a friend of
    mine who lives in Berkeley - and loves it. She'll help
    you out, and if she doesn't, I'll bug her again.

    1. j
      jonathan gold

      Berkeley, as its residents never tire of
      telling you, is probably pound-for-pound
      the best place to eat in America...except
      really, for chowhound-type places.

      Anyway, I'm sure these places will be
      imparted to you within minutes of arriving
      on campus, and mark me as a hopeless yup,
      but:

      Panini, on Shattuck, has essential
      Italian sandwiches on essential seeded
      rolls from Semifreddi Bakery. (The sand-
      wiches at Ultra Lucca, on Telegraph at
      40th in Oakland, are not to be sneered at
      either. Or the pizza at the Cheese Board.)

      Picante Taqueria, on 6th, is a little twee,
      but the rajas tacos are undeniable.

      Cafe Fanny, on San Pablo at Cedar, is
      the breakfast place of the CP empire,
      with cafe au lait textured like velvet,
      egg-salad sandwiches so good they'll make
      you weep and millet muffins that redefine
      the genre. Surprisingly inexpensive. (Acme,
      next door, is the best bread bakery in the
      U.S., though the Cheese Board has better
      baguettes; Kermit Lynch, also next door, is my
      favorite wine shop anywhere, and actually
      specializes in great $8 wines from Southern
      France.)

      Oliveto, which you won't be able to afford,
      is an astonishing Urban Rustic outpost in
      Rockridge, whose chef, Paul Bertolli, was
      the best chef at Chez Panisse, and who does
      things like cure his own proscuitto and age
      his own balsamic. The cafe downstairs is
      cheaper, great for a glass of wine and a
      few bites of roast rabbit.

      Everett & Jones, on San Pablo at University,
      does ribs so much better than anything you
      may have tasted in NY that you may well fall
      to your knees.

      You will probably come to the conclusion
      that one or another of the many bits of
      Berkeley Asian exotica is exemplary, and
      you will be wrong--imagine Leff's theory
      of Zagatization applied to restaurants that
      never had many native customers to begin
      with--but Oakland's Chinatown is great,
      fairly bursting with Burmese, Vietnamese
      and Chiu Chow places to explore.

      4 Replies
      1. re: jonathan gold

        "imagine Leff's theory of Zagatization applied to
        restaurants that never had many native customers to
        begin with"

        Jonathan, that's actually not a reapplication of
        what I was saying...it's just the logical
        extension. Formerly authentic places get Zagatized,
        learn to water down the cooking and ratchet up the
        prices, meet with resounding success, and scads of
        cynical upstarts follow suit, attracting outsiders
        with jive, inferior food right out of the gate.

        Eventually the good places that never received the
        mainstream seal of approval (usually because
        they're more than a block from the subway, as
        Sietsema points out)--and never added neon,
        publicists, etc, to get that exposure--wither. Even
        the local paisanos eventually shun them...they're
        not jazzy enough, not modern enough.

        In ten years, even Popeye will be eating in Red
        Lobster (thank God we're chowhounds...we find
        deliciousness regardless of what insanity the
        mainstream propagates)

        On the Berkeley bbq front: while it's slightly
        unfair to compare them since I had Everett and
        Jones about 2 years and it's been almost a decade
        since I hit Flynt's, I prefer the latter
        (especially their sausage).
        ciao

        1. re: jim leff

          I haven't been by there to verify, but have recently
          heard that Flint's is now history. Both phone numbers
          (San Leandro & Berkeley) are disconnected. Doug's
          Barbecue on San Pablo in Emeryville is up there with
          Everett & Jones.

          1. re: Bob
            j
            jonathan gold

            Ahhh...the old Flint's vs. Everett & Jones debate.
            A taste of the good old days. (I was always an
            E&J man myself--I was also partial to the
            late Do City across the bay in the Western Addition
            --though I would never exactly turn down the offer
            of a small-end dinner at Flint's).

            Bob is right: Doug's is awfully good, if not in
            a neighborhood you would ordinarily find yourself
            visiting.

            1. re: jonathan gold

              Not true, Jonathan... It's right on the corner of San
              Pablo Avenue off the San Pablo Avenue exit of I-580
              West on the Oakland/Emeryville border (look for the
              billowing smoke)... just three blocks from the East Bay
              Bridge shopping complex which houses the Home Depot,
              CompUSA, and OfficeMax. It seems like I'm always
              finding myself in that neighborhood!

              Also, the Cheese Board folks have opened a bakery on
              Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland (on the other side of I-580
              from Lake Merritt). Haven't checked it out yet, but it
              supposedly serves the same great pizzas.

      2. j
        Jeremy Osner

        It's been a long time but I used to love The Blue Nile
        (Ethiopian) when I was a kid. I believe its on
        Telegraph but that's just a guess.

        If you're looking for fast food the place to be is
        upper Telegraph near the UC. Great pizza -- The Fat
        Slice is the best, Mexican (I can't remember the
        restaurant's name but it's really good, you'll find it
        pretty quickly if you just walk down Telly from the
        campus). But stay away from the little cafes clustered
        right around the entrance to the campus.

        Jeremy

        1. OK, I didn't want to broadcast this too loudly but what
          the heck:

          *Rivoli Restaurant on Solano Ave. in Berkeley may be
          the best restaurant in America...and besides there's a
          live animal show in the garden every night (raccoons,
          skunks, and possums entertain nightly)Zagat says: "Chez
          Panisse at half the price"

          *A chowhound classic, Vik's King of Chaat (Indian
          snacks) is like being in the food stalls of Bombay.
          Allston between 4th and 5th.

          *Vi's on Webster in downtown Oakland is simply
          sensational Vietnamese (with a duck noodle soup to die
          for)

          *Jimmy Bean's on Gilman and 6th has great quesadillas

          *Another chowhound classic: the pizza at the Cheese
          Board on Shattuck opposite Chez Panisse. The Best
          Pizza! And I mean the best!

          *Another vote for the rajas tacos/burritos/platos at
          Picante Tacqueria. Also the chicken machamentales
          (sp?) is also good.

          1. The best pizza in Berkeley, in my opinion, is at
            Zachary's on Solano Ave in the Thousand Oaks area. I
            haven't been to the other one in Oakland, so I don't
            know if it's as good.

            1. Rachel,

              I went to Cal eons ago, and as is evident with everyone's postings, there are great places to eat, and best of all they tended not to be pricey.

              Now, my personal favorite is this place near the intersection of Shattuck and University called Sun Hong Kong. This restaurant is right out of bustling Hong Kong. The dishes should not look familiar to the normal eye. It didn't to me, but all those "over-rice" dishes seemed as if they were concocted to assuage home-sick foreign students from Hong Kong. I don't know if I ever ordered the main dishes at all during the thousands of time I was there at 2 in the morning. My favorite was the Beef and Egg over rice.

              There also used to be three Korean places: Sarangbang in Northside, Bogul Bogul on Telegraph, Steve's Barbecue on Durant and a place on Telegraph past the border with Oakland called Koryo. The last is probably the most pricey but also the best. Steve's is OK for cheap eats, but I would not try the others. One note, this is data from "eons", i.e.6 years ago... The places in SF are probably a lot better.

              The other real attraction in Berkeley was Thai food: Sweet Basil? And Cha-ams.

              Also, there was a Chinese-Korean restaurant (see thread in General Topics message board) on Shattuck called, I kid you not, King Dong. They had the best bowl of jjambong this side of the Pacific and beyond. Jjambong is a fiery, hearty seafood soup with noodles and all sorts of seafood and bits of beef. It is a meal by itself and should cost you less than $10.

              Hope that helps, and excuse the nostalgia trip.

              Michael Yu