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Apr 10, 2002 12:01 AM

Lunching around Berkeley

  • l

During lunchtime, (with a few exceptions) I've been picking off places just off Shattuck, west to northwest of the UC Berkeley Campus. Here's the highlights:

Lots of basement bargain Chinese places. My pick is New Chinese Express (not Chinese Express) for cheap and fairly well cooked food. Good variety on the steam table.

We had a great time at Udon, Sandwiches of Addison, a tiny place on Addison. The udon itself was fine, but the seafood in it was perfectly cooked -- crunchy prawns, tender mussels, and snappy squid. Loves the chilli powder/sesame mix that one stirred into the flavorful broth. They piled us with complementary California rolls and inari (sweet tofu with rice - did I get that right?) as well was bottled water - must be trying to attract customers as it's a new place.

At Tibet Cafe I had beef momos - essentially well crafted beef dumplings with a coat of starchy coriander sauce. Comes with mixed green salad. The star here, however, is the smoky and pungent ground chilli sauce -- heavy and deep in its earthy heat. It brings gravity to the dumplings and the lighgt coriander. Delicious!

Bun at the Pho House on University was also excellent. Great fresh flavors, and tight meaty imperial rolls. Pork could use more charry flavors but not a big deal. A sauteed eggplant came with flowery cuts of crunchy cuttlefish -- just the right amount of snap. Good Vietnamese spring rolls too.

Oscar's has a fine basic burger. A good unfancy deal.

Papa's Persian might hit some exotic notes, but I thought the decent fesenjoon (sp?) wasn't as good as the one I had at Kasra on Clement in SF. Papa's version was fine and subtle, more curry-like, but I was hoping for brighter and more forward pomegranate and walnut flavors.

Taiwan Cafe is a total clone of Taiwan Restaurant on Clement. Pretty good deal with siimilar cooking.

New Hong Kong was merely OK for lunch specials, although they spot low prices between 3-6pm. I suspect dinner there could be a good deal, with their repeitoire of seafood dishes.

We spotted Sean Penn at La Note, a Cali-french-Mediterrenean place that reminds me of Zazie on Cole in SF, right down to the font on the menu. Similar quality that hovers firmly in the mid-range. Good and enjoyable, but not mindblowing by any means. Equally good was nearby Venus.

On my list to hit next:

Chaat Cafe
Mr Pizzaman for brazilian chow
the hole in a wall pizza place on shattuck (I think)
Pasta Pacifico (had a perfumy lemon cake there)

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  1. c
    Caitlin McGrath

    I'm assuming the pizza place you're referring to is Arinell's (just north of Center on Shattuck), much discussed in a thread a short way down the board.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      Cool -- thanks for pointing it out. It was mentioned to me by a few pals, but no names were mentioned, only a description of the place. :)

      1. re: Caitlin McGrath
        Nathan Landau

        It sounds to me like the pizza place in question might be Nino's (or at least it was once called that) on MLK between Berkeley Way and Hearst. That's been a Brazilian place for a long time.

        Top Dog note: There's now a second Top Dog in the zone, on Milvia between Kittredge and Bancroft, right across from Berkeley High School. It doesn't have the long hours or the gritty feel of the Durant Ave. place, but it's much more accessible for Downtown Berkeley.

        While you're toodling around Berkeley, check out (as it were) the beautiful renovation/expansion of the main Berkeley Public Library. Given how good their collection is, I'm sure it has many food titles!

        1. re: Nathan Landau

          Looks like there'll be another Top Dog coming up right next to Bongo Burger soon. The "COming soon" signbs are up...

          1. re: Limster

            ...and my partner notes that the last time she rode by the Milvia Top Dog, she said it had changed its name to something else. Anyone have the scoop?

            1. re: patrick

              no idea, but just wanted to say i was sad when top dog took over the space of my favorite bar, mannam. good korean food and cheap beer- the best part of college!

          2. re: Nathan Landau

            I'm dying to see it. While at BHS, I cut English for a semester and PE for a whole year, and spent most of that time at the Berkeley Public the place is very near and dear to my heart. From what I hear, they've done it justice with the renovation.

        2. We had a good and notably cheap lunch at Taiwan today, and during said lunch perused the fascinating menu of brazilian food from Mr Pizzaman. we're looking forward to trying it out, and also to hearing what you think of it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: patrick

            I visit Taiwan Restaurant on a quarterly basis. My favorites there is the Sunday morning specials such as the Taiwan(Peddler) noodle which is the best that I had so far in this area. The tofu skin roll (pork inside) is also good. Their salt pepper shrimps are good and the prices unbeatable (under $5 I think). For more upscale dishes: their cold meats appetizers are very good.

            Next door is the all you can eat hot pot BBQ which has excellent meat selections and seafood. Their kalbi is excellent.

            1. re: Han Lukito

              We were introduced to Taiwan via the Sunday brunch, which is a lot of fun. Yesterday was our first lunch-special visit. they have about 31 dishes available, with rice and soup and tea for 3.50 including tax.

              thanks for the tip on the Hot Pot city, we were tempted by that yesterday and will have to check it out.

          2. Also try Saigon Express -- corner of Shattuck and Addison. In my admittedly limited experience with banh mi (though I'm working on correcting that), I thought they were pretty good. (recommended by another chowhound). I've been there twice, and my second sandwich was better, which I attribute to more love and caring in the putting together of it, rather than quality of ingredients.

            Beckett's has good fish and chips and bread pudding (the only things I've tried there). Fish and Chips were a huge portion for around $12 -- expensive for lunch, but if you were not so hungry (fill up on Guiness, perhaps??), it could easily be split. Comes with coleslaw, but the kitchen was nice enough to give me mixed greens when I asked for a substitution.

            I was pleased to see you mention Pho House -- a fairly regular stop for me. Bare bones interior but the food is always good, and the price is more than right. $5 for a bun that I can never finish in one sitting.

            If you're up for more of a walk, try Berkeley Bowl's ready foods counter. Their burritos are pretty good, and it's fun just to wander around in the produce department.

            2 Replies
            1. re: foodnut

              Yes, I've been to Saigon Express. Pretty decent rice and cooked items. haven't tried the bahn mi, but will definitely do that next time!

              1. re: Limster

                Since I've never been to the Mother Ship in the City, Saigon Express has the best banh mi I've had, although Happy Healthy Foods in the Bear's Lair is improving as I explore the options for fillings.

            2. Phoenix Pastaficio is really really good for lunch, I think. Their almond macaroons are tremendous, too.

              You might try Bongo Burger. Their Persian burger, while enormous, is delicious. It's lamb seasoned with onions and sumac (that sour magenta spice you sprinkle on your rice when you get kabob at Iranian restaurants). Yum! (There's one Bongo on Center between Oxford & Shattuck, one on Euclid at Hearst - north campus, and one on Haste (or is it Channing?) by Telegraph - south campus.

              As for Papa's, it's really not one of the better Iranian places around, but since the closing of Khayyam's on Solano, there isn't another in the East Bay! :(

              11 Replies
              1. re: Alexandra

                At Bongo Burger the falafel plate is a tasty satisfying meal that is not heavy/greasy. You feel pretty good after eating it - lots of fresh vegetables.
                and let's not forget Top Dog!

                1. re: gordon wing

                  Top Dog! My Mecca!

                  If you catch me in an unusually honest mood, I'll admit that Top Dog's dogs aren't anything compared to Kasper's or Rosamunde. But to go there after midnight and get a Hot Link with brown mustard and onions is just the greatest thing. Those other places don't have the classic Berkeley banter of Top Dog. Here's a complete transcript of a recent Pulp Fiction-esque conversation between one of the counter guys and another customer:

                  Counter Guy: You know what they call Top Dog in Paris?
                  Customer: No, what?
                  Counter Guy: How the f--- should I know? They don't have a Top Dog in Paris!

                  And really, the Hot Link, the Calabrese, and the Bird Dog are durn good dogs.

                  1. re: David Boyk

                    Top dog is good. One of the good thing about top dogs is the bread. I think it's the best tasting bread around for hot dogs.

                    While studying at CAL, I used to buy a dozen frozen dogs at TOP DOG for like $5.00 with the buns (maybe extra for the buns) and grill them myself at the frying pan. Hey, it beats waiting in line for 15 minutes just to eat a hotdog.

                    1. re: Han Lukito

                      Yeah, their buns are definitely excellent. Hey, you're never gonna hear me criticizing the place; I love it!

                      1. re: David Boyk
                        it's my favorite place

                        Stop it, you guys are killing me! I haven't had a Top Dog since my last visit to Berkeley in 1993. Nothing close to it where I live now.

                    2. re: David Boyk

                      Just ate a german frank at Top Dog on Durant today. Excellent, but Rosamunde's does have an edge.

                      Also picked up a bunch of wonderful donuts at Kingpin nearby for dessert. A pretty satisfying combo, if you ask me.

                      1. re: David Boyk

                        When I revisited Top Dog a few months ago for the first time since leaving campus more than 20 years ago, three of the guys sitting down were staff alumni. One was even from my time, and we tried to figure out if we recognized each other, but no. All three said that they had to go back periodically because it just gets in the blood. They also lamented that the linguiça just aren't as good since the massacre in San Leandro wiped out the original supplier (and several federal agents).

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Wow -- I used to go to Top Dog when I attended UC in 1968! They had the only hot dogs I've ever liked. It's good to know they're still there.
                          When I'm in Berkeley now for lunch, we mostly head for Solano Ave. Lots of places there.

                    3. re: Alexandra

                      I like the Persian Burger at Bongo when I ate there two months ago (Yes - it was huge!). But the falafel plate last week while, fine, was not up to par (small broken pieces of overfried falafel, instead of crisp globes of good stuff). Guess I'll stick to the burger there.

                      1. re: Limster

                        I often get the black bean burger at Bongo Burger. It makes an excellent substitute for a "regular" hamburger.

                      2. re: Alexandra
                        Cyrus J. Farivar

                        Rumor has it that Bongo Burger serves a traditional Iranian drink (dookh), but it's not on the menu, you have to ask for it. I'm going to verify this tomorrow.

                        Dookh is a salty yogurt drink with a hint of mint in it. I like it...some people don't. If the person working the counter isn't Persian, just ask for the "yogurt drink", is what I've been told.

                        Papa isn't'll find better Persian food in LA, but Papa is convenient, and respsectable.

                      3. Check out the pizza at The Bakeshop (next door to Triple Rock, between Hearst and Berkeley Way). Kind of Cheeeseboard style, very nice thin crust with interesting toppings.