after one week in the east bay...came from LA
moved to berkeley a week ago from los angeles, and am in a bit of a state trying to find good mid-range restaurants. i feel like there aren't many places that fill the void between 'house of curries' and 'chez panisse' - but please correct me if i'm wrong. we're living in elmwood and college ave is our closest food destination. i have been very disappointed thus far. here is a list of where we have eaten (not only in elmwood) and my opinions:
cheeseboard pizza: my boyfriend loves it and i like it...it's good, and the ingredients are great, but it doesn't thrill me.
gregorie: had a delicious lunch here and ate way too many of the mashed potato balls. wish it wasn't just take out
ag ferrari: great option for lunch- like the panini, wish they had a broader cheese selection
barneys: lame- terrible service, mediocre food-
rivoli- went here on friday night and it was ...ehhh. that place was so crowded, people kept coming in and out like it was a clown car... my appetizer (scallops) was good, but the scallops weren't totally clean- had sand in them. my dinner (ravioli) was way too expensive for what it was, regardless of the price point on the menu.
la mediterranee: we were at a loss as to where to head for lunch today and had read some decent reviews of this place on chowhounds. it was beyond mediocre. i would never go back there- the service was terrible, the food was tasteless if not just plain bad.
t rex: went here for dinner tonight and sorry to say i was very disappointed. the cornbread was exceptional, but the rest of my dinner was totally average. i was shocked that there was no bbq chicken on the menu of smoked meats- just pork and beef- and my sonoma chicken was overcooked- my boyfriend said his ribs were junk- nice spices but undersmoked and not tender at all.
shen hua- we have eaten in and ordered out from this restaurant. we both have had delicious food, but once again, i wish there were more chicken options on the menu (sorry if it's not authentic, but i don't eat pork, so i wish there was a chicken potsticker or dumpling somewhere!) i am also missing my green onion pancakes from xian in LA- they don't have them at shen hua.
so, fyi, here is a list of places we liked to eat in LA- if anyone can give me suggestions of similar places in the east bay, i would love it.
we typically chose places that were mid-range in price but consistent in quality and service- we were lucky to have lots of those there.
toast- for the big menu, great service, but not the scene
rose cafe- venice
quality on 3rd
who's on 3rd- good menu and cheap cheap- not bad if everything else was packed
the griddle for absurdly large brunches and great pumpkin pancakes
poquito mas- sunset
cube on la brea
for dinner (fancy):
koi- love that spicy tuna crunch
for dinner (casual):
baby blues!!!! (PLEASE, WE ARE MISSING THIS AND NEED BBQ!!!)
loteria grill at the farmer's market
xian in beverly hills (WHERE CAN I GET GREEN ONION PANCAKES LIKE THEIRS???)
so, to sum up- if you have any suggestions for us in elmwood, rockridge, berkeley, or anywhere in the east bay, we would appreciate it A LOT. my LA restaurant list is just intended to be a frame of reference, so feel free to throw any opinions or suggestions out there-
Oh, and one other tidbit, the green onion pancakes. I think they have great food (although some people think they are too touristy) and this is in the city -
House of Nanking on Kearney, where North Beach and Chinatown collide in SF
Their shrimp-onion pancakes with peanut sauce are really good, other great dishes are the scallops. we usually just order whatever the owner tells us to get, throwing in that we want a scallops dish, etc. Prices are good ($35 for two).
I didn't see this on your list, and I think it really is the BEST breakfast place in town
Meal Ticket, on San Pablo, just above Gilman, get the salmon or trout breakfast, or great blueberry pancakes. Amazing. I go other places and I am always sad I didnt go to Meal Ticket. Also open for lunch and occasionally dinner.
Mid price restaurants in Berkeley are my thing. I don't like eating cheap food, but I can't afford to eat at expensive places as much as I would like to. The restaurants I return to again and again are:
Pizzaiolo: My favorite restaurant, anywhere. It's hard to make specific recs as the menu changes daily, but I've probably had over a hundred different dishes there by now and every one was either good, excellent or unbelievable (with the exception of a few "eh" pastas and some of the desserts since they lost their pastry chef, though I hear a rumor that they may start using Ici ice cream). The pizza is good, but make sure to branch out beyond that because the entire menu is delicious. The antipasto section is a particularly stong point in the menu. I had the best fritto misto I've ever had last week: fried anchovies, okra and green tomatoes. Dinner for two usually sets me back $70-$80 incl tax and tip.
Gregoire - Without question, one of the best values in the Bay Area. It in many ways reminds me of Clementine in LA though I prefer Gregoire. But it isn't just take out. Seating is tough at the Berkeley branch but if you're in Elmwood you're closer to Gregoire Piedmont, a larger location with plenty of seating (though still no table sevice). Lunch is fab, but I also really like Gregoire as a good, mid priced dinner. App, entree and dessert for two usually sets me back $45-$50 incl tax. The roast beef sandwich this month is delicious. Try the Vignette Wine Country Soda in the drink case.
Ajanta - Some may argue Ajanta is "expensive for Indian food," but considering the quality of ingredients and the level of service, I would argue that it is inexpensive for a good, mid-range sit down restaurant. LA does better cheap Indian food than Berkeley (God, I miss India Sweets and Spices) but Ajanta is better than any of the sit down Indian restaurants in LA. Dinner for two usually runs $40-$50 incl. tax and tip.
Cafe Rouge - Much of the menu is hit and miss, but they do red meat really well. If you stick to the lamb, beef, pork and occasional duck you can't go wrong. I like that I can get a burger for dinner (not printed on the menu) which keeps it in the mid price range. Damn good burger too, nice and rare. And I completely agree with you on Barney, btw.
For high end dining I tend to go across the bridge. I like Chez Panisse and Cafe at CP, but I feel that if I'm spending a lot of money that I may as well go across the bridge where I can get better food for my dollar. The East Bay is really great for mid price dining, but we just can't compete with SF for fine dining. I think your experience at Rivoli speaks to that.
Breakfast and Lunch:
900 Grayson - Saturday wouldn't be complete without fried chicken and waffles. 11 ounces of draft Drakes IPA and an order of churro style donut holes. 900 Grayson does incredibly delicious diner food. I've tried most of the menu and it is consistently delicious, though breakfast is stronger than lunch.
Bakesale Betty - Three words: Fried Chicken Sandwich. OK, two more: strawberry shortcake.
Adagia - I really, really like their grilled Romaine. It's a hard salad to find, let alone find a place that does it well, and there's is spot on every time. The rest of the meny, including dinner, can be hit or miss.
Andy and Cindy's Thai Cuisine - A really worthwhile Farmers' Market stand. At Sat. Berkeley, Sunday Temescal and Tuesday Berkeley. Try the spring rolls and the chicken satay.
Farmers' Markets. The East Bay has some excellent Farmers' Markets, and although the seasons aren't as long as in LA the produce is in some cases better. The Saturday Berkeley market is a lot of fun, and there are some really excellent vendors you have to check out. Don't miss Fatted Calf, La Tercera, Ram Dass Orchards, Four Sisters, Blue Heron or Quetzal.
Sketch Ice Cream - Incredibly delicious ice cream, chocolate pudding cake, chocolate chip cookies, toffee, caramel corn and chocolate caramels.
Acme - The only savory bakery you'll ever need.
Cheeseboard cheese - You could spend a lifetime sampling. Don't miss Istara, Prima Donna Gouda, Bellweather Farms ricotta or fresh cream cheese.
Cafe Rouge Butcher Shop - My favorite butcher in the East Bay. The selection is limited, but the quality is there and they're happy to special order stuff with a couple days notice.
Phoenix Pastaficio - Really good fresh pasta available retail.
I don't share others' enthusiasm for the "Krikkorian family" of restaurants - T-Rex, Fonda, Sea Salt (prob. the most worthwhile), Jimmy Beans and Lalimes. In my experience the food is fine, but it is inconsistent in execution and it lacks soul. At the end of the evening I feel like I dropped a lot of money on an entirely forgettable meal. It's worth trying them out, but if you aren't impressed after a couple of visits don'y worry, you're not alone.
re: Morton the Mousse
I like Sea Salt, partly by default--it's the only good non-Asian seafood in the area. The other Krikorian ventures, eh.
Ajanta's a really good value if you order the right dishes.
Pizzaiolo, Adagia, and Cafe Rouge all seem on the expensive to me. Maybe a little cheaper than Chez Panisse Cafe but not much. Anyway their prices are online:
re: Robert Lauriston
I guess it depends entirely on how you order but I find I spend about 1.5X as much per person at Cafe CP than at Pizzaiolo. Pizzaiolo is definitely on the "splurge" side of mid-priced dining but I think it is always worth it.
Adagia for dinner is definitely on the expensive side which is why I recommended it for lunch.
Cafe Rouge can be done for cheap because of the burger.
re: Morton the Mousse
totally agree about t-rex "lacking soul" -- not sure if you've ever gone to baby blues in venice, but it is bbq done right... we went to JR's once and were so disappointed, but if you are back in LA soon, i heartily endorse baby blues. the wait staff is unbeatable (jesse behind the bar rules), and the bbq tiger shrimp is untouchable in my book. my boyfriend says the baby backs are the best he's ever had. didn't realize there was a 2nd gregorie. that's great news--yes, it is reminiscent of clementine. thanks!
Brunch and Lunch: La Note - provencal cooking, homey brunches with absolutely scrumptious pastries, inventive salads and filling warm sandwiches.
Indian: Udupi Palace on University. It's South Indian, vegetarian, extremely reasonably and always tasty. Try the Dosa - South Indian crepe-like pancakes seasoned with spices and filled with vegetables.
Japanese: Cha Ya on N. Shattuck. Vegan japanese but makes you wonder why you'd ever need to eat meat.
Deli/Brunch: Saul's on N. Shattuck. New York-Style Jewish deli with a California twist. Great for an enormous pastrami sandwich or for brunch.
Rockridge: La Farine Bakery.
Sushi: Kirala, without a doubt. A bit on the expensive side and there is always a wait, but it is worth it.
Pizza: Zachary's... you should avoid the one in Rockridge, since it is smaller and busier than the one on Solano.
Italian: Adagia, on Bancroft (next to Cafe Strada)... amazingly good Italian food, I lived in Italy for a year and this is the closest I've found. Their lunch menu, for the flavors you get, is incredibly reasonable.
Latin Fusion: Funda on Solano. Mexican tweeked with French flavors.
I'd also add Sea Salt on San Pablo to that mix. Entrees are creative and quite flavorful (though I've noticed that the portions seems to be shrinking?) but if you stick to the sandwiches you can get a pretty nice meal for Gregoire's prices. You have to like seafood, though!
Seconding Milano on Shattuck as the best gelato. Sketch on 4th is great but not when I want gelato gelato.
Also, Cafe Rouge on 4th is wonderful for mid-range bistro lunch as well as slightly more expensive dinner.
Here are a couple that are good in Berkeley:
Arnelli's - best New York Style pizza - thin crust. You gotta try this one. Its located off Shattuck next to the BofA in Downtown Berkeley.
Habibi's for the Middle Eastern Chicken plate - Its in Durant Square. It comes with hummus or potato salad and it is fab. Its comparable to Zanku Chix in LA.
Kirala Japanese Restaurant - go for their Robata grill. The sushi is only ok but some of the Robata is really good.
Chez Panisse Cafe - I didn't think the regular restaurant was all that great but the Cafe is really tasty. The pizza's are great too.
If you search on red velvet, there is a place down toward Hayward way that keeps getting good mentions for the red velvet variety. In SF (yeah, not EB) go to Delassio's for the mini cupcakes.
Love at First Bite near Chez Panisse has the biggest variety of flavors. Some people love them, others like myself feel they were only fair.
My tops in EB cupcakes for flavor are at La Farine and FatApples.
ICI opens today (Sunday) and is hyped by the press to be good. Sketch gets lots of recs on this board. Gelato, IMO, Milano is the best in the EB. Naia is the other place and ok too, but not as good as Milano.
Everett and Jones hasn't got a lot of good mentions on Chowhound. There's two new BBQ places opening, some place on Durant, the name I forget and Brick Pig's house on Shattuck. I mentioned BPH before, but when I stopped by yesterday they were not open yet. They had a big sign on the window saying closed for repairs.
Fall off the bone ribs are not the thing in the Bay area. The closest would be Lao/Thai Kitchen on Solano which are more cooked than BBQ's (one of the owners is from the South ... mix of thai / BBQ ... fabulous sides there, especially the greens. Ribs are VERY sweet).
Flint's on Shattuck is/was a popular place but the ribs are chewy rather than fall off the bone. They re-opened and some people don't feel they are the same as before. The burnt chocolate-tasting sauce is unique here.
Being new, you would probably benefit from a copy of The Chowhounds Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area.
After a year, I still use this now dog-eared copy frequently. China Village on Solano has a major write up. While the chef changed, it still gets thumbs up for many items. Also the Ranch 99 market area in El Cerrito has lots of worth-while restuarnts.
Here's a post with links to my reports about local breakfast joints. Kennsinton Bistro, Bette's souffle pancake and Sunnyside Cafe as well as the new 900 Grayson are my favorites.
Coming from LA, I'd be interested in your take on the fish tacos at La Calaca Loco on Telegraph at 51st (near Bakesale Betty's). I had one yesterday and it was the first fish taco I ever really liked. I'll do a report about the joint later.
oh and sorry for all of my posts, but i just thought of one more thing: dessert! we love gelato and also cupcakes. in la used to go to al gelato and buttercake bakery on pico for delicious cupcakes--especially the red velvet. does anyone know of a place that that does a great red velvet with buttercream frosting? also great gelato nearby? i saw that a place called ici is opening on college and i'm hoping that they do a nice ice cream!
thanks, these are all great suggestions. we're doing the chez panisse cafe soon, which i'm excited about. going back to two things: barbeque and green onion pancakes: has anyone been to everett and jones' bbq on san pablo? we passed it last night on the way back from t-rex and saw a packed house. any reviews? the boyfriend wants ribs that fall off the bone.
thanks :) also, if anyone knows of a place with green onion pancakes that aren't 'crispy' - i don't know how to describe this but in beijing, the pancakes i had were just crispy enough, as if they are pan fried, but i've had some really bad ones in the us that are almost battered and fried. not looking for those.
O Chame on 4th St in Berkeley has an excellent green onion pancake that is not 'crispy.' You can get some excellent ice cream and baked goods at Sketch, across the street. You should check out 4th st, lots of good chow there. Some of it is a bit expensive, but there are some good mid price places as well.
Definitely agree on La Med. Elmwood is a bit barren, but I do like Holy Land. The falafel is really good, and I'm also fond of the combo salad. The mint lemonade is tasty as well.
Not in Elmwood, but still good options w/in a 5-10 minute drive--
For local mid-range (a bit "nicer" than tasty cheap ethnic) options I'd suggest:
Dona Tomas on Telegraph (Mexican w/ good ingredients)
Dopo on Piedmont Ave. (Italian)
Luka's on Broadway (sort of gastro pub w/ great Belgian fries)
Oliveto downstairs on College (Italian)
Pizzaiolo on Telegraph (Italian)
Soi 4 on College (Thai)
Also worth noting, the upstairs cafe at Chez Panisse can be done at what I'd consider a mid-range price (around $30 for three courses if one starts w/ soup or salad, opts pasta or pizza for mains, and has dessert). For example, on Friday you could have had Frisée and Little Gems lettuce with anchovy, garlic, and Parmesan; Spaghetti alla Norma with roasted eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta salata; and Almond cake with Lucero Farm strawberries and crème Chantilly for $32.50 before tax and tip. Or what about Roasted tomato and fennel soup; Pizzetta with rocket salad with Russell's coppa; and Affogato: warm espresso over vanilla ice cream for $27.50? Strange as it may seem, Chez Panisse itself may fall into the void between House of curries and Chez Panisse.
For great cheap to moderate tasty Ethnic:
Cafe Colucci on Telegraph (Ethiopian)
Cam Huong Deli on Webster (Vietnamese sandwiches)
Great China on Kittredge (Chinese)
Ohgane on Broadway (Korean, w/ grill at table)
Sahn Maru on Telegraph (Korean, but more stew focused)
Uzen on College (Japanese)
Vik's on Allston (Indian chaat)
The East Bay has some very good restaurants. If you keep looking, you will find stuff you like. My ideas for you:
OAKLAND -- NON-ROCKRIDGE
Luka's Taproom (burger, oysters)
Shan Dong (dumplings)
OAKLAND -- ROCKRIDGE
Cactus Taqueria (acceptable carnitas/carne asada)
BERKELEY -- CLAREMONT
Rick and Ann's (breakfast)
BERKELEY -- ELMWOOD
Holy Land (Israeli/Middle Eastern)
BERKELEY -- DOWNTOWN AND UNIVERSITY
Pie in the Sky (pizza)
Ryowa Ramen (ramen, gyoza)
Vik's Chaat Corner (vegi Indian with meat-based specials on the weekends)
900 Grayson (excellent breakfast; heard good things about lunch/dinner too)
Indus Village (curries)
Ruen Pair (Thai)
BERKELEY - Gourmet Ghetto
Lo Coco's (pasta, pizza)
China Village (claypot dishes)
Nizza La Bella (pizza, Italian and French bistro)
CHICKEN (since you're big on it)
Lola's in Albany (takeout)
Casa Orinda in Orinda (for fried chicken and biscuits)
here are my personal east bay favs.
cactus - super fresh burritos and tacos, personal fav is the fish burrito
oliveto cafe and restaurant - go high end upstairs or eat at the cafe downstairs
market hall - a great little food hall
la farine - best baguette and morning buns in the bay area imho
cole coffee - best coffeshop in the east bay, again imo.
a cote - great drinks and small plates
citron - i'd go for brunch on the weekend
bakesale betty - love their oatmeal raisin cookies, blueberry pies, banana bread and fried chicken sandwich
genoa deli - italian style sandwiches with all kinds of deli meat
dona tomas - upscale cal/mexican food, great margaritas
pizziola - great pizza and pasta but be prepared to wait
sahn maru - not a korean bbq place but they make an awesome kim chee stew
tofu house - bubbling tofu stews in the summer, naem myun
mama's royal - great breakfast spot
piedmont ave/downtown oakland/west oakland:
dopo - may favorite place for homemade pasta
gregoire - go for lunch here
fentons - ridiculous sundaes
nellies soul food - awesome fried chicken and fried pork chops, get there before 8pm or they won't let you in.
pho 84 - i've been going here for the last 10 years for their yellow chicken curry
la champa - home cooking thai laotian food
also fruitvale and international blvd has some amazing and cheap mexican food.
as far as elmwood, the only place i like is shen hua and gordo's. hope this list helps and happy eating.