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Help! ISO answer to a chow riddle

  • s

Ok, I've scoured the board and my own food memories but I have come up with zilch. Perhaps a fellow Chowhound can give me assistance? I've been roped into showing an out-of-towner around, foodwise. My guest is from France and is wondering about "American" food. I'm looking for a place for dinner on a Monday or Tuesday, that serves after 7:30pm, that takes walk-ins, that is $60 or less for 2 (entree & appetizer or dessert or all three) AND the most important factor: has a street scene so we can walk around afterwards. Oh, and preferrably as close to Oakland as possible.

So far I've come up with Everett & Jones @ Jack London, but to me its only passable food... which goes without saying that I have deliberately passed on Tony Roma's (or is it TGI Friday's?). Someplace in Rockridge off College might work, but I don't know the area well -- are there any specific recs? Another option may be the Grand Lake area, but not much of a street scene there. I also thought about International/Fruitvale area, but that is neither "American" nor safe for an after dinner stroll.

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  1. Nellies Soul Food in West Oakland would be perfect, except for the street scene. Go there for dinner, and then head over to Elmwood for dessert at Ici and a walk.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Morton the Mousse

      If you go (and this would be my recommendation too) make sure to have a
      drink in Nellie's bar first. That room is an *astounding* piece of Americana.
      You'll need to drive there, so afterward drive up 3rd to Jack London Square
      and walk up Broadway and around Chinatown.

      I need to respectfully disagree on an Elmwood walk unless your French friend
      is into architecture, then a Julia Morgan tour might be worthwhile. Not much happening
      street-scene wise.

      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

        Unfortunately Chinatown's pretty dead on a Monday or Tuesday night as well.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          You could pretty much attach that reply to everyone's suggestion (actually
          it looks like you're doing just that). This is Berkeley, not Paris. By 7pm, the
          shops are closed and dining is indoors and anything approximating a "scene"
          in the usual sense is non existent. I was trying to suggest, given the situation,
          a path that concentrates the most "this is what life is like here" per block
          for a foreign visitor. Downtown Oakland vs. Rockridge? No contest.

          I'm liking the Luka's suggestion below too. And then a walk around the area
          to the Stork Club, Van Kleefs, etc. Nothing French *at* *all* about Luka's.
          Belgian beer and spaetzle?

          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

            Rockridge is actually fairly lively since there are bars, restaurants, supemarkets, the BART station, and a few bookstores and whatnot scattered from Broadway to past Alcatraz.

            Downtown Oakland is block after block of dead dark closed office buildings. Not a nice place for a walk.

            I'm regularly in both areas Monday nights.

    2. Elmwood's usually fairly dead on a Monday or Tuesday evening and it's only two blocks anyway.

      Rockridge is the only neighborhood I can think of where you'd find much of a street scene. I'd take a Frenchy to Ben & Nick's. Alternatively, maybe Barney's, Cactus, or Zachary's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Barney's might be ok, but I dont think it is fair to call Cactus American (granted, it isn't exactly Mexican either, but still...). but please, not Ben and Nick's. The beer is good there, but both service and food will give someone from France the wrong idea about American food.

        of course, I am not coming up with much in the way of alternative suggestions. Something on Solano Ave perhaps?

      2. I would do Cafe Rouge for "American food". If you order the right things (ie. burger), you might be able to get out within the $60 budget. Berkeley should be close enough to oakland. 4th street is quite a street scene.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Problem Child

          4th st is dead at night, especially on a Monday or Tuesday. Cafe Rouge would make a good lunch option, though.

          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            Yeah, Fourth St. is hopping in the afternoon but dead after 7pm.

        2. Would Bay Wolf not be "American" enough? Cato's Ale House?

          Piedmont Avenue wouldn't be a bad (though not very long) after dinner stroll.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Debbie M

            I think Bay Wolf's over the stated price range. It's also got some French tendencies.

            Cato's menu is pretty much the same as Ben & Nick's. Same ownership.


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              True that menu is similar, but the food is slightly better at Cato's IMO, and service, since you order at the counter, is definitely better (since getting the server to come to your table at Ben and Nick's is half the battle...)

              Can't say I'd recommend it for this purpose, however.

          2. I just noticed Quinn's @ Jack London... is this place any good? Might fit if we are careful in ordering. And just wanted to confirm, is Nellie's walkable to the waterfront? I know Zazzoo's does not fit in my original post, but I remember we can walk along the water there if my guest has an interest in that -- is the food any good there? Thanks for all the recs!

            7 Replies
            1. re: S U

              I like the overall setting and atmosphere at Quinn's but the food is only okay.

              My suggestion is Luka's Taproom (Grand Ave. and Broadway in downtown Oakland). I'm not sure how I'd describe the food -- Cal cuisine with French-Belgian influences, perhaps. But the scene there is quintessentially Oakland: lively, multi-ethnic, multigenerational, and the food is very good.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Luka's is awfully Frenchy for this purpose, and there's no street scene.

                Is there any life on the street at Jack London Square on Monday/Tuesday night, outside of people walking from the parking garage to the movie theater?

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  True. I was thinking about the scene inside. It's funny that it's so hard to think of a place that's fun to walk around at night.

                  One place (although it's not Oakland) to walk around at night is downtown Walnut Creek. It's quintessential American upscale suburbia -- I loathe it, but a French visitor might find it amusing (or at least, an enlightening look into the heart of "American" "culture"). I can't think of any restaurants that fit the bill, though.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I think Rockridge is the only neighborhood in the area with much foot traffic on a weeknight.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      replying to Robert ....

                      Rockridge has foot traffic, but I wouldn't call it a scene, as there's nothing actually *on* the street and most of the stores are closed. Piedmont Ave. has almost as much foot traffic on weeknights.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        College has more foot activity since there's a BART station, a couple of supermarkets, and more bars. It's also a longer and I think more interesting walk.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          > a couple of supermarkets

                          Only one. Albertson's closed. Probably the lack of foot traffic :)

                  2. Go to Garibaldi's on College in Rockridge. There's still lots going on in the evening on College, the food is pretty good (though a little pricey, order carefully so as not to hit your price range), and I've never had a problem walking in.

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Well, but we weren't comparing anything to Chez Panisse in this thread, were we? CP wasn't ever an option here. Garibaldi's fits within the price range, depending on what you order, and fits all of the other requirements.

                        1. re: JasmineG

                          I'm just saying it's more than a little pricey. It's one of the most expensive restaurants in the East Bay.

                    1. hello, I can relate to your situation, recently needing to choose places for midwesterners, who might as well been from another country, their eating preferences varying greatly from us west coast types.
                      If typical American food means mediocre, no problem. My notion of 'Cal-cuisine' includes a definite French influence (rustic vs. haute cuisine perhaps a la chez p.), and I doubt the stuff served at Luka's or Bay Wolf otherwise resemble French food. Since your specs/budget is exclusive of drinks, I think they would barely fit the $30 p.p. limit, and i.m.o. their food is better than most of the other places suggested. Pizzaiolo might meet your req.s. as well. If Oakland location is the main priority, I think you might need to separate the food criteria from the street scene one, maybe go elsewhere to have coffee and dessert where there's a 'scene' like Morton suggests. good luck

                      1. You might find the answer in Emeryville. How about Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe? Certainly American--down to the rock vibes and pink hair--and fits the budget. Food's OK, too, For an evening stroll, drive by the Gates of Pixar, then go over to Bay Street Mall and cruise the shops. That will show your guest why all of us are so envious of France.

                        1. Zax on Telegraph. Afterwards, walk north to the University and back. Visit Moe's.

                          Britt-Marie's on Solano. Afterwards walk either uphill and back and have a
                          port at the Pub (plus impress your french friend with the heavily utilized
                          smoking "porch" out back), or walk downhill and grab a drink at the Ivy Room.

                          Despite the occasional appearance of words like "crouton" on the menu, both
                          of these places are pretty quintessentially "american".

                          [Addressing a comment in the original post: Fruitvale is actually perfectly
                          safe for an evening stroll, though for some people it's understandably outside their
                          comfort zone. And those taco trucks are as close to the heart of "American" as
                          you're going to find anywhere.]

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                            I thought about Zax but I don't think that two people can get out of there for $30 each unless they stick to the low end of the menu...

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              Telegraph south of UC would be good for street scene but everyplace decent I can think of to eat around there is pretty definitely not American food.

                              Can't get more American than The Smokehouse but it's a bit of a schlep. Maybe the new barbecue place at Bancroft and Oxford?

                              The Bear's Lair now has a wood pizza oven.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                The Smokehouse? The place with the awful hot dogs on Telegraph?

                                If you are going that type of route, I'd go with the Philly Cheesesteak shop on University and then stroll up the street and around the corner and have a slice of pizza at beer at Lane splitter. Maybe make pit stops at the Jamaican, mexican, Indian and Thai restaurants in that area. America is a melting pot. Funny, but when it comes to classic American food, you have to eat at chains ... or eat at someone's home ... the last I think is hilarious ... the complaint of other cultures ... you have to get invited to someones home.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  There's lots of restaurants serving excellent American food. They're just scarce in the few East Bay neighborhoods with weeknight street scenes.

                                  People who like The Smokehouse usually mention the burgers. It's not my kind of place but it's one of the most hardcore examples of Americana in the area.


                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Not much of a street scene. The burgers I saw on the other aging tables didn't look that impressive, but who knows? The dog was so mediocre I won't be putting it high on my list.

                                    It would be better to go to Nellie's and then drive elsewhere for a street scene ... but on Monday night, that's not the easiest situation. For some personal reasons, I eat out on Monday a lot and so many places are closed and there's not much that's bustling out there.

                                    Maybe Sea Salt on San Pablo. The Fish & Chips are American, sort of, by way of Britain. Then they could stroll over to Cafe Trieste for a cup of espresso ... sigh.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      The street scene's up Telegraph by campus.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Yeah, but it's still a drive to get there. I personally wouldn't walk up that street to get there at night.

                                        Maybe regional American cooking then ... New Orleans-style at Angeline's. That puts them in the center of Berkeley with lots going on. If I liked it more, I'd then suggest walking up the street to Top Dog and splitting a dog.

                                        However, after dinner they could then walk up Shattuck to Dwight, maybe make a pit stop at the new BBQ place and then top the evening off with a chocolate soft-serve cone at Carvel ... can't get any more American than Carvel.

                                        Angeline posts:

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I walk past the Smokehouse on my way to Moe's and/or Amoeba all the time. Thousands of students and UC employees who live in the neighborhood make the trip once or twice a day. It's not much of a walk for your average French person, and per the BPD's crime map you're less likely to get mugged than you are at Shattuck and Dwight.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            In case the OP isnt familar with The Smokehouse:
                                            I'd call that more of a Hamburger Stand than a
                                            restaurant ... and it's in a total non-neighborhood.

                                            I think Piedmont Ave is more what you are looking for.
                                            I dont hang out there any more, so no specific recs ...
                                            well, maybe Cato's but I havent been there in years.
                                            [more of a "scene" place than say Barney's].

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Kind of boring walk though to get to the good part. I guess one could stop off at Whole Foods to scope out an American market ... or is Whole Foods in France, yet? Ok ... Andronico's then.

                                            1. re: rworange

                                              Actually, dinner in the Whole Foods dining section might be just the ticket. I doubt they have restaurants in French supermarkets yet. The food looks decent.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                Well, if 'dining' at Whole Foods I would drive there as I'm guessing they don't have valet parking for supermarkets in France either. I know you have a droll sense of humor, but sending visitors to Smokehouse or Whole Foods to dine ...

                                        2. If you feel that you can expand your boundaries, recently friends of mine in the East Bay took a couple of Italian visitors to Home on Market St. in SF. They ordered meatloaf for them, made 'em drink Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, then hit the Castro. Good time had by all.

                                          1. For truly American I'd go to Walker's Pie Shop on Solano. I'd say the food is above average to very good...but definately American.

                                            Afterward you could walk down the street and say this is a typical small town California neighborhood from '50s and '60s. There's a few book stores, etc. If it gets boring...drive to Telegraph Ave. college town/old hippie is also very American. :)

                                            Another option might be Mel's on Shattuck...yes a chain but if they want the stereoytpical '50s diner, that would be it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ML8000

                                              You know, I certainly wouldn't send anyone to Walkers but you reminded me of the perfect place... FatApples on MLK. That is as American as they come,the price is right, you could get a great piece of pie (unlike Walkers), real people eat there and it is not that far from the Gourmet Ghetto where even I wouldn't mind strolling to from FatApples. I'm not sure walking distance, but FatApples seems nearish upper Solano when I'm driving.

                                            2. Looking through this thread, I'd say your best bet is to give up the walking scene and go to Nellies. They serve old fashioned, southern, comfort food - fried chicken, smothered steak, jambalaya, black eyed peas, corn bread, collard greens, mashed potatoes, etc. I think that Nellies has the best, down home American (not Californian, not fusion, not upscale) food in the East Bay. It's similar to Everett and Jones but less chain-y and with better food. The food quality is a significant step up from some of the burger shacks and dives mentioned elsewhere. The service, the decor, the bar, the jukebox, the clientelle it all screams authenticity. It's a truly memorable, uniquely American experience.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                But bear in mind Nellie's is closed on Mondays.

                                                1. re: Sarah

                                                  Also when you say street scene at Nellie's, you're talking another sort of street scene. Personally I don't find it unsafe but many would.

                                                  1. re: ML8000

                                                    That's an industrial neighborhood surrounded by freeways and railroad tracks, pretty deserted at night.

                                              2. Thanks all for the great recs! We plan to go tonight... now I have a list of places in case my guest is a bit picky. Wherever we end up, I'll be sure to post on the food.

                                                1. Just before I was to meet up w/ the guest last night, a mutual friend gave me call to make sure I was prepared -- the guest is kinda old school in that he prefers to "dress properly" for dinner. Which meant that Nellie's would have to be scratched, as well as several other options in this thread. And I was so looking forward to chowing @ Nellies (never been but it's on my list for a visit in the near future). So where in Oakland to transport a properly dressed guest for a dinner, and still have "American" food? You guessed it -- no place a discriminating chowhound would normally venture to: Kincaide's @ Jack London.

                                                  What can I say about such an unchowish choice? We both ordered the chowder -- as could be expected it was overly salty. Then came the entrees: my shellstock linguini (had tried this a few years back and seemed to be the best item on the menu then) and his braised short rib. My pasta was overcooked, but thank god the mussels were not... the shrimp was ok. His short rib entree seemed to look decent, but I could not judge from his reaction. The rib came with green beans & of course mashed potato. When the dessert menu came out, there really wasn't anything that caught my eye except for the burnt cream -- my fave when done right... so we ended up ordering that. Not as burnt as I would have liked, but it was again ok. All in all, generally what one would expect at Kincaide's.

                                                  Yes, maybe I overdid the cream element... After all this, I think I shall pay a visit to Nellie's on Friday.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: S U

                                                    Corporate chain food, can't get more American than that.

                                                    1. re: S U

                                                      Nellie's is a fabulous place to get dressed up for. You won't be out of
                                                      place, you won't be the only people dressed up, and you'll probably get
                                                      better service.

                                                      [Speaking of service, there are a ton of reports here about Nellie's abysmal service
                                                      (at least one of them mine). I've been back twice recently, and the problems are
                                                      gone. Friday night, really busy, everything went swimmingly. I should probably
                                                      write a full report, but for now it's looking good.]

                                                      1. re: S U

                                                        I've been to Kincaide's at JLS. It was okay...it's the sort of place you'd bring conservative out-of-town guests and large parties, which is who I went with. Frankly if the prices were 1/2 or 2/3's off of the current I'd think it's a reasonable place to bring certain people. $21-ish for a simple sauted fillet, of okay and average prep, is just too much in the Bay Area. OTOH, you get what you expect and sometimes that is important.

                                                      2. Actually, your European guests might really enjoy Walnut Creek. Mine do. Just take the BART here, get on one of the Disneyland-style trolleys and have good American food at Lark Creek, on Locust St. You would have to order carefully to stay on budget - maybe the nightly 3-course special - or do something like split the salad with Fuji Apples, pecans and Maytag cheese, then have a glass of house wine and the generously-sized barbecue chicken tamales appetizer plates. Their desserts are great, and included if you order the special but you could also walk down the street later to Moonstruck chocolates or Naia gelateria. Your French friend might even get a kick out of our tiny "French Quarter" on Main St., in the same way that French visitors love to have their photos taken at The Paris Hotel in Las Vegas to amuse their friends and family back home! Keep in mind that your visitor cannot smoke in Lark Creek but our extensive shopping might make up for that. Yes, we're the 'burbs but our downtown is clean, safe, pretty and busy - during the summer you have to dodge the groups of European visitors strolling the sidewalks!