Berkeley - Indian - Chaat - "Vik's Chaat Corner"
Bhatura Cholle, Batman!
Vik’s is a tough place to review. After I went the first time, I had a series of impressions, good and bad, that made me hold off until the 2nd time to allow the gestalt of the place time to sink in. I'm writing this because despite some clear negatives, my wife and I enjoy the heck out of the place.
The closest analog I can come up with is that Vik’s is the Indian version of Fuddrucker’s. You order at a counter and wait for your name to be called. The joint is big and Spartan. The food is clearly fresh and attention is paid to quality. Table service is non-existent. It’s loud and was crowded both times we visited for lunch on a couple of Saturdays.
My wife ordered the Chicken Kathi Kabab “Cubes of boneless chicken with onions and cilantro rolled in a bread served with yogurt and mint chutney” which was tasty when combined with the accompanying sauce. It’s basically a chicken burrito, but the tortilla is replaced by great Indian flat bread.
I had the Lamb Baida Roti “Spiced ground lamb with onions and cilantro stuffed in a white flour bread served with yogurt and mint chutney”, which is rather like a ground-lamb quesadilla, again with an accompanying yogurt sause that pulled it together. The lamb was spicy and moist.
We shared an order of Bhatura Cholle “Large puffed puri made of fermented white flour along with garbanzo curry, onions and mango pickle”, which comes from the kitchen looking like a fried balloon. You rip off a piece of the balloon and dredge the dough in the garbanzo curry. It was the highlight of the visit.
Every dish we’ve had there is a bit greasy, but not in a bad way. It’s the greasy of correctly cooked tempura, not KFC extra-crispy. Also, the food is really filling, so eat until you are not quite full, rather than really full. After you are done the food seems to expand in your stomach and you might get uncomfortable (I can’t believe I ate the whole thing – style uncomfortable) if you’re not careful.
There is some strategy to eating at Vik’s. Know what you want when you get to the counter, as the staff doesn’t have the time to help you.
The flat, plastic, placemat-sized menus at the counter aren’t a help because there are no pictures. Go to the Website (http://www.vikdistributors.com/chaat/...) , which does have pictures and jot down your favorites.
While one person stands in the ordering line, have another go find a place to sit. As mentioned above, it’s packed and you’ll want to wait in relative comfort. You will be called when any of your food is up, rather than when your order is complete, so be patient.
Finally, if you didn’t get to the website before visiting, walk around and look at what the patrons are eating. If you see something you like, ask the diners their opinion, and the name. I’ve found the customers are nicer and more helpful than the staff.
The bathroom is clean and there is a convenient drinking fountain with paper cups right next to it.
Hours and Directions: http://www.vikdistributors.com/chaat/...
Food: 7 (spicy, fried, authentic
)Service: 4 (no table service, slow on cleaning the tables, orders come out at random)
Price: 3 (really cheap for the bay area)
Ambiance: 6 (fun, cavernous, good natured crowd, loud, clean bathroom)
And if you go alone, you may pick up your incredibly tasty food and find someone's taken your precious seating spot.
Seating used to be much worse. I would always explain to first timers to never go in less than a party of two, have both scope the seating area for any acquaintances they could ask for their table, and if unsuccessful, one should order and any others should be ready to swoop down on any table that looked like might soon empty.
OakJoan, they are serving Masala Dosa on weekdays. I had one for lunch on Thursday! It was listed as a special.
Another stellar dish is the Keema Samosa, and the Aloo Tikki Cholle are just the most amazing comfort food. Incredible fried potato patties with VIKS killer curried ceci!
And yes the lamb roti are so freaking good!!
Darn, now I am so hungry!
Well, I for one can't go to Vik's without having the bhel puri. I love the salty/sweet/crunchy combination. but that's just me. If hubbie and I go alone (and its a must-stop if we have tickets to a Cal game later in the day....) we always fight over what to order: by the time we eat his required dosa, some idli sambar, and dhokla (When I was at Vik's two weeks ago the dhokla was WONDERFUL...some of the best I've ever had! Try it if its on the menu -- Khaman Dhokla is how its listed on the menu and its a special...) we are too full for my bhel puri....So the obvious solution to this and the problem of finding a seat while someone waits in line is to take a crowd..the more folks in your party, the more you get to taste!! (Yes, I suppose you could take it home, but a lot of Vik's dishes don't travel well, and I DO live 200 miles from the joint...).
But I did enjoy the review, which had some good advice on the Vik's "experience." Don't forget that it has the best people-watching anywhere...so if you have to wait for a table you'll at least be amused. On a football Saturday you'll see a great mix of Cal fans having their pre-football fix (beats the hell out of the crap they serve at Memorial stadium...)and Indian ex-pats with their families: saris and Cal T-shirts, and a few folks who just want some good cheap-eats......
The people watching at Vik's IS spectacular. I particularly love seeing the families in there; it's really a testament to the diversity of the area. Multi-generation Indian families, yuppie-crunchy sorts with their toddlers, and folks just looking for good eats don't necessarily mingle, but there's no doubt everybody's enjoying the chaotic atmosphere.
Oh, and I love watching the sari-donning grandmas in the open kitchen. This comfort food is the sort that I grew up with, but I'll happily indulge on occasion.