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Elmwood vs. the rest - Rockridge, Berkeley downtown, the newly alive Temescal...

For me, Elmwood is the closest commercial strip. I like it fine.

However, I don't eat here often. The restaurants are charming, but I don't find much value. Not cheap enough, not excellent enough.

There is that corner space waiting to be leased, Ashby and College. Someone told me it's waiting for a cobbler or a record store. Big enough for a restaurant?

Just felt like ranting. Any thoughts?

While we are at it, best picks in Elmwood?

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      1. re: grocerytrekker

        True, it's not the greatest, but it's good _value_. For what you pay, you get very generous portions of good quality, authentic southern Italian. That's more than you can say for most Italian places in Berkeley.

        1. re: grocerytrekker

          I also really enjoy Trattoria La Siciliana. But, I only go when I have three hours to dedicate to the meal - the wait for a table and food can be long (and I think that has lead to many of the negative reports). Its great Sicilian for Berkeley, and I like how you order family style.

      2. Well, it's not exactly Elmwood, but we just had a chowdown at Ethiopia, which is on Telegraph just off Ashby, and it was delicious and a good value.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Can I rest my case? No excellent restaurants on the entire Elmwood strip? It's very sad indeed.

          Ah, Telegraph. You have to count on that street for something exciting to happen. The only Ethiopian I had (can't remember the name) was in Washington, D.C. and it was all right, not rave-worthy. Mom didn't like it, and it probably influenced how I felt. I will give this place a shot.

        2. The only excellent place is Ici, the ice cream shop. And something I heard there is indicative why the Elmwood is so mediocre. They were refused permission to put tables in the shop to sit at while you eat your ice cream because according to the Berkeley Planning Department the Elmwood has too many (or the limit) of "sit down eateries." Take out is apparently ok still. So the neighborhood doesn't have a chance of something excellent coming in unless one of the mediocre places sells out.
          This is deeply frustrating to me.

          For what it is worth I wish to extend my fervent wish that BiRite market from San Francisco would please buy out the Derby market and create a BiRite here. I wonder if that could catalyze a shift?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Armoise

            Ici now has a bench. It beats sitting on the floor.

            1. re: Armoise

              Ici is only excellent in comparison to the rest of the stuff on the strip.

            2. i love shen yua (sp?) for chinese... so fresh, good and the price is comparable to other places.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Mel

                Shen Hua. It's a nice place to take non-food-people. It's okay, but I would probably be fried by chowhounds if I took them there.

                Now that our expectations are waaaaay low, any other places worth a mention?

                1. re: grocerytrekker

                  Shen Hua is definitely hit or miss. All their soups are usually dynamite. The whole fish is also very good. As are some of the vegi dishes. If you know what to order there - even "food-people" can have a very good experience.

                  1. re: A Amore

                    yeah the food doesn't suck and I once had some rather boring but delicate and expertly-prepared noodles. however, on two or three occasions the service has been so ridiculously abhorrent that I don't think I can go back, and I don't expect much in this department...

                    1. re: A Amore

                      I've had many hit or miss dishes at Shen Hua, but one that is always amazing and unlike any I've had elsewhere is Andy's Chicken. It's a chicken dish with fermented black bean sauce. (I've come across fermented black bean sauce elsewhere but it's never as good as here.)

                      1. re: katya

                        that is one of my favorites and why I did recommend it because this dish in particular is great and I haven't come acress it anywhere else.

                2. I like Holy Land. Can't understand how the awful La Mediterranee stays in business.


                  I like House of Curries. Cheap Pakistani fast food a la Shalimar / Naan 'n' Curry.

                  The food at Shen Hua is high quality but very Americanized.

                  There's a cap on food service / restaurants in the Elmwood so that empty corner space can't be converted to one.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    It is not in the Elmwood, but I finally made it to Flavors of India. YUM. A great addition to the neighborhood. Small, warm and inviting with gracious service, good prices and really good food. We started with the mixed vegetable pakora. The coating was not at all greasy, nicely spiced and the vegetables themselves had not been pre cooked to mush. The Madras Chicken was truly excellent. The spices were bright and fresh, the sauce was rich with coconut milk and what I think were cashews or almonds. Spicy, silky sauce and tender chicken that still had texture and moisture of its own. The fish curry was also very good. A darker deeper curry with more spice to it and not as silky. No coconut milk. The large pieces of fish totally held their own in the sauce. The fish had the texture and flavor of sturgeon. Very firm and assertive. My friend did not care for it.
                    Rice was good. Bread was very fresh and tasty. All items are a la carte. The owner told us that all meals are cooked to order and can be spiced according to your personal preference. We asked for and got spicy food. The spices were well balanced and did not overpower the meal.
                    Dinner for two: One app, 1 large Taj Mahal Beer, 1 glass of wine, 2 curries, rice and naan
                    came to $40. Good value for such good food. Can't wait to go back and try more of the menu.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston


                        Flavor of India
                        3211 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                  2. I love Trattoria Siciliana, but I hate the wait. That's how we found a comparable Italian restaurant at Ashby and College - just a few doors away. Locanda Olmo doesn't have the polish of Trattoria Siciliana, but it feels so Italian. The food is Florentine. The soups are a meal in themselves. For the entree I had the lamb which had been braised and thought it outstanding. My dining companions went for chicken dishes and were happy. The memorable part of the meal were the soups, perfect for the cold weather we're experiencing. Try to avoid sitting upstairs and see if you can't engage the owner in some conversation. It's a treat. http://locanda-olmo.com/

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Food Smith

                      "Doesn't have the polish of Trattoria Siciliana" ... talk about damning with faint praise.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I'm lost. . is that a dig at Trattoria or Locanda Olma? Oh wait. . I just read your profile. It must have been a dig at Trattoria.

                        Ah well. . . good food and earthy ambience has its charms.

                        1. re: Food Smith

                          I like La Siciliana, but its cooking and service are about as loose and casual as an Italian restaurant can get away with. Anything less polished than that sounds like a problem.

                      2. re: Food Smith

                        Locanda Olmo has closed. Sign says "Yak & Yeti" organic Nepali food coming soon but from the looks of the the interior it'll be a few months.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I heard that LO had closed. I was sorry. I still think about the hearty and so flavorful soups. Guess it's time to try Nepal's cuisine.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Topic on Yak and Yeti:

                            Yak and Yeti
                            2985 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                        2. A list of restaurants and markets in Elmwood (needs to be updated)

                          Holy Land
                          King Yen
                          La Cascada
                          La Mediterranee
                          Locanda Olmo
                          Naan "N" Curry
                          Shen Hua
                          Trattoria Siciliana
                          A.G. Ferrari
                          Dream Fluff Donuts
                          Ozzie's Soda Fountain
                          Sweet Dreams
                          Far Leaves
                          Roma Cafe
                          Derby Foods
                          Nabolom Bakery

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: grocerytrekker


                              Ici Ice Cream
                              2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Filippo's Pastaria
                              2930 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Holy Land Restaurant
                              2965 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              King Yen Restaurant
                              2995 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              La Cascada
                              2975 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Gordo Taqueria
                              2989 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              La Mediterranee
                              2936 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Locanda Olmo (CLOSED)
                              2985 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              2977 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              House of Curries
                              2984 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Shen Hua
                              2914 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Trattoria La Siciliana
                              2993 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              A G Ferrari
                              2905 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Dream Fluff Donuts
                              2637 Ashby Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Ozzie's Soda Fountain CLOSED
                              2900 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              2925 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Sweet Dreams
                              2921 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Far Leaves Tea
                              2979 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Roma Cafe
                              2960 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Derby Food Center
                              2707 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                              Nabolom Bakery
                              2708 Russell St, Berkeley, CA 94705

                            2. In reply to grocerytrekker ... posted in the wrong place ...

                              I've always wondered about Dream Fluff donuts.

                              I like Far Leaves Tea, but the most they do is specialty cookies that incorporate tea. I'd go there more but parking is a bear. I am a HUGE fan of their blood orange tea. Really pleasant little retreat in that area.

                              I really haven't found a difference in the A.G Ferrari's that I've tried. The one in this area is as good as any place.

                              I haven't read anything aboit Ici that would make me want to go back.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: rworange

                                There were some reports of Ici having a problem with grainy/icy texture at the beginning. They definitely worked that out before I got there. Other than that, I don't think anything has changed.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Dream Fluff is less visible since it's on Ashby. I always forget it's there. (Not very inviting, either.) ONE OF THESE DAYS I shall try their donuts and take a seat there, and not at Roma or Beanery. I've always wanted to try Far Leaves, don't know why I haven't yet. A.G. Ferrari is all right, but I find the cheese prices (and other items) a little high. I had pine nut ice cream the other day at Ici, which was good.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Weren't you the one hyping Ici in the first place?

                                    1. re: Gary Soup

                                      More of curiosity than support. If you remember there were MONTHS of posts asking if ICI was here yet. It finally got to me. Funny how one place gets attention and another doesn't seem to get on the radar. There was so much buzz about ICI and yet Bi-Rite Creamery doesn't seem to catch as much attention ... maybe because they opened in a cold month. Still have to get over to Bi-Rite. Hell would freeze over before I waste another penny on ICI ... or I'd have to hear ALOT of positive stuff ... ALOT ... and still ...

                                  2. I really like Nabolom Bakery. Plus it's the only place I've found on the West Coast that has prune danishes, and they're delish.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: BellaCalabrese

                                      Everything I've had from them has been pretty lame. Seems sort of 25 years out of date, and not in a good way.

                                    2. I'm another Elmwood resident frustrated by the lack of good food in the area. People in Berkeley seem to think that this area is rife with good restaurants, but it's really not (we're not lacking for cafes, though). The worst two places in the area are House of Curries and La Med. I always want to like La Med because of the nice front patio with heat lamps, but there's just nothing good to eat there. House of Curries served the worst meal I think I've ever ordered in town. Overcooked chicken in the curries, stale naan, etc. I'm always amazed when I see people eating in there. I've been to Trattoria La Siciliana only once -- it was just OK, and not enough to tempt me to return. AG Ferrari's is overpriced and sometimes the bread doesn't taste fresh enough.

                                      I'm not a fan of Nabolom Bakery, either, and I have really given them a try because I want to like this place. Their danishes, cinnamon rolls, etc. are cloyingly sweet and never seem to be fresh-tasting. The staff always seem to over-promise on how good the things are too. The only thing I'll order there now is the chocolate chip cookie -- it can be pretty good, but depends on the day and time that you go. All in all, it's worth walking another 10 minutes to go to La Farine.

                                      Dream Fluff is an OK donut place... I go there now and then to treat my donut-loving husband to some glazed oldfashioneds. The owners are nice and have pictures of the Angkor temples all over the place. I've never been there right when the donuts are fresh out of the fryer, which of course is the key to any good donut.

                                      So, where do I actually go? For a quick dinner I'll get a burrito at La Cascada -- good salsa, good guac. I also go to Shen Hua for their potstickers, dry-fried string beans, noodle dishes... there's one with salmon and wide noodles that's very tasty. The aforementioned Andy's chicken is indeed the best chicken dish on the menu -- avoid the fried ones. Yes, it's Americanized, but Shen Hua's one of the best places in town to go with a baby, by the way! VERY noisy and the staff are used to dealing with kids.

                                      As for Ici, I'd been really excited about it when it opened, but still haven't been wowed by any of the flavors. If we want ice cream we will usually walk to either the Naia gelateria (on UCB campus), or Lulu's belgian chocolate shop further down College (they have a really amazing dark chocolate gelato) or for a trip back to the 1980s, Yogurt Park (the best peanut butter fro-yo ever).

                                      Finally, I hear great things about the aforementioned Flavors of India (around Alcatraz & College, so outside Elmwood). An Indian friend who's picky about food says it's great and reasonably-priced.

                                      1. My hubby works at Alta Bates and we've wondered for years why Elmwood doesn't have a quality dining scene. I can't believe the donut place has survived (there since I was a kid in the early 70's), and why the bike shop on the corner remains vacant for years on end. Are rents that bad?

                                        Rockridge is too trendy (read expensive) these days. I'm proud to live off the Piedmont Avenue strip, which offers diverse choices from Dopo to Jojo and everything in between, at reasonable prices (with the exception of the way overrated Bay Wolf). I miss Chef Paul's. :-(

                                        To address Temescal, we went down there a couple of weeks ago and are dying to try the new Italian place. Alas, it's only open for dinner and we were in the area for a late lunch. I do not recall the name of the cafe (around 49th and Telegraph), but my roast beef, pesto aioli, roasted red pepper and greens (don't remember) sandwich, with fruit salad side, was lunch perfection.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: mitzimarmle

                                          The only reason that place has been empty is that the owner's trying to get around some zoning regulations that attempt to preserve neighborhood-serving businesses by restricting the number of restaurants and clothing shops.