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East Bay Restaurants: please help me expand my eating ways

Hello Chowhound,

Although this is my second time living in the East Bay, I can't seem to do much more than go to the same few places over and over! I live in North Oakland but am not opposed to driving for good food.

Here's where I've been a lot:
Pizzaiolo, Dona Tomas, Tacubaya, Cafe Gratitude, Chez Panisse, 900 Grayson, Vik's, Kirala, the Indian place on the upper most South side of Solano, O Chame, Sea Salt, Lalimes, Gioia, and Oliveto.

I'm looking for places off the beaten track, nothing too expensive or spicy. Mostly I just need help discovering new menus, new locations, new tastes. I go in these same circles over and over and I know there's more ground to cover than this.

Good BBQ?

Any help you can offer much appreciated!

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  1. Your eating companions have lost track of you! Do join us again at the table, sign up for the East Bay Chowdown group here,
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ebchowd...
    for the mailing list. Open to any and all chowhounds who are interested in helping organize eating events.

    Get thee to Fruitvale and International Blvd.

    1. Based on that list, you might like Montaro's on Solano. More of a great Mexican breakfast place with California sensibilities.

      It is take-out, but have you been to Lola's on Solano for the roast chicken? The other reason I mention it is because they have some of the finest baked goods in the Bay Area. Classic American stuff. They can have some amazing jellies & marmelades like the bergamot. The only place I know that matched some of the baked goods was at, uh, Poulet ... maybe even better .. evil giggle ... seriously though ... really as good so that means GOOD!!! Donna does the baked goods. Neither John or Donna are talkers, but if you show a sincere interest.

      Vanessas on Solano is also wonderful.

      Have you been to T-Rex for BBQ. If you go at happy hour they have some wonderful riblets for $5. I still can't believe I'm recommending T-Rex. They had such a rocky start. They have a great brunch but it is pricy. Speaking of that group have you been to Fonda (skip the desserts). After 9 pm they have a reduced price menu for apps and drinks.

      I like La Calaca Loca near Bakesale Betty's better than Tacubaya. Next door is Cafe Pippo. They don't do everyhing great, but they have some nice antipasta type salads and the pastry chef is supposed to be good. Haven't tried them yet.

      There's a Chinese Place on Solano that is interesting, Anna's Place. Kind of a California, organic bent.

      How about Rivoli and Ajanta? At the corner of Solano and San Pablo is Nizza La Bella ... lovely pizza ... some of the other stuff is hit and miss ... great ... GREAT cocktails ... especially the violet one.

      I really like Kennsington Bistro for breakfast. The scones on Sunday are perfect. They have a new dinner service I haven't tried but the chef once worked in some capacity at Guy Savoy.
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/376496

      Worth a trip for breakfast is Hidden City Cafe in Point Richond. Former Chez Panisse alum.

      You gotta go to Phoenix Pastifico for the olive bread if you haven't been.

      I keep meaning to try Rick and Ann's, but never seem to get there. The Bread Garden is an interesting bakery. It is kind of old-style European, but some of their stuff is tops in that category.

      Of course, Gregoire if you've never been. Lunch is the better deal and search the board for what they do best. The potato puffs and fries are great. Excellent burgers when they have them. It is tiny and geared to take-out but best eaten ASAP. Besides, eating at the counter is fun.

      Now if you are willing to talk interesting dives ... let me know.

      9 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        I really like Rick and Ann's for a nice homey breakfast. Also good is Bette's Oceanview Diner and the Homestyle Cafe (must get the whole wheat pecan waffles w/ cinnamon).

        As rworange said, the Bread Garden (next to Rick and Ann's) has some good stuff. I particularly like their garlic cheese baguettes. When I was here interning several years ago, I used to get one of those baguettes and some chicken salad from Whole Foods and have a picnic. You can't beat it for quick and cheap.

        1. re: rworange

          "You gotta go to Phoenix Pastifico for the olive bread if you haven't been."

          Where can I get it? Their storefront on Shattuck closed about a year ago. Is there some other outlet?

          1. re: Kitchen Imp

            The relocated to Addison in Berkeley and sell at various farmers markets
            http://www.chow.com/digest/2395

            1. re: Kitchen Imp

              They're at all three Berkeley farmers markets and at Grand Lake on Saturday.

              http://www.shopinberkeley.com/p/phoen...

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                They're also at the Temescal farmer's market on Sundays.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  They also have it at Farmer Joes at Montana and Fruitvale in Oaktown and I think I saw it at the Berkeley Bowl last time I was there, but I'm not sure.

            2. re: rworange

              I second Montero's for breakfast, but disagree with skipping the desserts entirely at Fonda. The (milk) chocolate mousse w/ bunueolos and dark chocolate sauce and the mangos in rum, while not the fanciest desserts, are quite good.

              1. re: adrienne156

                Fonda's mango slices with lime are also delicious. I order them as a salad rather than a dessert.

              2. re: rworange

                Hey RW, I went to Fonda last night and they added the most delicious chorizo mini-burger on a brioche roll to the happy hour menu for $6. The sweet potato chips that came on the side weren't worth the calories, but that burger... Waay better than the beef patty everyone was raving about at Gregoire.

                I hear you talking about the happy hour menu whenever you mention Fonda, so I figured you could appreciate it if no one else. :o)

                Oh, and I now understand what you guys mean about the noise. Happy, drunk people - what're you gonna do?

              3. Adding a few on the same lines as the above: try A Cote (on College), Dopo, Jojo, Cesar (all on Piedmont), Wood Tavern (on College), Zax Tavern (on Telegraph). You should also try Soi 4 on College if you like Thai, Cactus Tacqeria (on the cheap side, eat in or take out), Christopher's Burgers (also on College), Lanesplitter for pizza (a few locations), and check out T-Rex for barbeque (not universally loved, but I've always had great meals there).

                2 Replies
                1. re: JasmineG

                  Has Christopher's Burgers gotten better again? We stopped going there after several overcooked burgers with not so great fries.

                  Since Luka's opened, however, we don't miss Christoper's so much.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    Christopher's is better, though I still don't love it (though I have friends who are big fans). The burgers are pretty good for takeout burgers, but I agree with you on the fries. It's a few minutes from my house, though, so I go there more often than I would if it was farther away.

                2. We seem to enjoy a lot of the same places. My "standards" that aren't on your list are: Dopo, Gregoire, Imperial Tea Court, Wood Tavern (for lunch), Eccolo (for brunch), Ajanta, Andy & Cindy's Thai (Tues and Sat Berk Farmers' Market & Sun Temescal FM) & Cheeseboard Pizza.

                  1. Good list. Check out this topic for a few more:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/323376

                    T-Rex is upscale but currently has the only great shortribs I know in the area. Everett & Jones has good hot links, ribs are so-so.

                    Look for reports on:

                    Champa Garden
                    Cesar (the one on Piedmont is better)
                    El Huarache Azteca
                    Great China
                    China Village
                    Daimo
                    Pie in the Sky
                    Lanesplitter
                    Ohgane
                    Shanghai
                    Battambang
                    Binh Minh Quan
                    Spices!3
                    Vik's
                    Udupi Palace

                    1. Tropix on Piedmont Ave. (some of the dishes are spicy, but not all)

                      http://tropixrestaurant.com/

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Debbie M

                        What do you like at Tropix in the not-spicy category?

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I, myself, don't mind the spicy, but the OP requested not too spicy. But I do like the Bistec, which isn't spicy (but does have plenty of garlic, which some people may consider spicy) and the salt cod and potato croquettes. In fact, most of the appetizers fall on the not-so-spicy side.

                        2. re: Debbie M

                          I tried Tropix for the first time 2 days ago and was pleased with the dinner. It wasn't amazing, but there were a couple new flavors (I don't eat Jamaican/Carribean too often) and it was a great value.

                          1. re: nicedragonboy

                            Tropix isn't gourmet but for quantity of tasty food it cannot be beat.

                            I especially love the jerk pork sandwich. And their platanos are delicious. So are their French fries with spices.

                        3. I think my most-frequented restaurant in the Bay Area is A Cote... can't remember the last time I had a disappointing dish, if ever... great cocktails (there was a fig one that I loved, hoping they'll bring it back)... lots of wines by the glass (and lots of obscure varietals on the list). And I really think you'd like the desserts.

                          Also love DeClancy's Welcome Table (Lake Merritt, near the Parkway Theater) for fried chicken and sides, Champa Garden (same neighborhood) for Lao/Thai, and Messob on Piedmont for Ethiopian.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: daveena

                            Ask the bartender the next time you're there about that fig drink -- there's a long and sad story about why they don't have it anymore, but he tells it much better than I could.

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              <gasp> There's a story? A sad story? Does that mean it's not coming back? Man, first Hangar One stops making wasabi vodka because the infusion process created mustard gas (wimps!) and now this. What's a girl supposed to drink? Sigh.

                              1. re: daveena

                                It is a sad story (for those of us who loved that drink), and the probability of it coming back is low (all about the ability to get the special ingredients). It's very upsetting, I agree!

                                1. re: daveena

                                  The figoun is back!! I was at A Cote tonight and they have it back.

                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                    Aaaagh! Thanks! I'm going to have to head over ASAP.

                                  2. re: daveena

                                    Mustard gas? When did that happen? Was the story published anywhere, I don't remember seeing it.

                                    1. re: Louise

                                      I actually asked the guy who's always there pouring (the one with the glasses and the ponytail) about it, because I LOVE that vodka and wanted to know when they were going to make it again - he told me that in making the vodka, they discovered that when you infuse a vat of vodka with a couple of tons of fresh wasabi, you end up with a noxious gas similar to mustard gas, and that the guys in charge of making the vodka nearly passed out a few times, despite wearing gas masks. So they stopped making it after one batch.

                                      1. re: daveena

                                        You liked that? I liked the idea but when I actually tasted it, the overtones of shiitake and whitewall tires just, um, I really preferred the Buddha's Hand flavor.

                                        1. re: Louise

                                          Hmm... I didn't catch the essence of whitewall tire <grin>
                                          I loved how the sharpness smoothed out to a mellow nuttiness... loved it in Bloody Marys, loved it in a cocktail with cucumber juice that a friend made, but most of all, loved it straight. I still have half a bottle and mete it out in tiny sips for myself on days when I've been very good.

                                          1. re: daveena

                                            Oh joy! The figoun has returned!

                                            Last month when it wasn't back yet I couldn't get the story out of the bartender at all. What happened?

                                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                              There was basically a big falling out with the distributor of the liquer, and it took a long time to find another one. The main bartender will tell you the whole story (at least, towards the end of the evening, he will).

                              2. A few more (some repeated)

                                On piedmont:
                                Cesar
                                Gregoire
                                Xyclo
                                JoJo
                                Messob

                                On College:
                                A Cote
                                Soi4
                                Noodle Theory
                                Uzen
                                Holy Land

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: The Dive

                                  Le Cheval in downtown Oakland is worth trying if you like Vietnamese food. I recommend their clay pot dishes and getting whatever the special fish of the day is. They serve it roasted whole and it's great for a group of about 4 or so. The bill always comes to way less than you would expect for the quality of food you receive too.

                                  1. re: teresalynne

                                    Ahhhh... Rick and Ann's is wonderful breakfast spot for omelletes, pancakes and all the usual morning fare. Next door is a little bakery that offers some tasty goods. Cesar, as mentioned, is a favorite. I've been to Taste, which is next door to Cesar, and was impressed with the selection of bites and the wine list. I heard they are doing some makeover work in the dining room and in the kitchen, but I believe the results will be the same if not better.

                                    1. re: teresalynne

                                      Le Cheval's expensive as downtown Oakland Vietnamese places go.

                                      I like the food better at Binh Minh Quan. There are a bunch of other great Vietnamese places that close by 8 or earlier.

                                  2. If you are willing to drive through the tunnel, there is very good BBQ to be had in Lafayette (believe it or not) at Bo's. The brisket is as good as I have had anywhere, ribs (long or short end), & chicken are all good. Live music on many nights (Bo knows a lot of pro jazz musicians, and they hang out there when they are in town). Unbelievable beer and wine selection (yes, wine. With BBQ. Don't knock it until you have tried it). Another plus-the weather out there in the summer is warm enough to let you eat outside on the patio.

                                    Edit-just found this review by another poster. Heartily agree!

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38662...

                                    1. This is an amazing list! Thank you all ever so much. I've bookmarked the url so that I can remember to come back here before I go out.

                                      I always feel taken advantage of at Gregoire. The portions are tiny for the price, especially with that excessive packaging. But I do go there when I'm in a blood sugar bind.

                                      I find the Cesar on Shattuck underwhelming to the point of disappointment. The one in Oakland is a bit better.

                                      I think I need to go to A Cote, yes, although I do not drink alcohol, so the beverage suggestions are lost on me. And, yes on Jo jo, I haven't been in way too long.

                                      Thanks again!

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: sailorbuoys

                                        What about African like Lagosia, Finfine, and Addis? Also some really fun Korean like Seoul Gom Tang and Kang Tong Degi. All in the general North Oakland vicinity (except for Lagosia).

                                        Miele Miale
                                        ilikewhatieat.typepad.com

                                        1. re: Miele Maiale

                                          I think no one mentioned those because the original poster specified "nothing spicy" (actually, she said "nothing too expensive or spicy" so I guess she could have meant for "too" to modify "spicy" as well as "expensive").

                                          But that reminds me, time to get back to the Ethiopian crawl -- either Finfine or Addis would be next up!

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            I think the other variable is what Sailorbuoys means by "spicy." Does that mean containing spices, or does it mean containing chili hot spices. Finfine and Addis both have dishes that are spiced, but not hot at all.

                                            Oh and the Ethiopian crawl: yes please! Addis first, perhaps? How do we go about this? I know there's a Yahoo board I belong to, but I've lost track completely (so many boards and groups and social networking things these days!). Or should we just make a plan, invite a couple of people, and go?

                                            1. re: Miele Maiale

                                              Drop me a line at the address in my profile and we'll put something together.

                                              1. re: Miele Maiale

                                                Given the mentions of Vik's and Kirala in the original post, clearly "spicy" means chiles.

                                        2. I had a great dinner a couple of months ago at "Downtown" on Shattuck in Berkeley. Not too expensive, great service and really good tasting food. I had a lamb and fava bean stew and my bf had a spectacular steak. Give it a try.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: mlucier

                                            Really? It's been a while since I've been there, but my feeling about Downtown was that it was expensive for what we got. Have the prices come down, or have they stayed the same while everything else has gone up? Or do we just have different ideas about what "not too expensive" means?

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              There's a new bar menu (not on the Web site) with less expensive items. I keep meaning to try it.

                                            2. re: mlucier

                                              My first meal at Downtown--shortly after it opened--was quite good; but subsequent visits have been disappointing...the food seems to have lost something, and service was cordial, but barely competent...I don't go there any more...

                                              1. re: Rapini

                                                If I remember correctly, we were comparing it to Le Liason and a Tapas place up the street from Downtown, and Downtown had the best prices hands down. I think my lamb dish was in the $15 range. Yes, I just checked the menu, it was the Lemon Thyme Papardelle with braised lamb for $15.50 and it was OUTSTANDING. We were there later in the evening, so our server wasn't too busy and we got great service.

                                                1. re: mlucier

                                                  Thanks. That sounds delicious and a decent price. My recollection is that when I ate there many moons ago (within a year of it having opened), the entrees were all in the $18-25 range, which at the time was on the upper end for Berkeley. The new prices look much more appealing.

                                                  Ha! The reviews on their site bear out my memory: in 2004, Bauer says the risotto is $16.50, and now it's $12.50, and the brick-chicken and roasted pork loin were $18.50 and now $16.50. How often does that happen?!

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    maybe they realized they needed to bring their prices down to get more butts in the seats. With the quality of food that runs up and down Shattuck, they needed to do something! Go there and enjoy.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      The chicken was still $18.50 when Bauer re-reviewed it earlier this year.

                                                      Maybe getting knocked from three to two stars and dropped from his Top 100 inspired a shakeup.

                                              2. Try Bay Wolf and Rivoli. For BBQ Flint;s or Everett & Jones down by Jack London is worth a shot. For Dim Sum try Tin's tea House or Jad Villa. Neighborhood place check out Mezze on Lakeshore, also Soizic near Jack London.

                                                4 Replies
                                                  1. re: local_guy

                                                    How long since you've eaten at any of those places? Tin's has been gone (at least from Oakland Chinatown, there's one out in Walnut Creek) for over two years, and there are much better dim sum options than Jade Villa.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      i agree with Ruth, Jade's dim sum is pretty bad. And Flints hasn't been the same since the original owner passed away many years ago. The new family has his own kids running the counter and they seemed like they could care less about your experience, not to mention the food which has taken a nose dive. E&J I once loved, but the service has long been lacking and the food has lost it's appeal. Ribs and brisket still too tough the last time i was there, about a year ago now.

                                                      1. re: nicedragonboy

                                                        I had good ribs from Flint's in 2003, between the second? third? reopening and the most recent closure. I live downwind, and haven't smelled the smoker working since it reopened for the third? fourth? time last year.

                                                        Per an article in the East Bay Express, it wasn't sold.

                                                        http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2006-04...