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Recommendations for a lively restaurant for dinner tonightin Berkeley/Oakland?

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I've got my family from out of town tonight and we need recommendations for dinner at a lively place that has great drinks anywhere in Berkeley/Oakland. The kicker is that no one wants to pay over 15 dollars for a dinner entree. I was thinking of Dona Tomas or Cesar but the times I went there I don't really remember how much entrees are , I figured they were more than 15 dollars. I guess I thought of these places because I know they serve great drinks. We are going to see Arcade Fire tonight and since my family never comes to visit I really wanted to wow them with Bay Area cuisine, is this possible with this price cap? Chowhounders help needed!

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  1. The only lively places I can think of in that price range are Lanesplitter, Triple Rock, and Jupiter.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks Robert that's what I was thinking. Maybe I can convince them to bump up the price cap so that we can have a better meal. If the cap was more in the 20-25 range, what could be recommended?

      1. re: oscarm

        Luka's Taproom or Bucci's.

        http://www.lukasoakland.com/menu.htm
        http://www.buccis.com/dinnerfriday.html

    2. Sea Salt and T Rex both have many dishes at $15 or under. Good food, full bar, and they'll be fairly lively on a Friday night.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Morton the Mousse

        Despite the relatively modest prices of some of the dishes on Sea Salt's menu, we always end up spending over $40 a head for not a huge amount of food. To me that's no big deal, but I'd hesitate to recommend it for budget-conscious diners.

        T-Rex can be pretty affordable if you share slabs of ribs and the generous sides, but the drinks are pricy.

        http://www.t-rex-bbq.com/dinner.html

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I usually spend $20-$25 per person at Sea Salt, including tax, tip, and drinks. I always go home full. That said, I do stick to the less expensive portions of the menu, so some restraint is required.

      2. Isn't Pizzaiolo lively? Man, I must be getting old; I don't even know what lively is anymore.

        While its easy to spend a lot more there, I would think that you could do a nice family-style dinner and get some pizzas, contorni, and maybe a primi for around $15/person, give or take. Am I wrong?

        4 Replies
        1. re: chemchef

          Only if people are very light eaters.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I guess. Neither my husband or I are anything close to light eaters, and we've ordered the pizza margherita, meatballs, and rapini, all to share, and ended up taking some pizza home. That all totals $31, so $15.50/person.

            On the other hand, the other Primi are not quite as filling as the meatballs, so maybe there wouldn't be leftovers had we ordered something else.

            Either way, depending on what you order, it is possible to stay within a budget.

            1. re: chemchef

              At Pizzaiolo my wife and I usually order twice that much and have little or nothing for the doggie bag.

              Not a very safe place for a before-concert meal anyway.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thank you very much chowhounders for all your conscientious replies. I'm leaning towards Luka's, T- Rex or Sea Salt. Pizzaiolo has been one of my favorite restaurants for a while now but I don't know if I would call it lively. Plus I may be cutting it close as we plan on dining at 630 and the concert starts at 8.

        2. What about Zachary's in Rockridge? It's a Berkeley institution, near a lot of liveliness. Sure, the food is not spectacular, but most people still enjoy the deep dish spinach pies. I like Jupiter's too. There's Pyramid Brewery on San Pablo, which has good food but has the flavor and ambience of a chain restaurant you can find in any midsize city.

          There's also the Fruitvale area, which has some great Mexican restaurants.