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Mar 13, 2008 12:06 AM

My Berkeley/Oakland faves, tell me yours

Hiya hounds,

I have a new pizza love and its name is Gioia, on Hopkins. Pizza's three elements - crust, sauce, cheese - rarely work so well together. The formaggio is nomnomnom. Any pizza of similar quality in Oakland? I liked Dopo. Zachary's is great, but I find the crust could be softer, lighter and more flavorful. For me, Rustica lacks excitement though I appreciate their use of quality ingredients. I like Lanesplitter on San Pablo but not as much on Telegraph. Why, I know not. Am I missing anything great?

There's a lot of mediocrity out there. I love Homma's Brown Rice Sushi in Palo Alto but haven't found anything similar here. Traditionally, I've liked Kamakura in Alameda, Mobo in Santa Cruz and, locally, Tachibana on College. Kirala is pretty good. Anyone try Hiro's in Rockridge? Anywhere else to recommend?

I know this is a big category. I'm unadventurous enough to like a lot of Pan-Asian places including Xyclo and Unicorn. I like Vietnamese and finally accepted that Le Cheval is now bleh. I love Thai but don't have a current favorite. Anyone?

Cheap Eats!!??
I love - and have OD'd on - Simply Greek on Piedmont. I also enjoy many Mexican spots including La Calaca Loca (mmm baja fish), Tacubaya, (great salad, guac), and Cactus (mmm grilled veggies - but a little salty). Anyone try Cafe Raj on Solano? Perhaps an alternative to wheat-based meals you can suggest for my wheat-sensitive friends?

I've tried a lot. So, with all due respect, I only want to hear about your favorites, not "pretty good" and not "I've been wanting to try..." Thank you! - Demanding east bay diner

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  1. Pizza--It's not an ultra thin crust, but LoCoco's has a flavorful, chewy crust and good quality toppings. Beats the pants off of the cracker-like Zachary's thin crust.

    Sushi--I like Uzen for high quality ngiri. I am not a fan of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Mission burrito sized maki. If you are, we'll probably disagree.

    Asian--Champa Garden is Thai, Lao, Lue, and tasty as heck. Menu is not 100% reliable, but the nam kao (crispy rice ball salad) is usually great. The Champa sampler appetizer plate is that rare beast--an appetizer combo that actually includes the BEST items on the appetizer menu (it includes the nam kao, the Lao sausage, and the excellent spring rolls). Other standouts include the Lao noodle soup and the the Pad Prik Khing (I like it with pork).

    Cheap Eats--Get A serves cheap cooked Japanese meals (oyako don is sub $5).Their sushi is good quality (though not the quality of Uzen) for a very low price. Tiny, crowded, and uncomfortable to eat at, this is great take away.

    Shanghai has raised the price of its cheap menu from three dishes for $15 up to an earth shaking three dishes for $16.50. It's still a deal. Last time I was there my hubby and I had three dishes, two steamers of their excellent xiao long bao, tea and a diet Coke for around $30 all in. And we brought home enough food for a second night.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lexdevil


      Shanghai Restaurant
      930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

      Champa Garden
      2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

      Uzen Japanese Cuisine
      5415 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

      Lo Coco's Restaurant
      4270 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

      Geta Japanese Restaurant
      165 41st St, Oakland, CA 94611

    2. These are the places I currently eat at regularly and am happy to go to any time someone suggests them:

      À Côté
      Cesar (on Piedmont)
      Champa Garden*
      Chez Panisse
      China Village*
      Eccolo (lunch)
      El Huarache Azteca
      Great China*
      Sea Salt
      Wood Tavern

      *Hit-and-miss menus, be sure to read past reports so you order the good stuff.

      20 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Nice list, Robert!

        I'd include every one of yours and add some of my faves:

        Oliveto - specifically the breakfast pizza in the cafe on a sunday morning and the sitting at the counter upstairs for a dinner.
        Bakesale Betty - chicken sandwich and a cookie.... ahhhh
        Koryo BBQ - killer korean bbq with horrific interior and mean waitstaff
        Kirala Sushi - fresh fresh fish
        Tacubaya on 4th street - menudo that rivals any place on international

        1. re: Johnny E

          I would take Ohgane and Sura over Koryo these days. Better quality meat and much more pleasant atmosphere. Sura is the local panchan champ, averaging 17 on my visits. Even take away lunch tends to get a dozen.

          1. re: lexdevil

            Concur about Koryo - meat quality was lower on my visit a few weeks ago, Ogahne big win - and I'd add Shan Maru for overall Korean. Nummy seafood pancakes.

            Robert's list is excellent as usual. I will only add a few that I like, not on his list.

            Sushi --- Sushi Sho on Solano, but the owner is crazy. Homma-like in its unusual nature, but the anti-Homma. Homma's is one of those places that makes a town special in your memory. Like the OP, I have a soft spot for Tacibana. I've had some mighty fine fish at Yoshi's on a Saturday, but what's good is variable and prices are high.

            Asian --

            Dude, the Bahn Mi shop on San Pablo in EC. I miss that place so much it hurts.

            Cheap eats ---

            Schwarma at Jerusalem Organic on Solano. Light, tasty, good.

            I'm a fan of Gordo's on Solano. Carnitas burrito, regular (super loses the delicate bean/carnitas mix), pinto beans, hot salsa. Or carnitas tacos, with.

            1. re: bbulkow

              The Banh Mi shop in El Cerrito is called Ba Le, and they also have two shops now in westerly East Oakland, both on International Blvd about 4 blocks from each other. These are my fav banh mi shops in the E. Bay.

              agree w/ all of Robert's suggestions.

              I'd also toss in Maritime East for the cheeseburger.

              T-Rex for Monday/tuesday fried chicken, a huge portion by the way.

              Binh Minh Quan for Vietnamese in Oakland, Pho King for Pho in Oakland, Anh Hong for Vietnamese in Berkeley.

              1. re: nicedragonboy

                Have you been to Binh Minh Quan lately? It used to be on my regular list but last time I was pretty disappointed.

                Would have tried Anh Hong last weekend but they don't open for lunch.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I had the same experience a couple of weeks ago. Very disappointing. I was really excited to try it.

                  1. re: chemchef

                    If you two want to try it and need company, let me know!

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    That's too bad about BMQ. I haven't been in over 3 months at least. What did you have your last time there?

                    1. re: nicedragonboy

                      Bahn xeo, raw beef, don't remember what else.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Sadly, I concur. Binh Minh Quan was a regular destination for me, at least once a month, but the last few times the food didn't have quite the same flair, and the service was truly awful. I still go, hoping they rise up again, but not with the same "yeah! let's go there!" verve.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I go to BMQ weekly, and haven't experienced any decline... The service has certainly never been formal - more of a casual shout-down-the-waiter when you need the check sort of thing. If you actually get to know the waiters, it makes BMQ even better. Ask them what their favorites are.

                      2. re: nicedragonboy

                        The new shop on International is the main bahn mi location. I went to the old shop and they are just doing prep and groceries there. They also have premade noodle and rice plates, as well as a menu with soups and other stuff.

                        Referring to Ba Le.

                  3. re: Johnny E

                    I love Oliveto, but mostly go to Dopo and Oliveto these days, mostly because they're more affordable. Oliveto still rules for fancy handmade pastas.

                    I much prefer Ohgane to Koryo. Better food, nicer atmosphere (I always insist on sitting in the front room), friendlier service.

                    No way I'm waiting in line at Kirala when I can just walk into Uzen.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        My experience at Oliveto was awful. The food may or may not have been good, but the wait staff was absolutely rude and pretentious. I couldn't pronounce some menu items and they wouldn't care to elaborate on what a certain dish contained, or gave very poor explanations. They paid very little to no attention to us. I would almost like to claim a hint of racism here, but I hate playing the race card, but it REALLY felt like that when we went (and it was a group of about 8 Asian Americans, 20somethings-early30s, on a Friday night). Maybe it was just too crowded, but we've sworn never to come back because of our awful experience there.

                        Ohgane is AMAZING! And I agree, so much better than Koryo in every way.

                        1. re: meloncollie

                          Sorry to hear that, I had the exact opposite experience. Also w/ a group of 7 asians and 1 caucasian. They were very prompt, gave us explanations, saved the last orders of available dishes for us, helped us take our requisite group pictures. Food was excellent and our server gave us good recommendations.

                          It's too bad they didn't treat you guys right on your one and only trip.

                          1. re: meloncollie

                            The food "may or may not have been good"? Did you leave without eating?

                            How long ago was that? The service used to be pretty bad, but has been a lot better in the past couple of years.

                    1. Nice comments. I just wanted to clarify, though, the Xyclo is not "Pan-Asian." It's Cal-Vietnamese. I wouldn't want anyone to expect anything other than Vietnamese or Vietnamese-inspired dishes. I'm usually pretty skeptical about places like Xyclo, but the dishes I had there was actually quite good. Vietnamese food is also great for your wheat-sensitive friends.

                      Cheap eats ...

                      Cam Huong for banh mi
                      Otaez (Alameda location) for their weekend pozole special
                      El Huarache Azteca for anything with masa
                      Nieves Cinco de Mayo for handmade ice cream in unique flavors

                      and of course, my favorite taco trucks: El Novillo for carnitas, El Ojo de Agua for drinks, and El Gordo for al pastor.

                      1. Things that haven't been mentioned:

                        I have to say I was really pleased with my last meal at La Med in Berkeley. We got the sampler where you get 10 dishes. It was excellent. Incredibly flavorful and good execution on all of the dishes.

                        Pho Ao Sen on International for Pho

                        I like Hiro's in Rockridge, much like the old Yoshi's menu, but cheaper.

                        Burger at Bear Naked Burgers (former Cafe Pippo)

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: oaklandfoodie

                          I wonder if La Mediterranee has improved? The food I've had from them makes me wonder how they stay in business with Holy Land a block away.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I think their menu has some winners and some losers - I've had some tasty things, but the fava bean soup with like 5 UNSHELLED favas (ick) was pathetic, and the chicken is often too dry.

                            1. re: eeblet

                              By unshelled you mean still in the pod?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                No, I mean out of the pod but unshelled... The creamy beautiful flavor of favas was ruined by this! They were tough and yucky. I know shelling is a PiTA, but in my experience it's well worth it.

                        2. "Splurge" dinners ($40-$50pp): Dopo (my favorite in the East Bay), Pizzaiolo

                          Mid Priced dinners ($20-$25pp) Eel Banh Mi at Sea Salt, Cheeseburger at Maritime East, Fried Chicken at T-Rex (portion is big enough for two), Gregoire, Ajanta (best Indian in town), Cafe Colucci

                          Cheap dinners ($15pp) - Picante, Tacubaya, Bobby G's (worth adding to your pizza list)

                          Lunch - 900 Grayson, Cheeseboard Pizza, Gregoire

                          Dessert - Sketch Ice Cream

                          pp = per person. Price ranges include drinks, tax & tip.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            Nizza la Bella is still my favorite. But also agree with Seasalt, Sushi Sho, China Village, Wood Tavern, La Calaca Loco. And the indian place at the top of Solano and I can't think of the name!

                            Oh, and Chez Panisse

                            1. re: Missmoo

                              The Indian place at the top of Solano is either Ajanta or Khana Peena, probably Ajanta (unless by "top" you mean the west side, in which case it is Cafe Raj.

                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                I hope it's Ajanta, as I don't know anyone who finds Khana Peena more than ok.

                            2. re: Morton the Mousse

                              I know you're recommending specific dishes, but looking at the whole menu, prices at Sea Salt and Maritime East are similar to those at Pizzaiolo. Dopo's slightly cheaper.

                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                I usually get out of both Dopo and Pizzaiolo for no more than $40 a person, and often less, depending on what we order. Granted, the bill can go higher if I'm feeling splurgy, but that's not the rule.

                                I agree with lots of these comments, and I'd add the new Flora, where I've had two good meals (and which has a slightly lower price point than most of the other restaurants to which I'd compare it, like Wood Tavern and Maritime East).