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Need very moderately priced restaurant for graduation celebration

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East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland) preferred. My husband is getting his master's degree and we will have a total of 15 people who like good food, but don't like to spend a lot of money on it. Help!

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  1. Can you define "very moderately priced"?

    18 Replies
    1. re: JasmineG

      I guess about $15-$20 pp. max., food only.

      1. re: chemchef

        And is this lunch/brunch or dinner? The only thing that I can think of that would work for dinner is a place that encourages (and has sizeable portions for) sharing, so I think T.Rex would work if your party likes that kind of thing and is into sharing. Some ethnic places would work, if your party is into that: some of the Korean places on Telegraph (unless you think that isn't celebratory enough), Ajanta maybe (if you order right?).

        1. re: JasmineG

          Its for early dinner. The ceremony ends at 3:30, so I'm looking at a 5-5:30 reservation.

          Never been to T-Rex. Is it somewhat festive for a graduation celebration? We are into sharing, but with 15, I think most will probably order their own meal.

          1. re: chemchef

            Well, it's as festive as you're going to get in that price range, unless you want to do Ajanta. It's a fun space, and is usually pretty bustling. I would suggest it for sharing because the smoked meats (ribs, brisket, etc) have servings that would work well for two people, and the sides (if they're being eaten as sides) would be fine for 2-3 if you order a few. They also have more complete meals for slightly more, and sandwiches for the lower end of the range. The menu is on the website if you want to see how it works.

            1. re: JasmineG

              Just got back from T-Rex. Spent $17pp on food before t&t and had a ton of leftovers. But sharing is essential - entrees are portioned for gluttons and body builders. The food really is well suited to sharing - everyone takes a couple of ribs, a piece of brisket a few spoonfuls of sides, etc. I think the atmosphere is festive enough, the excellent bar helps, but you should pop your head in before you commit.

              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                Thanks Jasmine and Morton. I'll check it out this week.

                Really wanted to do Pizzaiolo and was thrilled when I called yesterday and they said that they had room for us, but they only do prix fixe for that size group and the options are $35/pp for 3 courses or $50/pp for 4 courses. I might just do it and supplement the bill with a couple hundred dollars so that the guests don't have to pay as much. My husband and I love Pizzaiolo, and I think it would be well worth the splurge for his M.A. graduation (unfortunately, my in-laws would pass out at the prices).

              2. re: JasmineG

                I don't think T-Rex is in the stated price range unless somebody orders for the group. And even then drinks are relatively expensive.

                It's not very festive to take people on tight budgets someplace where they have to worry about what to order.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  We're not big drinkers, so that's not really a concern.

                  Now that you've told me what not to do, do you have any useful suggestions?

                  1. re: chemchef

                    T-Rex is great if it fits your price range.

                    I already suggested Champa Garden. Morton and susancinsf mentioned some other good places.

                    1. re: chemchef

                      I think that your second question might be a little tough to answer, or at least I would find it to be tough to answer, because it isn't clear to me what you would find to be a useful suggestion. I think Robert actually was trying to be useful by giving you his opinion that TRex might not fit your original request, and I do agree with him on this one: I am not sure T-Rex fits your originated stated parameters in terms of price (but then unlike JasmineG I'd be ordering appetizers, ribs and a side, so I guess it depends in part on whether or not your group are big eaters even though they aren't big spenders). Moreover, to add to that, I am not a huge fan of the food at T-Rex though I did like the drinks I had there very much. So, for a group that is not big drinkers, it wouldn't be high on my list for a party (I would consider it a good choice for a group of big drinkers, who wanted something mid but not low range, just to be clear).

                      I suggested China Village because I think the food is great, it fits with the price range you suggested, and I have enjoyed celebratory meals I've had there. (everyone's definition of festive varies, but personally I think China Village is every bit as 'festive' as T-Rex, probably because to me food is the key component of a great party!). They do have a bar if there are drinkers in the group (an advantage over Champa Garden).

                      But otoh, had I known you were willing to go as high in cost as Pizzaiolo (which is definitely more expensive that T-Rex), I'd be giving other suggestions too...

                      Bottom line for me: China Village is much more bang for your buck for a group of eaters who like good food but don't want to spend a lot, than TRex could ever be. IMO. Is that useful to know?

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        Yes. Thanks susaninsf. I doubt if people will be ordering a full, 3-course meal, and that's why Pizzaiolo was on my list.... people could get a pizza or a pasta dish and still be within the stated price range. Also, the fact that my husband and I love their food and the atmosphere is upbeat, made me think that it would be a good choice (even if I had to supplement the bill with some extra $$$ to bring the cost down for everyone else). However, I did not know that they only offered the prix fixe options for large groups. That changes things a bit.

                        Unfortunately, I hate to limit this group to Asian food, even though I know that the places that you and Robert and others suggested would be within my price range. My step-father is full-blooded Italian and Italian food seems to work well for the group, as does good ole American comfort food (done well, of course), but other ethnic foods are a little harder to push on this bunch (some like, others not so much).

                        I appreciate all the suggestions from everyone! Thank you and keep 'em comin'!

                        1. re: chemchef

                          I am currently planning a graduation dinner for my daughter. In LA, not here, and I was sort of hoping she would go for Asian since her Dad and I are footing the bill, but no, she wants Italian. Basically, I have concluded that if you want Italian, and you want the food to be good, and you want to take a group, you are going to have to pay for it. (here or in LA). Certainly more than you are budgeting, and particularly if by Italian you mean something other than just pizza. IMO, you can't have it both ways. I'd just tell the step father (and others who complain) that you had to choose between budget, and type of food. Or supplement it as you say. Moreover, you imply that people will be picking up their own tabs: do you really want your 'guests' to feel constrained by their budgets to order less than they'd really want? (and if you are picking up the tab, it would be rude to somehow imply they should limit their choices, of course).

                          I think sometimes understanding realistically what you can or can't do on a budget is the key. Please keep in mind that people tend to eat or drink more in groups. That is offset somewhat by sharing in restaurants where sharing is the norm, but other than pizza that is more common in Asian than in Italian restaurants. In my experience it is basic party planning to assume that the tab will be at least ten dollars higher per person than you thought, just because people really do eat (and drink) more in a group!

                          All of the good Italian restaurants I can think of in the bay area are outside of your budget unless you restrict each guest to no more than one course of pasta.

                          One possibility: take them to Bucci's and pray that they choose only the spaguetti and meatballs (but do you really want them to be restricted to only a few of the menu items at a celebration):

                          http://www.buccis.com/dinnerfriday.html

                          if you choose that option, they will get a decent, but IMO not great meal. Certainly nothing memorable.

                          http://www.buccis.com/dinnerfriday.html

                          Or you could go to Venezia, and if they choose carefully they could have pasta AND a salad or soup:

                          http://caffevenezia.com/page/o0gx/Din...

                          but your meal will be decidely eh at best.

                          As for me, personally, I've just resigned myself to a food budget of $30 to $40 p/p for daughter's graduation to get good Italian near her campus

                          Finally, keep in mind that reservations around the graduation locale are going to start filling up even a month or more prior to graduation date.

                          Sometimes, the key to planning the celebration is first figuring out what one can't do on one's budget. Or (sigh) raising the budget.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            Thanks for all the info, but I'm not sure what your point was?

                            1. re: chemchef

                              seriously? I thought I was overly detailed.

                              Here is my point: you can get good Italian in the bay area, but not for $15 to $20 a person. I am not convinced you can get any really good non-Asian for $15 to $20. I think you will have to choose: pay more or expect less.

                              Moreover, it is my opinion that the longer you wait to make your reservation for a group that size, the more your denial about that fact will limit your choices (and/or require you to go further afield than you would want to do for a post-graduation group).

                              Hopefully I am wrong and the bluntness of this answer will generate lots of Italian or American suggestions at under $20 a person that will take 15 people on graduation night. But, unfortunately, I doubt if I am wrong.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                I don't believe I'm in denial. I've already made several reservations and called on other restaurants. I've already said that I'm willing to supplement the bill out of my own pocket (if that's what it takes) to get good food and lower my guests expense.

                                I feel like I've gotten lots of good suggestions, and I am exploring my options. I'm not at all delusioned into thinking that I can wait much longer to make a decision or that I can rigidly stick to my price range. It was just a ballpark estimate, knowing that my in-laws are coming from rural areas where food is much cheaper (and lower quality). Yes, I want my guests to be happy, but ultimately, this is my husband's party, and the most important thing is that he enjoys it. He appreciates tasty, good quality food, and that's what I want him to have.

                                1. re: chemchef

                                  If food is a really high priority, I wouldn't go to T-Rex. The food is perfectly good, though it can be inconsistent. It fits the stated price range, but the food is worlds away from Pizzaiolo (which would be my top choice for this type of event).

                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                    Agreed, I would absolutely go to Pizzaiolo over T-Rex. And it's good to know that Pizzaiolo does a prix fix at those prices for a large group, I didn't know that before!

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I've never spent more than $25 pp for food at T-Rex, and it's usually been way less, so I'm not sure why someone needs to order for the group. Unless everyone is getting their own appetizer, order of ribs and a side (which, from chemchef's description of the group in question, it doesn't seem to me likely to happen), T-Rex would be within the price range.

          2. If it's good enough for a Ph.D it should be good enough for a M.A..:-)
            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/513475

            1 Reply
            1. re: wolfe

              Those are all great places, but all out of my price range. Thanks anyway.

            2. Ajanta. Prices fall right within that range, good for big groups (esp. if they like to share and order dishes a la carte), great food.

              T-Rex might be pushing it price-wise, you'd probably have to work with them on a menu ahead of time to ensure that you don't go over budget and the bar does get pricey. That said, they're big enough for the group, and portions are so huge that I rarely spend more than $20pp on food.

              Nellie's is another possibility. Though I haven't been there in a while it is good for large groups and definitely in your price range.

              Fellini's also comes to mind, though I haven't actually eaten there.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                I love Ajanta (had lunch there yesterday as a matter of fact), but unfortunately, my husband is Indian food-phobic.

              2. I think China Village in Albany would work.

                I did my husband's Master's celebration over dim sum at Kan's in (SF) Chinatown a few years ago. It was a hit.

                1. Champa Garden frequently has groups that size.

                  1. Cafe de la Paz?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Glencora

                      No

                      1. re: rworange

                        Um, okay. A bit terse.

                        1. re: Glencora

                          Considering my usual War and Peace length posts ... you should count your blessings.

                          Anyway, I liked it well enough when I went. However, I was going for the odd stuff on the menu like empadinha Brasileña and llapingacho It was good but not amazing.
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/45232

                          I just think it would disappoint all. Looking at chemchef's posts, I don't think the food would be up to her standards. This is nuevo latino food so the non adventurous in the group probably would be unhappy.

                          However, they are inexpensive and they seem really geared to doing graduations. Website on place record

                          It is also a pretty solid three stars on Yelp. Either people love it or hate it. While I realize it IS Yelp, there is a lot about bad service my favorite line being ... "I hear people say the food is good. If the food was good, then the horrible service must have killed my tastebuds."

                          -----
                          Cafe De La Paz
                          1600 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

                    2. Townhouse Bar & Grill in Emeryville gets you nr the price range

                      1. Bucci's might work. It's not traditional Italian, but it's very Italian in spirit, and it's a very convivial place. on the other hand, some of the food is gloppy.

                        Venezia's food's is not that great. Last time I ate there, we didn't finish half the dishes, and left so hungry that we went to a Korean place to eat some more. The cooking is so Californicated that an Italian might freak out.

                        Trattoria La Sicilia might work if you don't mind hanging out on College for an hour or so.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          The last time I went to Venezia, I thought the food was terrible. Giant, heavy, unseasoned meatballs... yuck!

                        2. Hey ... how about Nizza La Bella? Top notch pizza AND great comfort food like their amazing mac and cheese. Definately in the price range. I think the joint is festive. They say they take reservations for any size and I bet they could configure a table for your group in the patio area.
                          http://www.nizzalabella.com/

                          Also they don't fill up that early in the evening.

                          Another thought would be Cafe Zeste. It is a pretty little restaurant that shares a kitchen with Phoenix Pastifico. Some of the pasta is from there. If you could get them to serve the olive bread with some of that pasta, you'd have something. They are only open for lunch but they will open the restaurant at other hours for parties. You would have to make your own festive noise, but maybe hire a musical group ... it could be pleasant.
                          http://www.zestecatering.com/cafezest...

                          1. How about Luka's in Downtown Oakland? Definitely fun and it has a full bar. Prices have been rising, as they have everywhere, but the (very tasty) burger provides a low cost option. That and a starter will keep to your price range. You could also supplement (as you planned to do at Pizzaiolo) by ordering fries, cheese, and charcuterie for the table so no one would need to order a starter. 5 large fries and 3 ea. on the cheese and charcuterie would get the job done for an additional $84. Folks could definitely stay in your price range then, ordering most of the entrees or two starters (which I often do). The serving of mussels is generous, and also makes a great main course.

                            http://www.lukasoakland.com/menu.htm

                            Only down side is that Luka's gets very loud. Starting at 5:30 will help, but the joint will be jumping by the time you leave.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: lexdevil

                              Luka's entrees are $17-24 ($10 burger with fries, $15 vegetarian entree).

                              Assuming they would seat a party of 15, I'm not sure a large group that was economizing on the food, not ordering many drinks, and lingering at the table would get a very warm reception.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                That's why I think this only works if the host buys the starters for the table. $84 invested on fries, cheese, and charcuterie = freedom to order all but steak. It's also not entirely clear if they will be drinking...but if they are, I think Luka's works.

                                There are currently only the two beef entrees (steak and short ribs) over the $20 price point. Options in the OP's price range include any of the other five entrees, mussels & soup or house salad, or my frequent choice of two starters (soup & ahi tartare, hushpuppies & chicory salad, clam chowder & beet salad...).

                                I agree with most that Asian options are by far the best at this price point. I would go to Champa Garden, China Village, Great China (in the small third floor room), etc. if it were my dinner. But given that the OP wants something non-Asian, higher prices seem unavoidable. But for the pizza option, prices are pretty similar at Nizza la Bella http://www.nizzalabella.com/dinnermen..., or even the UNrecommended Cafe Venezia. http://caffevenezia.com/page/o0gx/Din...

                                Don't know if they'd take a group of that size, but Tamarindo could meet the price. I wonder if they'd be interested if the OP pre-ordered an assortment of plates for the group. http://www.tamarindoantojeria.com/lun...

                                1. re: lexdevil

                                  Re T-Rex's drink prices, chemchef said, "We're not big drinkers, so that's not really a concern."

                                  1. re: lexdevil

                                    I don't think Tamarindo could accomodate a group of that size, and personally, I don't find it to be very celebratory, unless they've significantly improved the seating since I was last there (basically, it is benches, just not that comfortable)

                                    1. re: lexdevil

                                      Champa Garden for a big celebration? I think it's a bit lacking in festive merriment and delightful decor, no?

                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                        More often than not when I go there for dinner there's a big, happy party of 20 or so in the middle of the room.

                                        You haven't been since they redecorated? Much nicer.

                                  2. re: lexdevil

                                    Luka's is great! One of our regular faves, but my office has had 2 holiday parties there and we were put in that awful side room they use for the bar/music/nightclubby area. The chairs were barstools with backs and the tables were tiny (also high off the ground). Make sure you ask where they're seating you if you call them.