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May 30, 2008 10:13 PM

Emeryville: Wally's Cafe and The Bank Club - a roadhouse with Lebanese Mexican food and draft Trumer Pilsner

Yeah … uh … where to start?

First, thanks to the poster ‘mission’ for the tip in this thread …

Strange, weird or hidden places to eat in the Eastbay?

Second, third, etc
- Cash only
- Huge portions
- There’s a secret menu
- $3 mugs of Trumer Pils
- Open till midnight on Friday and Saturday
- The owners are really as nice as everyone says


What I had
- Lebanese lentil rice soup
- Pomegranate chicken with rice, skordalia (garlic dip) and Mediterranean salad
- A taste of Lebanese baklava
- Mexico City-style tamale

The portions are huge. The large bowl of soup comes with entrees. It is tasty, savory, salty and a nice match for a mug of $3 Trumer Pils or Amber Rock.

The grilled pieces of chicken with a sour tang from marinating in pomegranate juice and Lebanese spices is delicious when spread with the home-made creamy extreme-garlic dip.

The chopped romaine, tomato and cucumber is nicely dressed and topped with pieces of feta.

A new batch of baklava was being made so all that was available was a complementary thin slice … very good, light and flakey … not he overly sweet version I dislike. This page about Lebanese Cuisine says ...

"The main difference between the Lebanese variety and its Greek cousin, is Lebanese baklava often contains pistachio nuts and is drizzled with a rose-water syrup, the Greek variety usually contains walnuts and honey."

The owner’s mom and grandmother are from Mexico City and make the tamales using a family recipe. The masa is a little lighter in texture, the stewed pork tender and flavorful, the peppers add a nice touch of heat and I swear there is a hint of some sort of fennel in there … but maybe not … but maybe.

This could be a deal … $3 draft with $1 tamale (I think)

Since this is long as usual, more details about Wally’s and the Bank Club in the first reply

Wally's Cafe
3900 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608

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    Wally is from Lebanon. His wife, Angelica, her mother and grandmother are from Mexico City and part Lebanese. Wally and wife really are as nice and friendly as everyone says. They are the Lebanese/Mexican version of Bakesale Betty in that they often are generous with freebies … the tamale and taste of baklava were complementary.

    I read that Wally once had a restaurant in Fremont.


    The menu is brief … but not everything is on it. No mention of the tamales or keftah kabob. Angelica says they also always have pork chops and they are really good.

    They also always have tilapia and make it Mexican-style … dredged in flour and fried … or Lebanese-style with tomatoes and onions.

    On Friday and Saturday if it doesn’t get too busy they have a special or two like some sort of Lebanese lasagna or meat loaf or a few other things.

    I’ve also read the Lebanese coffee (with cardamom) is great … darn … forgot about it.

    A lot of the business comes from the bar patrons, and from my understanding the more Lebanese dishes don’t sell to that group. However, it seemed like they will make special requests (time permitting). The tamales are cheese/pepper, pork and chicken, but Angelica said if I wanted something else she would have her mom make them.


    Without knowing they were Lebanese, the menu seems almost generic Mediterranean. Angelica said that it was the spicing and prep that was Lebanese. The Lebanese items …
    - Chop chop chicken liver sandwich (ok, this is different)
    - Mediterranean burger (Kafta)
    - Kebabs – beef, lamb, shrimp, chicken
    - Shawarma – chicken ,beef, falafel

    Other food
    - sandwiches: garlicchicken, cheese steak, burger, panini, gyro
    - chicken or steak burrito
    - Salads/sides: tabbuleh, fatoush, greek salad, chicken salad hummus, dolmas, baba ganoush
    - French fries, onion rings
    - Chicken wings

    That is it.


    There is a sandwich board sign on the sidewalk pointing to Wally’s. However, the sign has faded so it is barely readable.

    Wally’s is in a separate room at the back of the bar. It is like stepping in a different world. To avoid the bar, enter through the side patio that has outdoor metal picnic tables with oil cloth table cloths.

    Both are rooms frozen in time … the 60’s.

    Wally’s has a U-shaped lunch counter with about 20 wooden swivel seats. A stove with huge pots is at the back. Travel pictures decorate the walls … and with a nod to nearby Lucas Films, a there’s a poster from this summer’s release … Wall-E.

    You can choose to eat at Wally’s and get a drink from the bar or drink in the bar and have the food served there.

    Don’t let the $3 Trumer Pilsner throw you … the Bank Club is as dive bar as they come … but in a good way … the music is loud, the drinks inexpensive, the bartender welcoming, the customers slightly raucous. Go to Wally’s for quiet.

    Shots of straight booze are served is small brandy snifter type of glasses.

    Red plastic Tiffany-style lamps, red lights and plastic grapes hang from a trellis over the bar. Other lighting includes neon beer signs.

    The juke box is on one end and a pool table the other. The other entertainment is a large tv tuned to the horse races during my visit.

    Every inch of wall is covered with sketches of old movie stars like Clark Gable and Betty Davis, sports memorabilia and pictures, signs and posters … a JFK poster is next to the juke box with a young John-John saluting his father … which is what I mean by the 60’s ambiance …

    There is a mysterious ‘beware of dog’ sign and other bar humor signs including one that reads “helping ugly people get laid since 1962”. The customers are a mix of all ages from the originals who may have in fact … met … in 1962 … and their children’s generation … and their grand children’s generation.

    It seems there’s lots of regulars but they don’t make it seem like a private club like some long-time dives … in fact, it might still be a good place to … meet. I spent dinner avoiding the eye of a gentleman nearby.

    There’s a lot of buzz about Wally’s on Yelp. IMO, it is a little overly enthusiastic even given the category … classic mom and pop operation. It is very good, tasty, generous homey food served with pride and love by people who will make you feel very welcome.

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Ate there yesterday afternoon, and didn't need to eat supper. Definitely a good find. I liked the light kick from the lentil soup, and the chicken schwarma is (in my opinion) much better seasoned than the standard Greek style you get most places. I didn't get the fries, but the woman next to me did, and the size of the basket was amazing: a "side" could easily feed two or be split by four. Very polite staff. A bit noisy sitting on the side near the bar, but late Saturday afternoon I might expect that.

      It didn't seem that hard to find, but I was going north, so saw the patio before the bar. I think there was a sign there. Not sure, it just looked like the right place, since people were out there eating and there are no other restaurants on that block.

      1. re: Marc Wallace

        Glad you liked it. Next time get a tamale. I've been thinking about it and it is probably one of the better area tamales I've tried.

        As to the noise ... yesterday was the Belmont and given the tv was tuned to horse racing on my visit ... might be more people than usual there to watch the race. Even without that, if you sit in the bar it is really noisy at off times. Next time I'll sit outside or in the restaurant.

        1. re: rworange

          It was hard considering ordering anything other than Lebanese, which is pretty much vacant in the Oakland area, but I'll try a tamale next time. Not sure I can finish a kebab plate and a tamale, but there are always takeout boxes. A good source of tamales is worthwhile.

          Outside seemed like an option, but for the first visit I wanted to make sure service would be good. It looked like outside tables got good service as well (although more sporadic), so I'll try that next time.

      2. re: rworange

        Well, I hit town and reached the drinking age in 1962, so I wonder which of my bars they got the sign from ;-)

        The Lebanese-Mexican combo isn't so strange when you recall that it was Lebanese immigrants that brought shawerma (read al pastor) to Mexican cuisine.

        1. re: Xiao Yang

          Yeah, thanks to reading chowhound I knew that so I wasn't so suprised when the wife said she was Mexican/Lebanese.

        2. re: rworange

          recently returned for lunch with some out of town friends ..... we got there after the lunch rush and had a leisurely lunch outside under an umbrella. Got 5 of the apps for a starter plus the house soup that is always served as an opener. The 5 apps we tried were the hummus, babaganoush, falafel, dolmas and tabbouleh....they were served with warm pita bread. The hummus and babaganoush are smooth, rich and garlicky - great with the warm pita. The tabbouleh is tart and refreshing: lots of parsely, light on the mint. A great counter point to the richer food items. The dolmas were well seasoned but I couldn't get past the texture of the rice (mushy) ..... the leaves were tender which was nice but I wouldn't order these again. But then again I don't like most dolmas I've had - anywhere. The soup is really a treat - so flavorful and complex. Between the four of us we decided to order all of the kabobs ...... the lamb, chicken, kafta and shrimp. The lamb was tasty - next time I'll ask them to cook it a bit less. The chicken was also well seasoned. The kafta was tasty but I didn't care for the texture - was a bit soft and moist ...... it was cooked OK - just not my style. The kabob plates came with perfectly cooked basmati rice and a good salad with crispy romaine, tomatoes and olives. A garlicky sauce accompanied the kabobs. The kabobs were good but not on the same level as the openers that we enjoyed. No room for baklava today.
          Had one of the Italian syrup bevs - blood orange flavor - quite nice.
          The service was as friendly as usual - an enjoyable experience to share.

        3. A co-worker tried to find Wally's Cafe and ended up going through the bar to find it for lunch. After enduring the wolf whistles from the old farts huddled around the bar, she made it to Wally's only to find out that it was closed. And then she had to buckle up for the walk back out. I need to tell her about the side entrance. Heh.

          "..."and with a nod to nearby Lucas Films, a there’s a poster from this summer’s release … Wall-E."

          That should read "Pixar."

          2 Replies
          1. re: napaeats

            Hmm, did your co-worker walk through there in 1965? Ever since the *entire* surrounding block was leveled and rebuilt into expensive condos, the Bank Club has turned into a quite respectable place. And it's small enough that off-color remarks by customers would definitely be noticed, and handled, by the bartender.

            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              My experiencewith the Bank Club was closer to that co-worker. The condo crowd included one or two people. It bordered on the minimum of what I'd feel comfortable with. I could see walking in at the wrong time. I kind of wonder what Walley's is like around midnight on the weekend ... though I wouldn't feel really comfortable findig out.

              Part of the reason I ate at the bar instead of the restaurant was I wanted to check out the place because I knew it would be really unlikely I'd be sitting at the bar rather than the restaurant. It was off hours and quiet. The Bank Club is a dive ... no getting around that ... far from gentrified ... far.

              That's what surprised me about the joint ... with all those condos ... and Pixar down the street ... I never expected a dive bar.

          2. "The owner’s mom and grandmother are from Mexico City and make the tamales using a family recipe. The masa is a little lighter in texture, the stewed pork tender and flavorful, the peppers add a nice touch of heat and I swear there is a hint of some sort of fennel in there … but maybe not … but maybe"

            Possibly Avocado Leaves or Hoja Santa

            Edit: Mexico City regional tamales don't traditionally gravitate towards Pork Tamales.... I am going to guess that Angelica's family might have ended up in Mexico City via Veracruz (another bastion of Lebanese immigrants)... and that the fennel flavor would be Hoja Santa.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Interesting about the Hoya Santa. I'll have to ask.

              As to the pork tamales ... given the pork-chop loving Bank Club crowd ... and the fact that this is one of the holy trinity of local tamale fillings ... I would guess the influence is more Bay Area than Veracruz ... though I might be wrong especially with the tlapia with onions and tomatoes ... might be Vera Cruz style rather than Lebanese ... hmmm ... I wonder if snapper Vera Cruz style actually was influenced by the Lebanese immigrants..

              I'm kind of interested too in following up on what other tamale types they would make to order. I had enough to process with the Mexican menu and the bar so I didn't continue the conversation.

              1. re: rworange

                Well Veracruzana is more than just onions & tomatoes... you have to have the Manzanilla olives, capers, white wine, jalapenos, Mexican oregano etc.,... it well predates Lebanese migration. Also... I should have clarified the Lebanese migration is most obvious in the Xalapa / Cordoba area... as oppossed to the Port of Veracruz... in Xalapa you can find (in addition to Lebanese restaurants).... Grapes Leaves, Fresh ground Tahini etc., in the mercados.

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Olives aren't a new world food, though. Olives could well be a Lebanese influence (although they could also be Spanish).

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Of course... what I am saying is that the olives,capers etc., are a requirement of a proper Veracruzana and that the recipe has been around for several centuries prior to the first Lebanese catching a sight of San Juan de Ulua.

            2. Dropped by Wally's Cafe today for lunch and enjoyed our first visit. It was a nice sunny day so we sat outside under an umbrella. We were the first ones there for lunch at 11:20 - served by one of the owners ( she was wearing a red chefcoat ) ..... we both had the hibiscus tea, and split a chicken schwarma wrap and the salad sampler. Don't think the sampler was on the menu but she said that for 14.50 we could have a selection of the hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel and tabbouleh. The hibiscus tea is a beautiful red blush color - not overly sweet at all. Enjoyed the complimentary starter of lentil soup - very well seasoned with cumin ..... lentils and basmati rice. I saved some of it to enjoy with the hummus, and b.g. The pita bread was nice and warm and the hummus & b.g. were excellent. creamy and rich with a splash of oilive oil. The falafel were exemplarary - crisp on the outside, creamy inside and with a bit of heat and very well seasoned. The tabbouleh was a great palate freshner - very lemony. Definitely a parsely salad with less fillers ( bulgar, tomato, scalllion ) than most. We were enjoyed the parade of flavors and textures ...... plus the gracious service. The Chicken Schwarma was cut in half for us (without asking) and chock full of chicken that had an exotic seasoning - touch of cinnamon and maybe more? Very tasty. It was a lot of food so we get to have it again tonight! We also ordered some tamales to take home with us ....... she was very careful to explain a good way to reheat the tamales ( wrap the tamales in a damp paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes) Will report on them later. Will definitelly be back! Here's a link to my photos of our lunch. As many before have said - there is a very nice vibe here and the food is very good as well. Long may they be in business!


              3 Replies
              1. re: gordon wing

                Great pictures. That hibiscus tea is lovely ... as was the tabbouleh. Nice picture of the entrance with a little of the counter and wooden swivel seats.

                I'm glad you tried the falafel. There were lots of raves on Yelp but it's hard to tell there if something is really good or not. It also isn't a dish I know good from bad. Will have to give it a try.

                1. re: rworange

                  Just had the pork & green chile filled tomale for dinner. Excellent. As you said, they're lighter/creamier than most - the filling is generous. Savory pork and lots of green chile provide a nice background spice. They're not huge or oversized but because they are so savory and probably because they're on the rich side ( lard = creamy ? ) they seem more filling than their size might indicate. I realize they could soften up the masa with water or stock but judging by how rich the hummus was I think they might have gone the lard/oil route? I ordered two but there were three in our order when we got home. If I read the bill right - the charge for the tamales was $5.00. If you're in the mood for a tamale, it's definitely a tasty one. Might have to go back and have the whole plate with rice & beans, etc. Janice (SO) liked these very much - think we'll be going back to Wally's sooner than later. PS. her tip about wrapping the tomale in a wet paper towel and nuking for 2 minutes worked great.

                2. re: gordon wing

                  I found a lot of parking on the diagonal street just south of there (Adeline, I think), just in back of the restaurant. You can't get there directly from said parking spots (have to go around the block), but there were a lot of spots even Saturday at 1pm, and you don't have to brave crossing any streets.

                  (sorry -- was trying to reply to the below post from lacerise, somehow it attached it wrong)

                3. After all the positive reviews we found here and on Yelp (oy, why do we pay attention to that site?), some co-workers and I were excited to go to Wally's. First off, parking is a drag. Assuming you're going for lunch, parking in the big lot across the street seems to be the only viable option and then you take your life in your hands trying to cross San Pablo. Once inside, we found the place charming, if a bit funky. The owners are delightful, friendly, accommodating, and know their customer service. While we waited for food to go, they plied us with lentil soup and felafel on the house. Both were good, just good...not as good as I could make at home. We got a Greek salad, felafel, and chicken schwarma to go and they threw in baklava for two. (They're obviously taking business lessons from Bakesale Betty!) All the food was tasty, but the ingredients didn't strike us as being high quality. The salad was "beefed up" with lots of cut lettuce....not my idea of a Greek salad. The felafel and schwarma were both fine, but none of us felt that we'd run back there b/c of the food. We liked the people; we liked the prices; we liked the customer service. The baklava was very flaky, buttery, and delicate. I'm wondering what the big deal is about making excellent Mediterranean food. I haven't found it anywhere in the Bay Area...although Truly Mediterranean comes about the closest to the excellent schwarma I've enjoyed in London, Barcelona, Istanbul (of course) and, most notably, at L'As du Felafel in Paris.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lacerise

                    Have you tried Turkish Kitchen? I'm not all that familiar with Mediterranean food and most of it in the Bay Area is a waste of calories to me. Turkish Kitchen is one of the few exceptions.

                    Yeah, the last line in my first reply was that I didn't think the hosannahs on yelp were warrented and if you go in there expecting some revelation you will be disappointed. So I agree with you though I like the place and will go back to try a few more dishes.

                    It is a mom and pop. They ain't buying organic or top quality stuff. It's not Aziza. So even given the category, it's best to expect good and in some cases, very good. However, IMO, you will get better food than most local Med restaurants with the twist of Lebanese style.