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Casual Berkeley Rehearsal Dinner

I am getting married at the Lawrence Hall of Science in September and I'm looking for a place to have my rehearsal dinner. I've looked at the recommendations others have offered for similar group gatherings but my requirements are a bit different in that

1) I prefer something more casual and cheap --like $15 -20/person (we're blowing our budget on the caterer for our wedding!)
2) We'll have a ton of rowdy kids that will need to get fed fast and
3) I don't care if we have a private room or not. (though the other patrons might prefer this, due to number 2 above.)
4). We need someplace easy to park, and within a really quick drive from the Lawrence Hall (ie, I don't want to go into Oakland or Albany or even Emeryville unless I have no choice).
5). I'd like it to be good food. I know this seems asking a lot with all of my other requirements...

I am thinking Chinese, because it seems like that could meet many of these guidelines --but most the Chinese places in Berkeley are getting mixed reviews. (And I'm Chinese, so I really have to deliver good Chinese to appease the relatives). Do I have any good alternatives besides Chevys?

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  1. How many people are you feeding?

    3 Replies
      1. re: isybela

        how many of these 40-50 are kids?

    1. If you're already that far up the hill, you might consider dropping down
      the other side into Orinda which, according to google, is only 5 miles
      away, (for comparison, gourmet ghetto is 3.5 and about as close as
      you're going to come). That said, I have no idea what's over there but
      it seems like the parking situation would be less dire.

      1. that's a really tight budget to find any restaurant. Chevy's would almost certainly be more than that. Do you know anyone with a big backyard that you could set up picnic tables and bring in trays from Picante or something like that? I think to stick to that budget, you could get food, but not necessarily service...

        3 Replies
        1. re: milklady

          Picante is a great idea. Can accommodate 40-50 (call ahead), within your price range, kid friendly, decent parking, in Berkeley.

          I think the food is good - in fact, I eat there weekly. Others will argue with me. It's definitely Berkelified. Certainly far, far, far better than Chevy's (cheaper too).

          1. re: milklady

            Picante has an outside patio that would probably accommodate your entire party. And the price is within your budget. Parking lot plus pretty much unlimited street. Beer and margaritas are the adult beverages (are they real margaritas or those weird "we don't have a hard liquor license" soju ones? I've never checked).

            Downside is the patio is across a chain link fence from a cement factory. Not a problem unless they happen to pick your day to crush a few thousand tons of rock.

            Food choices aren't too far from what you'd get at Chevy's and quality is cien mil veces mejor.

            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              They do have a hard liquor license and serve other "adult" beverages besides beer and margaritas, like mojitos, etc.

          2. How about Da Lian, although, parking as almost anywhere in Berkeley may be a problem

            Da Lian Restaurant
            1674 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

            1 Reply
            1. re: wolfe

              Hm. from the responses so far, it seems I may be asking too much. What if we upped it to 25/pp? Does that help? I guess my biggest priorities are location and parking... i once went to a wedding where people spent 45 minutes circling.

            2. I know you mentioned Berkeley specifically, but if you're open to going into Oakland/Alameda it'll give you a couple of options.

              Peony in Oakland Chinatown has 2 private rooms that you can use. Their lowest banquet menu is $238 plus tax/tip, etc. Plus, parking garage right downstairs.


              East Ocean in Alameda has a menu for $218. Parking usually isn't a problem. No private room.


              You can probably call both places and customize a menu to your price range, tastes,etc.

              Also, what day of the week is this?

              East Ocean Seafood
              1713 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501

              Restaurant Peony
              388 9th St Ste 288, Oakland, CA 94607

              1. I'd get in touch with Kopitiam (Singapore Chinese-owned) in Lafayette. Went there after a picnic in Tilden last fall, maybe 15 minutes away tops. Lots of parking in the strip mall. It's available for buy-outs to have the place to yourself, although 50 might be pushing the capacity. You can get out for $20pp, I think. You might ask for a bunch of appetizers to be at the ready for the kids. Click on the Place link below for discussion threads and website.

                Kopitiam Restaurant
                3647 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549

                1 Reply
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  This was my idea as well. For a buy out they could probably arrange the tables to accommodate a larger group.

                2. Why does the rehearsal dinner need to be next to Lawrence? It is on a different day, yes?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: oaktowngirl

                    I would imagine that the actual rehearsal is at Lawrence.

                    1. re: wally

                      Oh, yeah. My wedding was very low key, so I don't always understand all this extra stuff people have to do. Is it like a play, with costumes and music and lines?

                      1. re: oaktowngirl

                        Sort of, without the costumes. Then hope the show doesn't close in Boston.

                  2. It's not the most chowish place, but works really well for a rehearsal dinner, has ample parking, and is about $15 a person. It is (drumroll please) the earlybird special at the Bay Grille at the Berkeley Marina Doubletree Hotel. We used it for our rehearsal dinner three years ago and it went really well. As I recall, you get soup or salad, an entree (the petrale sole was generous and very tasty), and the dessert, ice cream or flan, with coffee or tea. There is a raised area in the restaurant that they can set aside for a large party. We arranged for appetizers to be brought immediately and that sated everyone's immediate hunger. I think you have to get there a little bit early but that is the only drawback.

                    The view of the marina is really lovely too. I also liked that it wasn't too casual, there were table cloths, silverware, real waiters, etc.

                    It shouldn't be that long a drive from Lawrence Hall, just go down University.

                    Anyway, I realize that it's not on anyone's radar, but I would highly recommend going for dinner and seeing what you think. Plus, it's a nice hotel to stay in for any out-of-town guests. Berkeley has a real paucity of good hotels in my opinion.

                    My other suggestion would be to try to book the back patio at La Note, see if they can arrange a prix fixe dinner for you. They were a little flaky about getting back to me, but I'm sure some persistence would pay off.

                    Bay Grille, Doubletree Hotel Berkeley Marina
                    200 Marina Blvd, Berkeley, CA 94710

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: YSZ

                      Well if you head down that way you could go to H's Lordships. They'll do a set meal for you. I have no idea what the quality is like now but parking won't be an issue. Reviews say it does a good buffet brunch.

                      Also down that way, you could pop for Bette's Oceanside Diner and take the whole place. I have no idea how much that costs but I've read here people have done it.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Yeah, H's Lordships has a few private rooms and according to their site in September they have a discount of $5off each person for banquets.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          It's quite reasonable. I considered it for a middle school graduation, but since the price for the set menu includes wine it didn't make sense. It looks like it could be a fun place, though.

                        2. re: YSZ

                          I don't know what day this is, but driving down University can be a nightmare on the weekends. I've spent 15 minutes going from Sacramento to San Pablo.

                        3. Adding one more link:

                          La Note Restaurant Provencal
                          2377 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                          1. Cafe Zeste might be perfect. They hold up to 50 (more if on the patio). There is a huge park next to the restaurant so the kids can run around. On a Saturday the parking should not be a problem.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rworange

                              This is a great idea. The owners are lovely to work with as well. The budget will be tight but maybe you can make it work.

                            2. Thanks to all of your for your great ideas --I will definitely investigate and report back what I find. It IS on a Friday night, which i know will be difficult for traffic, but some of these suggestions are as close as one might hope.

                              It is quite like a play, or a production, anyway! I wanted my flower girls to wear tutus but got nixed on that idea.

                              And yes, there is hardly any good lodging in the Berkeley/Oakland area --it's rather surprising how thin the choices are. We've reserved a block of rooms at the Berkeley City Club, but the Claremont is too spendy and attitude-y for most our guests.

                              Thanks again!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: isybela

                                I know it's been a while but I just wanted to give an update (it took a long time to make a decision). We looked into Great China in Berkeley but they won't do a private dinner of that size on the weekend --they would lose money on us since they usually have three seatings. We also looked into Hong Kong East Ocean in Emeryville, but they were a bit above our budget and the manager was not very interested in working with us to get the price down.
                                So we're going with Daimo in the Pacific East Mall. Not in Berkeley, but close enough, and we can take Marin Ave and other streets and avoid University. They have a set banquet that is about $19 pp, and we've asked them to swap out several items and they've agreed to do this. They require a 50% deposit the day before, since we'll be taking over half of their restaurant that night. It's not the most beautiful restaurant, but the food is decent, there's parking, and the price is right. Thanks for all of your help, and if there's anything you recommend we do or avoid for a party of this size there, I'm all ears.