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Berkeley/East Bay's best--please share!

I'm starting my last year at Cal, which may very well mean I will find myself no longer living in Berkeley next year, sadly. With this in mind, I want to use this year to dine at some of Berkeley/Oakland/Albany's best--but stay reasonably within my college student budget (I use the term "reasonably" pretty loosely..I know good food comes at a price and I'm usually willing to pay, but wallet-friendly spots never hurt!)

I'm looking for good BBQ, authentic ethnic food (Mexican, Korean, Middle Eastern, anything, really), breakfast joints, bakeries/dessert, burgers/hot dogs, whatever. Places I've been to include some typical UC campus area/Rockridge/Gourmet Ghetto eats: Cheeseboard, Gregoire, Masse's Pastries, Top Dog, La Note, Bakesale Betty's (if you haven't been here yet, you need to go and get their fried chicken sandwich, basically heaven on an Acme torpedo roll!), Rockridge Cafe, Ici, Barney's, The Great China, O Chame, Bette's Oceanview Diner, Brazil Cafe, Sea Salt. I haven't really checked out the Solano area, but I hear there are some nice eateries there.

I know there's way more out there...please tell me what you know! The place doesn't have to be all-around amazing; if there's one good dish you think they've mastered, please share! Thanks!

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    1. Chocolatier Blue would be on the top of my list.

      Crixa. i doubt wherever you go that you will find better Eastern European baked goods. Their strength are the buns, pies, coffee cakes, etc. I like their cakes a lot, but that part is mixes. They make an excellent. Ohhh ... I just looked at their website and they have peach pie and sour cherry pie right now. The Pogácsa, a butter roll, are wonderful.

      If you can afford Sea Salt, you can afford Chez Panisse. The cafe has a three course prix fixe. Seriously, you can't leave the area without eating at CP

      Fonda on Solona is great. They also have a weekend brunch special for $9 that includes a pastry and coffee.

      The rotiserrie chicken at Zaki Kabob House

      Sunnyside Cafe on Solano is a popular breakfast spot.

      Nizza La Bella in Albany, just off Solano, makes swell pizza.

      Keep in mind I'm not a fan of most of the menu, but the weekend menudo at Tacubaya is swell.

      However, for Mexican, I'd hit International Avenue in Oakland and try out some of the best trucks. Of this list must tries are El Novilio, El Gorodo, PIpirin, the agua frescas at El Ojo de Aqua. You won't find better elsewhere. Specialties for the other places are in the list

      While in that area,, have an ice cream at Nieves Cinco de Mayo.

      1. Go Bears! Also try out Wood Tavern on College, 7 courses of beef at Anh Hong, head down Telegraph into Oakland for Korean food at Sahn Maru & Casserole House, and a little farther for Ohgane.

        Olive bread at Phoenix Pacifico. Daimo for chinese out in Pacific East Mall. Uncle Willie's in Oakland for some good BBQ. Arizmendi in Emeryville for some awesome oatmeal raisin cookies.

        1. China Village. If you like that, search Szechuan and try some of the others.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bbulkow

            Zaki Kebab is very friendly to a student's budget. So is Jayakarta, which I assume you';ve been to. For a bit of a splurge, Rivoli or Lalime's are not bad. For a splurge in Napa, there are a ton of restaurants worth visiting (you can have great food there and keep it under 50/60 dlls if you bypass alcohol; i.e. Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen). Chez Panisse is worth going to once before you leave (maybe on a Mon or Tues to keep the tab reasonable).

            1. re: D Hound

              Chez Panisse is currently $60 Mondays, $75 Tuesday through Thursday.

              I like going on Mondays as the chefs tend to stretch out more.


          2. The burger at Mua.

            Solano suffers from Upscale Demographics Syndrome. Great China and Rivoli are worth a detour. Ajanta, Britt-Marie's, and Vanessa's are good. Nizza la Bella around the corner on San Pablo has some of the best pizza in the Bay Area.

            Here's the list I keep in my phone for when I'm too hungry to remember where I like to eat:

            À Côté (dinner only, 7 days)
            Anh Hong (lunch M-F, dinner 7 days)
            Barlata (dinner only, 7 days)
            Camino (dinner only, closed Tuesdays)
            Cesar (on Piedmont; breakfast through dinner, Tues.-Sat.)
            Chai Thai Noodles (lunch and dinner, 7 days)
            Champa Garden* (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Chef Yu's (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Chez Panisse (lunch (upstairs only) and dinner, closed Sundays)
            China Village* (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Corso (lunch and dinner, 7 days)
            Daimo (breakfast through late night, 7 days)
            Dopo (lunch and dinner, closed Sundays)
            El Huarache Azteca (breakfast through dinner, 7 days)
            Flora (lunch and dinner, closed Sundays and Mondays)
            Great China* (lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner 7 days)
            Green Papaya (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Jayakarta* (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Lanesplitter (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Ohgane (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Oliveto (dinner only, 7 days)
            Pizzaiolo (dinner only, closed Sundays)
            Sea Salt (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Shanghai (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            T-Rex (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Turkish Kitchen (lunch through dinner, 7 days)
            Vik's (lunch through 6pm, closed Mondays)
            Wood Tavern (lunch through dinner Mon.-Sat., dinner only Sun.)

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

            late night options

            À Côté - 11 Wed.-Thurs., 12 Fri.-Sat., 10 Sun.-Tues.
            Barlata - 11 daily
            Cesar - kitchen open till 11 Sun. & Tues.-Thurs, 11:30 Fri-Sat., bar till midnight
            Daimo - 3am daily
            Dopo - 10 Mon.-Thurs, 11 Fri.-Sat.
            Fonda - 12:30am daily
            La Pinata - 3am daily
            Legendary Palace - 12 daily
            Luka's - 10:30, limited bar menu till 12
            Mua, no set closing
            Spices!3, 11 daily (?)
            T-Rex - 10 Sun.-Thurs, 11 Fri.-Sat.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              The iskander at Turkish Kitchen is really amazing. Homemade bread chunks topped with shwarma meat and a heavily seasoned tomato sauce all served with a lot of yogurt. When the bread gets a little soggy from the sauce and it gets mixed with the meat and yogurt...really good! And a good value at around $10.

            2. So jealous! I just graduated in May. Still in the Berkeley area so I get to enjoy the food, but I wish I were a student still. My favorites (that are not on the list of places you've already been):

              Angeline's for very rich, comforting Southern food. Love their ribs, hush puppies, fried chicken, and beignets. Close to campus too.
              Zaki's Kebab House - takes awhile to get to w/o a car but I think well worth it. Fantastic rotisserie chicken.
              Thai Temple brunch - I don't think the food is exceptional, though I do like the yellow curry and the mango sticky rice quite a bit; mostly, it's just a fun experience. Go early.
              Tacubaya - Very good and interesting menu items, a lot of things you might not find at other Mexican restaurants. I really like their taco al pastor and papas con crema (cheese/potato fritters). Skip the chicken taco; it's bland. Best cheap place to eat on 4th St!
              Trattoria La Siciliana - I like its price point (not cheap but far from pricey). The pasta here is cooked so well, and the free bread/olive oil is really good.
              Cafe Espresso Experience - across the street from campus near Musical Offering Cafe. I love their bulgogi sandwich! Such a clever idea. Clean and quite space to study if you're so inclined.
              A Cote - fun and lively environment, great small plates. I think it's a nice place for a date, though it can be noisy
              La Farine - home of my favorite baguettes and one of my favorite pastries, the savory morning bun.

              3 Replies
              1. re: betterbeheaven

                These are all good suggestions for a student budget, though I personally had a bad experience food-wise at Trattoria La Siciliana.

                In addition, I would include breakfast @ newly openned Five in downtown Berkeley. Beer, Burger and game @ Meridian International Sports Cafe. Head over to Solano for Vietnamese tapas at Vanessa's Bistro. For a nicer dinner, you can't go wrong with Rivoli, also on Solano Ave.

                1. re: nicedragonboy

                  Tamarindo in Downtown Oakland (near 12th st BART)
                  Xyclo: Rolls, Green bean salad, herb noodles are super yummy (on Piedmont Ave)
                  Soi 4: green papya salad and the Roti and mussels in red curry. Cool drinks too (Rockridge)
                  Bittersweet Cafe (Rockridge): the Spicy, the Bittersweet and the Chocolate Thai. Awesome.
                  Market Hall: Get the Thai Chicken Salad. Yummy!
                  Fentons: gor back in time for a taste of Americana. You'll feel like you need a poodle skirt
                  Ethiopian: Asmara, Cafe Colucci or the place on Piedmont Ave are all good
                  Witchcraft (in the Westfiled Center downtown SF): get the Roasted Pork Sandwich. That is pretty close to Carolina BBQ, a winner
                  Cafe M: great for brunch, yummy bacon, pancakes and hearty portions (4th St in Berkeley)
                  Oh second on Mua: Steak Frites. Wow. They are awesome, and more cool drinks
                  Mijita: yummy tacos. Traci Desjardin's spot (Ferry Building)
                  The taco place in Epicurisous Garden. Another place with homemade tortillas, tasty
                  Mint Leaf @ Epicurious Garden for the $5 Indian Tapas for late night dining
                  Thai Basil (in the Durant food court): pretty good Thai, open late
                  Dosa (only been to the Valencia one. Chennai chicken. Yum!
                  Udupi Palace on Valencia (better Dosa's than Dosa. But Dosa has way better sauces, and meat!)

                  1. re: jade408

                    Seconding Dosa! And Thai Basil is the only place in the "Asian Ghetto" I still continue to eat at.

                    I've been thinking of trying Tamarindo, as I now work in Downtown Oakland -- what are some of the best dishes?

              2. Pizza:
                -Pie in the Sky - best thin crust in the Bay Area
                -Zachary's - I'm guessing you've already been here; source of contentious debate on this board but their stuffed pies are excellent (and their pepperoni is way underrated)

                -Le Regal only for their BBQ beef bun (Center between Oxford and Shattuck)

                Ice Cream:
                -Tara's (get the orange cardamom)

                Shen Hua (hit or miss upscale style, but their Andy's Chicken is a definite hit)

                -Vik's (for chaat; weekend have great kathi kabob special)
                -Priya (great buffet but haven't been back in a long time)

                -Homemade Cafe (pecans baked into the waffles)

                Vik's Chaat House
                2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

                Shen Hua
                2914 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                Priya Indian Cuisine
                2072 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                Pie In The Sky
                2124 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                Zachary's Chicago Pizza
                1853 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                Zachary's Chicago Pizza
                5801 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                Tara's Organic Ice Cream
                3173 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                1. Zachary's stuffed pies are the best deep-dish in the area, which isn't saying much since there's no competition. I find them soggy.

                  When you're in SF sometime try Little Star. That's where the chef of the St. Louis place that catered Obama's pizza party learned to make deep-dish.

                  1. Here are a few I didn't see mentioned:

                    Rico's- (downtown Oakland) Comfort/diner food with superior ingredients. Get a burger or a meatloaf sandwich. What you really should not miss, though, are the milkshakes, with chunks of actual fruit (chocolate banana is my favorite). Only open for breakfast/lunch and not open on Sundays.

                    Banh Mi Ba Le- (on International Blvd. in Oakland) Vietnamese sandwiches. Get the meatball banh mi and ask for a fried egg on top.

                    Sura- (on Telegraph) My favorite of Oakland's Korean restaurants. An especially good deal during lunch time. 17 or more panchan (free small dishes), though maybe not so many during lunch. Order the pork belly with calamari or any of the stews/casseroles.

                    Lush- (on Piedmont in Oakland) The best gelato in the Bay Area, maybe the world (slightly hyperbolic, but not much). Blows Ici out of the water.

                    Otaez- (locations in Oakland and Alameda) Mexican. Go on the weekend and order one of the specials. Good (and cheap) carnitas and pozole (pork and hominy soup). Pretty good strawberry agua fresca too. Huge margaritas. The Alameda location is much nicer, though some people say the food is better in the Oakland restaurant.

                    Burma Superstar (locations in Oakland and Alameda)- worth trying if you haven't had Burmese food. The unique salads are the stars here, especially the fermented tea leaf salad.

                    Chai Thai (Oakland, on International)- Was mentioned, but I'd like to reiterate that this is clearly the best Thai food in the East Bay.

                    Dopo (Oakland, on Piedmont)- Really good Italian food--pastas and wood-grilled pizzas. Amazing lemon zeppole for dessert (they're like Italian beignets). No reservations, so get there early or you'll have to wait.

                    Unicos de Cuernocava (North Oakland)- Huge, cheap, delicious tamales. Only open during the day. A takeout place, not an eat-in restaurant.

                    Yellow Brick Cafe (Berkeley)- Tasty Cambodian BBQ AND good donuts to boot.

                    I'd also second (or third) the people who mentioned Wood Tavern. I suggest going for lunch, when it's significantly less expensive and when you can order the pastrami sandwich, which is to die for.

                    4293 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

                    Wood Tavern
                    6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                    4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                    3872 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

                    1619 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501

                    Rico's Diner
                    400 15th Street, Oakland, CA

                    Banh Mi Ba Le
                    1909 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

                    Lush Gelato
                    4184 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

                    Chai Thai Noodles
                    545 B International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

                    Burma Superstar
                    4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

                    Unicos de Cuernavaca
                    3831 International Blvd, Oakland, CA

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      Yeah, Chai Thai's the best Thai in the East Bay, nowhere else even comes close. Though Lers Ros is worth a trip to SF.

                      I think Green Papaya and Champa Garden are at a similar level for Laotian food. (I was not impressed by the Thai food at Champa.)

                      Champa Garden
                      2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

                      Green Papaya Deli
                      207 International Blvd (at 2nd ave, Oakland, CA

                    2. How about some taco trucks and restaurants on International Blvd. You can get some good eats for cheap.

                      1. BBQ - Everett & Jones on San Pablo Ave at University, Berkeley.
                        Indian chaat - Vik's Chaat - 4th and Allston, Berkeley
                        Mexican - Juan's Place - 9th and Carlton, Berkeley


                        5 Replies
                        1. re: phickle

                          Juan's Place - eeeeeew. That's what we all used to think was mexican 20 years ago.
                          E & J - worth a stop, you may not become a regular. Neglect not the links!
                          Indus Village is across the street. Tasty and different from your average indian.

                          No one mentioned Lanesplitter. Even if you ignore the beer, it's an excellent thing slice and cheap, cheap, cheap. My favorite is the mix-n-match two slices: make mine pineapple and jalapeno, and pepparoni and garlic.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            The Lanesplitter Heartstopper pizza (bacon, gorgonzola, roasted garlic, spinach), is amazingly delicious. You'll smell of it for days, but that's okay.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              Juan's Place is pretty bad. For that kind of retro atmosphere, Mexicali Rose in Oakland is better.

                              My favorite pie at Lanesplitter is the Carnivore.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                re: Juan's Place - And yet it's packed most every night! Mostly standard fare, agreed, but some hits like the Birria on Friday and Saturdays. Fast, efficient service and perfect for a student's budget.

                          2. My definition of reasonably cheap is getting change from a twenty. If possible, lots of it.

                            For Chinese, Asian Pearl in the Pacific East Mall is firing on all cylinders at the moment. Their dim sum is competitive with the best in the Bay Area. If you just want wontons or jook, Daimo, located in that mall's parking lot, is a reliable pick. The other major regional Chinese traditions are well-covered by China Village in Albany (though see the recent thread about Happy Golden Bowl, which I haven't been to), Lily's House in Lafayette and, as you know, Great China.

                            Of the Japanese places, Norikonoko on Telegraph takes the most pride in its food. You can easily creep out of the reasonably cheap range there, but if you just want ramen and gyoza, you'll be safe. No sushi though. Most of the inexpensive sushi places are pretty similar in quality; I usually get the cheap combo at Manpuku on College.

                            Korean is best in Oakland; however you can eat pretty well in Berkeley if you choose carefully. The dduk bok ki at Espresso Experience on Bancroft is a good place to start exploring (I'm not as fond as the bulgogi sandwich there as most; I prefer Brazil Cafe for my beef sandwich fix).

                            My southeast Asian picks, none of which are universally loved, are Jayakarta (Indonesian), Ruen Pair (Thai, be warned that it's quite Chinese), Champa Garden (Lao, be warned that I haven't been there in ages), Pho Hoa Lao II, and, even though I've quit tea leaf salad, Burma Superstar.

                            For Indian, Vik's and Udupi Palace are the places that serve something different from the usual Punjabi fare. For the usual Punjabi fare, try Indus Village on San Pablo.

                            Mexican in Berkeley is not as entirely regrettable as I once thought it was, but I wish the tacos at yuppie places were as tasty as those from the Oakland trucks Sinaloa (for seafood) and El Novillo (for tripas and carnitas). I really want to go back to La Gran Chiquita with a Spanish-speaker.

                            Dopo is cheap enough for lunch. I had a fried chicken sandwich there last year that blew away Bakesale Betty's. Gregoire you know about; I've had hits and misses there but mostly hits. Cheese Board everybody knows; also consider Lanesplitter, Jupiter and Bobby G's for pizza with meat and some exceptional beers on tap. If you prefer your beer with a burger, maybe Luka's in what the kids seem to call "uptown" Oakland. For a fast food burger, Amanda's on Shattuck; they also have decent salads. I was surprised at how much I like the vegan salads at Cafe Muse on Bancroft.

                            Back when I did my comparative Ethiopian eating, Cafe Colucci came out tops; I don't guarantee it would today but it's still delicious. Turkish Kitchen on Shattuck has excellent whiteboard specials and the best non-Western desserts around (though Turkey probably counts as Western these days). The Afghan dishes at Pamir at the Emeryville Public Market are pretty good if you can get them made to order. I haven't been to Tropical Paradise since they redid the menu, but it used to be good West African, if not super-cheap.

                            You've had Acme's bread, but if you haven't visited the bakery on San Pablo, drop in: they have goods there you won't find in supermarkets, notably the epi. Crixa is the other great bakery in town. Tara's would be my ice cream pick, though I'll head over the new Patisserie Blue in a few minutes to see if they're up to scratch. I'm typing this at Local 123, the one new place everyone loves, and where I practically live these days.

                            Now if only Lers Ros were on this side of the bridge.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bradluen

                              Champa's as good as ever. Given the places you like, you should check out Chai Thai and Green Papaya.