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Mar 16, 2010 06:54 PM

Best cheap eateries + bars in Oakland/ Berkeley ?

I'm moving from DC to either the Rockridge area of Oakland or near UC Berkeley with my boyfriend. He's in grad school and I'm currently unemployed, so when we do go out we want it to be cheap and delicious or exotic enough to be worth it. I absolutely love going out to bars, but that's not an option unless the drinks are dirt cheap.
I have eaten at Lanesplitter and had drinks at The Graduate in Oakland but that's it.

1. Must be CHEAP, like under $6 a person for a meal. I'll take under $10 into consideration as well, and feel free to leave more expensive favorites. Who knows when we'll win the lottery.
2. Must be relatively close to public transportation as we don't have a car.
3. Please no Thai recommendations, as I'm allergic to peanuts.

I'm really clueless about the bay area so any info you want to offer would be really helpful. I'd like to have a few special meals or drinks even on such a budget!

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  1. You should definitely familiarize yourself with Oakland Chinatown, which is a veritable treasure trove of cheap eats and is accessible by BART (the 12th St. station is probably closest). My favorites include the banh mi from BC Deli (I like the one with grilled pork), which will set you back less than $3, and the roast duck wonton noodle soup from Gum Wah (about $6). For affordable Cantonese, Chef Lau's is really good - they have a special menu where every dish is like $6.75 (it used to be $6.25, but I think they may have raised it). Good clay pot dishes and pretty darned good crispy-skinned chicken.

    Oh, also in Chinatown is Shan Dong. I think one of the best deals in town is their pork and vegetable bun, which is HUGE and -- at least the last time I checked -- only cost a dollar. One of those by itself would make a great breakfast or lunch -- two would be an adequate dinner, if you really wanted to tighten the pursestrings (or you could mix things up and try their hand-cut noodles or dumplings, which are also quite good).

    Mexican food is the other great source of cheap eats in Oakland, though most of the taco trucks (which are cheapest) aren't as easily accessible by public transportation. Still, the Fruitvale BART station has some good stuff nearby, most notably Taco Grill, a little taqueria where you can definitely get out for less than $10 a person -- great pozole and tacos, all using organic meats. You could have a couple tacos and still have money left over to treat yourself to a churro relleno from the stand right outside.

    This thread has some good ideas as well, though not all are cheap or near public transportation:

    B C Deli Sandwiches
    818 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Shan Dong Mandarin Restaurant
    328 10th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Chef Lau's
    301 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Taco Grill
    3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

    Gum Wah
    345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    6 Replies
    1. re: abstractpoet

      I've been to Chef Lau's a number of times also. Lately, been checking out a place called Chopstick on 14th St. They have a special menu for 3 dishes for $18 w/ free rice and dessert. On weekends, from 11-3 they have some lunch menu for $3.50 i think. Probably a bit smaller than the normal sizes, but cheap. Plus, most times there's always parking

      1. re: abstractpoet

        I was going to post a new review of Chef Lau after a small family dinner there...but I lost the menu. The place has definitely rebounded although it was never bad just not as good. Without going into too much detail, you can tell the dishes were prepared very well and everyone noticed it. I noticed this in December after having a quick lunch with a friend...the fried fish (small pieces) was done exceptionally well (crisp, crunchy, non-greasy) and at $6.xx, a bargain.

        Regarding the original question -- use the search. In Berkeley in particular there's a bunch of threads about cheap student eats. Anywhere near campus tends to be reasonable given the big student population.

        1. re: ML8000

          Yeah, same with the fried chicken dish I mentioned above - nicely crisped skin, and the meat was moist rather than dried out. It would seem, then, that fried items are a particular strong suit of theirs. I remember their potstickers were also quite good.

          1. re: abstractpoet

            I've found fried items to be their strength as well. Have you tried the pumpkin fritters with salted egg yolk batter? That and the salt and pepper fish are my favorite dishes, though their potstickers are pretty excellent.

            1. re: daveena

              Nope, I haven't tried the pumpkin fritters, but they sound great! Do you know what they're called in Chinese? I don't see it listed on their regular takeout menu, and sometimes I find that there's a bit of a language barrier when I try to call in an order in English (though, not being a Cantonese speaker, my attempts to order in Mandarin have only had moderate success).

              1. re: abstractpoet

                I don't know what they're called either - I've always had other people order it in Cantonese - but they're posted in English and Chinese on one of the many pieces of paper on the wall. I'd probably scan the wall for the sheet and point to it :)

      2. On the beer side of the equation:

        Cafe Biere in Emeryville is right near the 72 line and walkable from MacArthur BART, and has great happy hour specials - $3 for many different Belgian and European beers.

        Beer Revolution in Oakland, walkable from 12th Street after your Chinatown dinner, has a ton of great beers for around $4 - and the owners plan on putting in about 20 more taps (they currently have 5, and a ton of bottled) very soon.

        Also AC Transitable for cocktails are the $5 Farmer's Market specials at Easy on Lakeshore, by Lake Merritt. Free kettle corn, and you can bring in Arizmendi pizza from two doors down, for $2.25 a slice or less if you get a half pizza to share.

        1. Battambang Cambodian Restaurant, and Van Kleefs, respectively

          1. Rockridge (Oakland) and downtown Berkeley are two worlds apart-considering their geographical closeness.
            If you settle near the University-there are a plethora of cheap, palatable eats on telegraph and shattuck. you will be able to suss them out yourself. But there is a lot of crap, also.
            If you choose Rockridge- the food gets exponentially better but so the prices go up. Rockridge/Elmwood is an eden of good food and shops and neighborhood bliss-but your neighbors are, for the most part, rich. On the plus side-rockridge has 3-4 dive bars (yes, divier than the graduate) and you will not be wanting for cheap drinks. (I could name them for you- but isn't it better you take a stroll down college- south of the rockridge bart station and discover them yourself? trust me-you will find them.)
            as far as public transportation, especially considering your 2 top choices, I would invest in a so-so street bike and a great lock. Both of these areas are very bikable and (esp. berkeley near the university) are veritable hells for cars.
            most of the posters on this fabulous web site extravaganza are from sf- so take a local girl's advice. when you arrive-take the bicycle/local approach and get acclimated-and
            once you are more settled, more aware of your financial/logistical realities-and more at home in your neighborhood-than branch out and hit the bus to fruitvale (well worth it) and the bart to oakland's chinatown
            hit the farmers markets- even if you choose berkeley- bike to the temescal farmers market on saturday and meet all the foodies and eat up.
            Rest assured- the good food is not going anywhere. settle in, take the pulse, and see what is in front of you.

            than let all the recommendations come flowing in.

            2 Replies
            1. re: deirdretaos

              i think the temescal farmers market is on sunday.

              1. re: deirdretaos

                Good advice. The bus system's pretty good, and where there are cheaper apartments, there tend to be cheaper eats and a better bus system. Check back when you know more about where you're living.

              2. In Oakland Chinatown, Shanghai on Webster has low prices and some very good dishes. There are lots of threads on it.

                Happy hours will be your bar salvation. It's true that The Graduate's prices can't be beat,but you can try something more swanky for special occasions. Nice places include:

                Luka's Taproom. 4-6 pm M-F, and all day Tuesday.
                All well liquor $4
                All well up drinks $5
                Well Tequila & Margaritas $5
                Stella, Guinness, Racer 5 $3
                House Red $6
                House White $5

                Sea Salt. 3-6 pm daily.
                $5 Well Cocktails
                $5 House Wine by the glass
                $3 Draft Beer

                2 Replies
                1. re: lexdevil

                  I was going to say Shanghai as well. They also have a 3/$18 menu, that includes rice if you eat in. BART can be expensive, since it's per-ride. ACTransit is pretty good for most of the areas you'll want. You can get a monthly pass, or if you pay by ride, you can get a transfer that's good any direction for an hour and a half -- in other words, you can take the bus (the 51 line is a handy workhorse along that corridor) to downtown Oakland/Chinatown, have dinner and if you don't dawdle too much, use your transfer to get back home.

                  1. re: lexdevil

                    I second the recommendation for Sea Salt. They also offer $1 oysters during happy hour, and they make excellent cocktails.

                    The Graduate might be the cheapest bar in town, but the Missouri Lounge on San Pablo has similar prices, a similar atmosphere, AND a grill on the patio serving cheap sandwiches and kebabs.

                    Sea Salt
                    2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702