Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 1

Read on to to find out where to eat Bibimbap in Berkeley

Berkeley is an ethnically diverse town. Anyone whose child attends public school here doesn’t need census tract data to know this for a fact. That cultural diversity is also reflected in the range of restaurant choices here. Global grub — from gourmet to grab ‘n’ go — can readily be found in many of our neighborhoods.

But who doesn’t reflexively head to their local curry shop or Thai takeout without giving a moment’s thought to the international offerings all over town?

What follows is the first in an A to Z guide to the many ethnic restaurants in Berkeley, with favorite dish recommendations and tidbits gleaned from local food critics, Berkeleyside interviews, and the restaurant guide by new Berkeleyside partners Lucille and Art Poskanzer.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own global picks in the comments section that follows. Or weigh in with what world cuisine is missing in the mix. Bon Appetit.


A is for: Ajanta, the white tablecloth Indian restaurant on Solano Avenue favored by Alice Waters and other Berkeleyside subjects, which is lauded for freshness, organic produce, free-range meats, sustainable seafood, and a seasonal menu. Ajanta earned best Bay Area Indian restaurant from the Zagat guide the past three years. Of note: Tandoori Chicken Chaat, Vegetable Kofta, and Kerala Lamb Masala. Read a review on Tablehopper.

Alborz, the only Persian place in town, according to the guide Restaurants in the Berkeley Area, is close to campus and best for lunch, writes Poskanzer, who notes the quality has slipped recently. Yelpers give a shout out to portion size, Koobideh (ground beef kabob), and Gormeh Sabzi (aromatic greens, beans, and meat stew).

Crèpes from Anh Hong earn high marks from Anna Mindess. Photo: Anna Mindess

Anchalee Thai, on Dwight Way in west Berkeley, serves standard Thai fare in an inviting setting. Regulars give the thumbs-up to curries, fish specials, and organic vegetarian offerings, though some, like this Chronicle reviewer, find dishes a tad too sweet. Excellent service and a warm vibe makes this a popular neighborhood spot.

Anh Hong, on University Avenue: this Vietnamese restaurant gets high marks from Anna Mindess of East Bay Ethnic Eats, who calls it a good choice for groups, with its round tables and dishes made for sharing. Her picks: The crèpes and DIY rice paper wraps, in particular BBQ chicken or beef in piper leaf. Other signature dish: Bo 7 mon or beef done seven ways.

Athineon, a Greek gyros joint on University Avenue, serves cuisine classics including spanakopita, avgolemono, and tzatziki, along with fries flavored with feta and oregano. An East Bay Express writer gives the family-run, no-frills place points for authenticity.


The Brazil Café on University Avenue, a shack really, is hard to miss

B is for: Bangkok Jam (in the former Boran Thai space) on Solano Avenue, which has its fans and critics, as does Bangkok Thai on University Avenue.

Be Bop: The Korean eatery in the Elmwood gets the nod from a Korean-American writer for KQED for sheer variety (17 versions of the comfort food known as Bibimbap) and other sinus-clearing cuisine specialties, such as spicy, sizzling soup.

Brasa, the just-opened, Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken joint, is the brainchild of the couple behind the recently shuttered eVe, and occupies the same spot on University. Grubstreet shares the menu here, which includes shrimp, as well as salchipapas, or pan-fried sausages with sweet potato fries and sauce.

Brazil Café: A colorful fixture at the top end of University, the sandwich and salad shack’s signature taste is its tri tip steak and mango smoothie with fresh fruit. Owner Pedro Robin blares Brazilian beats and there’s a street eats feel at this place which long precedes the food truck scene. Find a mobile trailer parked on Telegraph and Bancroft too.

Breads of India: Here’s a surprise, this Sacramento Street restaurant features naan, stuffed paratha, and roti basan (a chickpea pancake), along with curry options to please the palates of omnivores and vegans.


A signature chicken dish from Corso

C is for: Cactus, a family-friendly taqueria serving up familiar Mexican food — and fast — on Solano.

Cafe Tibet on University Avenue, serves souped-up versions of traditional dishes, says the East Bay Express, like momos with mushrooms and mascarpone. The Express also notes that in a town where it seems as if every third car has a “Save Tibet” bumper sticker, this is the only restaurant spotlighting that troubled culture’s cuisine (among other admirable acts).

Cancun the casual Mexican café favored by the campus and downtown set. Think generous, inexpensive eats, with a nod to organic offerings from the restaurant owner’s farm. Fish burritos get the thumbs up from Poskanzer, as does the serve yourself salsa bar which caters to all levels of spiciness.

Cha-Ya: Vegans do a happy dance when they discover the Japanese and Zen-inspired fare — sushi, soups, salads, and noodles — at this Gourmet Ghetto restaurant. The filling and flavorful veg-only food won’t leave meat eaters wanting either, according to a Chronicle review.

Cha-Am: Small Thai restaurant in the heart of North Berkeley that features a separate dining room for large parties. Gets a best Thai in Berkeley shout-out from the blog The Berkeley Diet. Though others beg to differ in the blogosphere, it gets points for loads of veggie options.

Corso Tratttoria: Rustic Tuscan fare on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley. Makes Michael Bauer’s Top 100 Restaurant List for its tagliatelle with a robust ragu, Florentine steak, and chicken breast in bubbling brown butter. Earns praise from Molly Katzen and other Berkeley Bites subjects for its simple, accessible, and satisfying dishes.

C U: Well-priced sushi and sushi rolls spot favored by the student crowd on Center Street. Offers salads, bowls, and other hot food items but Poskanzer’s tip: stick to the sushi.

D is for: Da Lian: Chinese food on Shattuck in North Berkeley features a big menu and large servings, says Poskanzer. Worth a visit for its Northern Chinese specialties like cabbage and lamb, adds the East Bay Express, a sentiment seconded by others.

Divino: Just opened this week Italian restaurant with a Ligurian focus in the space that formerly housed Fellini. Find their dinner menu on Facebook. Who’s tried it?

E is for: Everest Café, a Nepalese-inspired restaurant on Solano. The East Bay Express gives high grades to the restaurant’s Himalayan specialties like momo (dumplings) and goat curry, as does Poskanzer, who calls it delicately spiced and modestly priced.

F is for: FinFine, a rare find in Berkeley (unlike Oakland) an Ethiopian restaurant on Telegraph Avenue, which gets the nod from one Berkeley Bites subject for its organic offerings.

Fondue Fred has served up that signature Swiss dish on Telegraph Avenue since 1958. When Kim Severson still wrote for the Chronicle she cautioned that this kitschy space isn’t for food snobs, cheese aficionados, or those who like to eat in stylish surroundings.

Simple breakfast fare a staple at Gaumenkitzel. Photo: Anna Mindess

G is for: Gaumenkitzel, a recent addition to the international restaurant row on San Pablo Avenue in west Berkeley. The bright, airy space serves traditional Northern German fare (less meat-and-potatoes than the south), according to an Anna Mindess review on Berkeleyside.

Gecko Gecko: A Thai-California, family-run restaurant with a modern vibe near Berkeley Rep, features cross-over flavors such as feta with Pad Thai. Hearty portions, moderate prices, and mildly spiced flavors, says Poskanzer, who calls it a welcome addition to downtown.

Genki, located next to a modest motel on San Pablo Avenue at Cedar, this Japanese restaurant and sushi bar is popular, notes Poskanzer, for its large selection of sushi, generous servings, and moderate prices.

Great China, is a small Chinese restaurant on Kittredge Street downtown, temporarily shut due to a fire. Popular among students and restauranteurs, the Peking Duck, banquet offerings, and specials are singled out.

Gordo, this local taqueria chain, with a store on College and on Telegraph too, has its devotees — including plenty of Cal kids — who swing by for burritos and tacos.

H is for: Holy Lands, which serves up falafel, shewarma, and other Middle Eastern favorites in a casual café setting in the Elmwood.

House of Curries, a local chain with two Berkeley locations (College and Durant), qualifies as a cheap and cheerful place to pick up or take out well-known Indian and Pakistani dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, and Rogan Josh, a lamb stew. House of Curries has a website that lets customers order online from their desktop or smartphone.

I is for: Imperial Tea Court, which serves up mostly tea, natch, given its name, but also a short menu of organic and/or sustainable dim sum items, such as dumplings, potstickers, and noodles. Bonus outdoor seating are for this restaurant in the Epicurious Garden on Shattuck.

Indus Village, not your typical curry and naan joint, notes the Chronicle, which commends this San Pablo Avenue restaurant for its bold flavors that suggest Pakistani street food. Inexpensive, informal eats, dubbed the soul of Berkeley’s curry holes by one scribe.

Ippuku, Berkeley’s first izakaya or Japanese gathering place for drinking, snacking on small plates, and chilling out. This Center Street spot offers diners a unique experience (chicken in many forms) and an extensive range of Japanese liquor beyond sake and beer; its specialty is Shochu. Makes Bauer’s Top 100 List and is praised by Waters and other locals too.

To be continued…

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Related:
Revealed: A Berkeley restaurant guide and labor of love
[02.09.12]
The culinary couple behind Berkeley’s Corso and Rivoli [05.27.11]
Behind the scenes at new German eatery Gaumenkitzel [03.23.11]
Berkeley Bites: Anchalee Natasiri [05.07.10]