Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 2

Thai food abounds in Berkeley. Here a dish from Pin Toh

Who knew there were so many ethnic restaurants around town?

Last week Berkeleyside chronicled choices from A through I, 32 picks in total, and today, in our second installment covering J through P, we bring you 33 more spots.

Careful readers noticed some omissions, including Cyprus, Dara, De Afghanan Kabob House, and Ethiopia. No doubt there are places missing in the mix here too, so feel free to add any favorites in the comments.

Not every country or region of the world is well represented in restaurants around town. East Bay Express food critic Jesse Hirsch would like to see more Polish and Balkan choices among the glut of sushi spots and curry shops. Hirsch’s two favorite local ethnic places so far — he’s relatively new to town — are featured this week.

This list can only hint at the flavor of each restaurant in a capsule summary. That’s where readers come in: chime in with your preferred dishes or insider tips on what to choose (on or off the menu). Fellow diners will be grateful.

Hungry? Take a look.

J is for: Joshu-ya, a sushi institution on Dwight Way near Cal reinvented as a Japanese brasserie. “The Joshu-ya roll has enough fatty unagi sweetness, shrimp-veined umami, avocado richness, and tempura-batter crunch to satisfy like a BLT,” wrote ex-Express critic John Birdsall, who added some dishes show more ambition than skill.

Juan’s Place, this west Berkeley standby with working class cred off-the-beaten path on Carlton Street, is a no-frills fried beans and burrito joint. Gets the thumbs up from Burritophile, who notes the restaurant is a throwback to simple times and a different Bay Area (presumable pre-boom & bust.) Good place for a group on a budget.

Kingston 11 pop-up is popular for its Jerk Chicken and other Jamaican specialties. Photo: Sarah Henry

K is for: Kabana, which promises authentic Pakistani cuisine in the heart of University Avenue’s International District. Think Karahi chicken or lamb, Tandoori dishes, dals, paneers, and chana masala. As is typical, mixed reviews from the Yelpers for this hole-in-the-wall.

Khana Peena: At the top end of Solano Avenue, this white-table-cloth establishment serves standards like chicken tikka masala, along with griddled breads like puris and parathas, and veggie options. “Service is quick, cooking decent, prices reasonable,” note Lucille and Art Poskanzer in the Restaurants in the Berkeley Area guide.

Kiraku, a new izakaya restaurant on Telegraph Avenue between Blake and Parker. Think small plates served up with beer and sake in an elegant space in an unlikely location. Hirsch recommends corn tempura, yaki udon, and nasu miso (an eggplant dish).

Kirala, a wildly popular Japanese joint on Ward at Shattuck across from Berkeley Bowl with robata grill and sake bar. Bustling, noisy, crowded, with a modern vibe, and prices to match. Service is swift, sushi and grilled options get the nod from Poskanzer. Takeout at Kirala2.

Kingston 11: Another Hirsch pick, this popular, “permanent” pop-up serves home-style Jamaican classics like jerk chicken and plantains at the Guerilla Cafe on Shattuck in North Berkeley. Diverse crowd, dj, tiny tables close together, and a feel good party vibe.

King Tsin: This Chinese restaurant on Solano Avenue is friendly, fast, family-run, and features a loyal clientele who swing by for moderately-priced food from an extensive menu, according to Poskanzer’s guide.

King Yen, a white-table-cloth Chinese restaurant on College Avenue. Think Mongolian beef, lemon chicken, mu shu pork and such. Reviews ran the gamut on Yelp some call it an upscale Panda Express (and don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way.)

Kirin: More Chinese, this time on Solano, with a focus on Szechuan dishes. Popular, busy, noisy, spot with a focus on strong, spicy flavors, says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Classic French bistro fare is on the menu at Liaison.

L is for: La Mediterranée: This local chain serves up Middle Eastern eats in the Elmwood. Moderately priced, family friendly, generous servings, lots of vegetarian options, notes Poskanzer. Think hummus, tabouli, baba ganoush, filos, dolmas, and levant sandwiches.

La Note, which brings the pleasures of Provence to downtown. Popular for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch. French accents include bowls of coffee. Back patio nice on a sunny day. When it opened the Chronicle noted: “The only thing that would make La Note more French is if they would allow me to bring my dog or let me smoke.”

La Rose, which dishes up French bistro fare with a California flavor close to the theater and film hub downtown, says Poskanzer, who gives the thumbs up to creative salads, quiet, and charming ambience. Classics like French Onion Soup, Duck Confit, and Coq au Vin.

Liaison, a popular French bistro on Shattuck not far from downtown. Charming, professional service, and offerings such as oysters, mussels, and frites, writes Poskanzer. Tables are tightly space, it can get noisy, choose outdoor tables in good weather, she adds.

Luca Cucina: Unpretentious neighborhood joint on San Pablo in west Berkeley gets high marks for its meatball sandwiches and pastas – ranging from penne and fusilli to pappardelle and linguine – and sauces, including carbonara, bolognese, and cardinale.

A veggie-filled falafel sandwich from Maoz. Photo: Anna Mindess

M is for: Manpuku, a skinny slip of a sushi, noodle, teriyaki and Bento box place on College Avenue in the Elmwood. Inexpensive, popular, and fast, it has its share of fans on Yelp.

Maoz, which ethnic food writer Anna Mindess calls her favorite falafel joint in town, with a salad bar that resembles a football field filled with beets, flash-fried broccoli and cauliflower, green and red cabbage, and the typical tomato-cucumber mix. Also: Serves up a mean bag of sweet potato fries. A bargain bite, agrees the Chronicle

Mint Leaf: More Indian eats, this time in the Epicurious Garden in North Berkeley. Inventive naan, lunch buffet with mixed reviews, and frequently features music as the night rolls on.

Mitama: Small, chic Japanese restaurant features fusion accents like battered nori strips on the Berkeley-Oakland border on College Avenue. Lunch is reasonable, dinner can set you back more than the typical sushi spot, but then Mitama isn’t your typical sushi spot.

Mount Everest: Nepalese cuisine on Telegraph Avenue that makes Chowhounds happy, who recommend goat curry, Tandoori catfish, and daal pindalu (black lentils with taro).

Musashi: Temporarily closed for lunch due to demand for their pre-packed food — find it at both Berkeley Bowls or Tokyo Fish Market — this Dwight Way restaurant still does dinner that includes udon, soba, tempura, and wappa meshi. Service gets the nod from the Chronicle.

Pickled side dishes from Norikonko. Photo: Anna Mindess

N is for: Naan-n-Curry, Cheap Indian eats on Telegraph Avenue, gets mixed reviews from the campus crowd. Part of a local chain.

Norikonko: Mindess says this cozy Telegraph Avenue spot dishes up Japanese grandmother style home-cooking. Warm, comfort foods, like oden (a winter hot-pot dish with fish and yam cakes in a kelp-based broth), and a buckwheat soba noodle soup with vegetables and a spicy pork curry, both simmered for hours, get Mindess’ vote.

O is for: O Chame, a 4th Street favorite that serves up carefully prepared classic Japanese country cuisine. Small menu, small plates, artistic presentation, can get pricey, points out Poskanzer. A regular fixture in Michael Bauer’s Top 100 restaurants list.

Savory sandwiches standout at PIQ at Shattuck Square in downtown Berkeley

P is for: Paisan, the latest place from the K2 restaurant group (including neighboring Sea Salt). This west Berkeley pizzeria didn’t get many reader votes in our pizza guide, but other Italian offerings here, like the antipasti, win praise. Poskanzer’s tip: Get on the mailing list for the low-priced, family-style dinner specials on Wednesdays.

Party Sushi on Shattuck is good, cheap, and features an over-the-top tacky, plastic decor, warns the East Bay Express.

Pho K & K:  Oakland has its share of pho houses, harder to find this Vietnamese staple in Berkeley. This cheap eats, on Telegraph near campus, gets points for freshness from Yelpers.

Picante: A perennial favorite in Berkeley for good-value Mexican fare, particularly among families with young children, there’s a wide choice of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and tostadas here. A patio lends itself for alfresco lunches and the place is buzzy and casual at night.

Picoso, is an inexpensive taqueria tucked inside the Epicurious Garden food mall in the Gourmet Ghetto. Tacos feature house-made tortillas made from organic corn. Sweettooths will seek out bunuelitos, paper-thin sheets of pastry, deep-fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar.

Pin Toh: Small storefront close to downtown theaters, features moderately priced Thai food in a modern setting, says Poskanzer, who recommends the noodle dishes and fried sweet potatoes, at this unassuming space. Lots of vegetarian choices too.

PIQ: Pane Italiano Qualita says it all really. Shattuck Square storefront offers savory sandwiches on house-baked bread that has critics swooning. Pizza, salads, sweets, too, including a daily streudel special, says Poskanzer.

Platano, a family-style restaurant on University featuring pupusas, tamales, and other signature El Salvadorean dishes. Great handmade tortillas, says the Chronicle, and the kitchen has a way with beans, adds the Express.

Priya: Another Indian restaurant, this one on San Pablo in west Berkeley, which — here’s a surprise, receives mixed reviews from the Yelpers.

To be continued…

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

Related:
Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 1
[03.02.12]
Revealed: A Berkeley restaurant guide and labor of love
[02.09.12]
Pop-up restaurants are popping up around town [04.29.11]

Interested in food and restaurants? Check out the Berkeley Area Restaurant Guide, with concise reviews of  up to 100 restaurants each in Berkeley and Oakland. And read the story behind the guide.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Erwin/1349397135 Ed Erwin

    Thanks.  I learned of a few I didn’t know about.  And here is one you should know about, too:  Jayakarta.

    http://www.jayakartarestaurant.bravehost.com/

  • lizabet

    if italian and french restaurants are “ethnic”what isn’t?

  • Completely Serious

    Hey Sarah!  Are any of these restaurants as good as the food at Berkeley’s Echo Lake?

  • Heather_W_62

    Haha! I just googled “levant” sandwich and the first hit was for La Mediteranee… that’s hilarious! The reason I googled it is because I’ve always thought they were lavash sandwiches, as in the bread. 

    On a separate note: I think listing French and Italian restaurants as “ethnic”, in this country, to be a big stretch. 

  • Tomo

    party sushi has been remodeled since at least a year ago. no longer a party. 

  • Ljbwejdb

    Plearn!

  • Anna Mindess

    Sadly, Maoz on Telegraph is closed.