Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 3

High praise for Vanessa's Bistro and its tuna salmon poke. Photo: Anna Mindess

Over the last two weeks Berkeleyside has listed almost 100 places where you can taste tachos, slurp soba, and make a meal out of momos (catch up with part 1, A to I and part 2, J to P). Down the track, we will bring you the back story to some of the people behind some of these places.

For now, you know the drill: Chime in below if there’s a nosh spot that’s missing from this list or if there’s a signature dish you want to single out at a particular place.

Oh, and as for the definition of ethnic (some readers quibbled about whether French or Italian joints should be in the mix) we’re thinking chefs who want to showcase a style of cooking specific to a region of the world — versus California cuisine or fusion food, though no doubt there’s some crossover.

Enjoy. 


R is for: Ramen House Ryowa, a University Avenue lunch staple serving up hot noodle soup to the downtown set. Find out what Cooking with the Single Guy thinks of this broth spot.

Riva Cucina, a hidden gem tucked inside an out-of-the-way plaza on Heinz Street in west Berkeley that serves Northern Italian fare in a warm setting with professional service, writes Lucille Poskanzer in the Restaurants in the Berkeley Area guide. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it rustic and homey and singles out the bolognese.

S is for: Sabuy Sabuy II: This Thai spot on San Pablo Avenue between Harrison and Gilman gets mostly positive shout outs from the Yelp crowd, for standards such as pad Thai, Tom Kha Gai, and duck specials. A Chowhound recommends ordering off the menu.

Prawns at Shen Hua. Photo: Thomas Hawk from Flickr

Shen Hua a large, crowded, noisy, Chinese restaurant on College Avenue in The Elmwood with prices that reflect the upscale area and modern vibe, notes Poskanzer, who gives a nod to generous portions and specials.

Sushi California, close to downtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, this family-friendly favorite of one Berkeley Bites subject, gets points for fresh, healthy food, a cozy feel, and live acoustic music some nights.


Sushi Ko: On Shattuck Square a Japanese joint serves Bento boxes that won’t bust the bank, say Yelpers.

Sushi 29: Sushi standards at this Solano Avenue Japanese joint too, which also features small plates and udon and soba noodle soups.

Suya African-Caribbean Grill: Newly opened spot on Oxford Street opposite campus. Think skewers of meat, fish and vegetables made with a savory custom spice rub called suya pepper served with flatbread. Also: jerk chicken, roasted plantains, and sweet potato fries. Seats are scarce.

Sweet Basil Thai: For more than 25 years, Sweet Basil Thai has served up, well, sweet basil thai in this family-run spot on Solano. Eggplant and calamari dishes get the nod from the Chronicle.

T is for: Tacubaya, the sister restaurant to Doňa Tomas in Oakland, this 4th Street fixture is not your typical taqueria. Great ingredients and a lively menu, writes the Chronicle. Hard to beat snapper tacos, a bowl of guac, and a beer in the sun at this upscale shopping district favorite.


Taiwan:  Tasty, generous, country dishes, writes Poskanzer, of this place on University below Shattuck, which can accommodate large groups and is opened late, a plus in a town that shuts up shop on the early side.

Ta Krai Hom: New Thai joint on Dwight Way at Sacramento Street in west Berkeley (in former Digs Bistro space). Dubbed charming by The Berkeley Diet, and popular for takeout among Yelpers.

Taste of the Himalayas, Nepalese (think momos, tarkaris, shekuwa) and Indian fare (tandoori, vindaloo, biryani) finds a home on Shattuck in the Gourmet Ghetto. Thumbs up from the Chronicle, and Berkeley Bites subjects who appreciate Sunday’s Karma Kitchen, where a family-style combination plate is cooked and served, sans cost to customers; so expect a line out the door.

Temari, sushi, sashimi and such at this shack on San Pablo in west Berkeley only opened for dinner.

Thai Delight, on Shattuck in North Berkeley and dishing up South-East Asian staples for more than 15 years. Veggie and omnivore options, organic produce and free-range, hormone-free meat.


The mango sticky rice at the Thai Temple is a favorite of Anna Mindess

Thai Temple: A pick from Anna Mindess of East Bay Ethnic Eats for its veggie mains and mango rice desert, this local icon at Wat Mongkolratanaram has folks lining up for Sunday brunch in south Berkeley.

Tiny Thai, tucked away in quiet Westbrae, popular with Gilman Street Gals (profiled here) for lunch and a Yelper notes new Cambodian dishes on the menu now at this family-run restaurant.

Toyo: Small, sushi shop in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto on Shattuck, serving standard fare: sushi rolls, tempura, miso soup, as is typical, mixed musings over on Yelp.

Trattoria La Siciliana: An Italian option along restaurant row on College  in the Elmwood, this is another popular, noisy place, Poskanzer point out. She favors hearty pasta dishes with plenty of garlic.

Troy, on College in the Elmwood features gyros, souvlakis, Greek fries, and falafel in casual setting.

Tuk Tuk Thai An inexpensive, informal cafe not far from downtown theatres on Shattuck. Large menu with a lot of vegetarian choices. One of the few places around town to get a meal after midnight, says Poskanzer. One caveat, she says: Loud, pulsating music late at night.

Turkish Kitchen, on Shattuck and close to campus, this casual spot serves unusual, moderately priced food, notes Poskanzer, of what she calls the town’s only Turkish restaurant — and one of her favorite downtown spots for a quick, satisfying meal.

U is for: Udupi Palace, a small, national chain which dishes up South Indian specialties such as dosa on University Avenue. The place split in two recently to include a burrito joint (no Mex-Indian mash-ups as yet but you can get a lamb burrito) called Fresco Burrito, for takeout only to date.

V is for: Vanessa’s, a Vietnamese bistro serving tapas with a French twist on Solano. Says a Berkeley Bites subject: “It sounds like a lot but they make a few key ingredients sing on their small plates.” He singles out their shaking beef salad, Mindess gives a nod to tuna salmon poke and Saigon noodle salad. Reviewers at Diablo and the Chronicle give the popular, homey spot high marks too.

Vegi Food: Self-described hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop shop, has served up vegetarian (and mostly vegan) Chinese eats in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto on Vine Street since 1979. Cheap chow mein, noodles, and rice dishes, that get mad props from vegetarian Yelpers.

Venezia, this large, Italian restaurant with the memorable murals has dished up antipastas and pastas for more than 30 years on University. Good value, good service, a neighborhood favorite, says the Chronicle, which recommends fritto misto, meatballs, and house-made potato chips with Parmesan and truffle oil.

A veggie kathi from Vik's Chaat. Photo: TastingSF from Flickr

Vik’s Chaat: For more than 20 years this Indian street food has had folks lining up in droves for a quick, cheap lunch or dinner. One Berkeley Bites subject gives the thumbs up to the weekday specials, including eggplant, lamb, and chicken dishes. Pleasant spacious location on 4th Street with Indian market conveniently located next door. A perennial Chronicle Top 100 pick its reputation for snack food supreme also caught the attention — and taste buds — of the New York Times.

Z is for: Zabu Zabu: Small plates and shabu shabu (hot pots) at this all-u-can eat Japanese sushi bar close to downtown on Addison Street.

Zaika, an Indian restaurant on University in the historic Koerber Building which began serving customers last August prides itself on being both kid- and student-friendly.

Zatar, Another favorite for Mindess, who appreciates the cozy, intimate space known for its Mediterranean spreads. Carnivores, she says, should order the kabob fest for two (lamb, chicken, and kefta), complete with produce from the owners’ organic garden.

It’s tempting to sneak in popular spots Zaki Kabob House and Zand’s at the end, but astute readers would be quick to note that both these places belong just across the border in Albany not Berkeley.

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 2 [03.09.12]
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]