East Bay lists: SF Eater's 38 & Luke Tsai's lists

SF Eater put out a list of their Essential 38 East Bay Restaurants (Berkeley and Oakland only). What do you think?

  • My anti-breakfast/brunch bias made me notice that they have six places that don’t serve dinner (Brown Sugar Kitchen, Lois the Pie Queen, Mama’s Royal, Bahn Mi Ba Le, Beauty’s Bagel, and Vik’s) compared to their SF list, which has two (Swan’s Oyster Depot and Plow). Make that seven, if you count La Note, which is primarily a brunch place and only serves dinner three nights a week.

  • Seven Chez Panisse alum and descendants (Chez Panisse, Oliveto, Pizzaiolo, Camino, Ramen Shop, Cosecha, Duende)

  • Two places that expanded to SF (Champa Garden, Hawker Fare), one with an El Cerrito restaurant (Ba Le Sandwich Shop), and one with an Albany branch (Pho Ao Sen).

  • Off the top of my head, 12 of the restaurants have owners that currently, or recently, owned other restaurants.

I don’t get to the East Bay as much as I used to, but here’s my take:

Top restaurants

I think all of their following recommendations distinguish themselves, and are either unique or best in show for a dish or a category for the East Bay, if not the Bay Area:

  • Brown Sugar Kitchen
  • FuseBOX
  • Camino
  • Beauty’s Bagel Shop (best bagels in Bay Area)
  • Ramen Shop
  • Juhu Beach Club
  • Café Colucci (Ensarro is my preference, but both are way better than Ethiopian in SF)
  • Miss Ollie’s
  • Comal
  • Ippuku
  • Chez Panisse
  • Cheese Board Pizza (not to everyone’s taste. Their use of interesting cheeses makes them superior to their offshoot Arizmendi)
  • Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar
  • Champa Garden (recent reports vs. Vientian?)
  • Ba Le Sandwich Shop
  • Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant
  • Cosecha

Mexican food is tough to nail down to a few places since there’s diversity in the dishes/styles offered and price ranges. They cover taco truck (anyone been to Tacos Mi Rancho?), high quality casual Mexican (Cosecha), and pricier (Comal). The execution at Nido has been off for me-- recent experiences?

À Côté is a great neighborhood restaurant that’s an ideal pick for group dining, last minute reservations, or sitting at the bar. But the menu isn’t as inspired as some of the other items on the list.

Shan Dong restaurant is good for dumplings and is low priced, but I think Great China and a Sichuan restaurant (Sichuan Style (nee King Tsin) or Chengdu Taste) are stronger restaurants overall. I’m not current on my East Bay Cantonese restaurants.

It’s perhaps not emblematic of broader trends or chef-inspired, but I would add Chili Padi in Oakland to the list— it has in my experience the best full-menu Malaysian in the Bay Area (Azalina in SF is great, but the menu is very small).

Gather: any recent reports? It bummed me when they stopped making the Vegan charcuterie plate and I never found their meat entrees or pizzas noteworthy. Generally I like Encuentro better for higher end vegetarian food, and Souley Vegan and Hella Vegan Eats for casual vegetarian stuff. I’ve been meaning to try Kingston 11, which is on their list and has some vegan options, and The Butcher’s Son-- any reports on that?

Do people like Home of Chicken and Waffles because it’s open so late and they’re intoxicated? I don’t think their chicken or waffles are great, and haven’t tried anything else there that was particularly good.

Vik’s Chaat Corner is best chaat in Berkeley due to lack of competition, but nothing compared to Fremont or the South Bay.

Saul’s Restaurant & Deli never quite worked for me. I generally like Wise Sons in SF better.

Luke Tsai has two articles that are also great sources of places to eat in the East Bay, and the focus is less focussed on Cal-cuisine and brunch. Lots of places in there that I’ve not heard discussed on Hungry Onion. In one article, in the context of a discussion about cultural appropriation, he advocates for twenty restaurants whose food reflects the chef’s cultural origins. I’d add Miliki, a Nigerian restaurant, and Cafe Tibet to that. On a related note, see his 10 Quintessential Oakland restaurants and more recent list of 10 cheap eats.

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Tacos Mi Rancho on the Eater list is not bad I guess, but I prefer the Taqueria Sinaloa truck on International for tacos. Better all around IMHO, with the exception of maybe the location not being the nicest.

Looking at the Eater’s map, since when did East Bay only include Oakland and Berkeley? Or are they saying that there is nothing good enough to make the list from the rest of East Bay?

has always been off?

A recent Vientian Cafe meal was prompted by Luke Tsai’s article and an old discussion started by @rwcfoodie. I don’t think I ordered well, however. Perhaps that should get a separate topic.

How do you like Miliki?

Eater says to “stay tuned for more far-reaching coverage of all that the East Bay has to offer.” I find that hard to believe they won’t just be repeating reviews made elsewhere, especially when their SF coverage rarely dips into the Excelsior or other southern portions of the city.

I’ve had mixed food at Vientian too, but can’t tell whether it’s been an issue of execution or me not knowing the intricacies of Lao food. The dishes I’m familiar with from other restaurants have been excellent (e.g., their sausage is great), but when I’ve explored new territory, have gotten dishes that didn’t translate as well to my palate.

I went with a group two years ago, tried most of the menu, and liked it a lot. I’m planning to be in the area in a few weeks and am hoping to return. I wrote up a report in 2014 on Chowhound

Note that at vientian, you can get some of their best items “to go” frozen. I typically get packs of their frozen latioan sausage and also their catfish or chicken w/lemongrass steamed in a banana leaf (forget the name). They make pretty good additions to our dinner menu

lobo

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I think it is odd they showed a picture of tacos at Mi Rancho. I find the burritos to be where they shine. They griddle the tortilla enough that it has flavor, and it’s my favorite burrito in the East Bay. Though their tacos are undistinguished. I’ll have to do another taco truck round-up, as my sporadic stopping my Mi Rancho, Sinaloa, Mi Grullense, and El Novillo for tacos leaves none outstanding in my mind.

I stop by Vientian for frozen sai oua sausage whenever I run out in my freezer. It’s much better than the two commercial brands available at Lao stores.

All the Oakland Lao/Thai restaurants have enough going on to keep me going back to each of them.
Souk Savanh has my favorite Nam Kao (rice ball salad) with noticable toasted coconut in the mix. I haven’t tried many of their other dishes since they reopened with a new chef.
Sticky Rice Cafe has a great fish larb, and their other Lao dishes are solid.
Chai Thai Noodle is probably my favorite all around, fewer misses on the menu, a great khao soi Chiang Mai. Fewer Lao items, but Nam Kao is good.
Vientian has the best sai oua by far, and good Nam Kao. The soups have been a miss for me, with thin broths, but the beef larb with tripe is good. Make sure you get the Lao menu, don’t be fooled by the Specialties section of the main menu.
Champa Garden Nam Kao and Sai Oua are probably second best, and its menu seems to be without true misses.
My opinion of Hawker Fare has improved since opening, and I’ve enjoyed going with friends, but its Nam Kao is more sticky than crispy.

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I can’t claim much knowledge of East Bay food (I did my Berkeley time 50 years ago) but Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is one of the few places that have drawn me across the Bay Bridge (or through the BART tunnel, to put it more accurately) more than once. It’s a unique asset and should be on the list, IMHO.

I suspect Shan Dong’s presence is something of a “Lifetime Achievement” award. As long ago as 1992 they had a woman making dumplings all day in plain sight, and were offering them frozen in bulk as well, at a time when few people outside the Chinese community even knew what jiaozi were. Shan Dong doesn’t have quite the longevity of SF’s San Tung, but I always gave them credit for using proper pinyin. :slight_smile:

I was taken to Gather three times during the summer by a generous friend. I had never been but I found it mediocre at best. The one OK meal I had there was a pork belly appetizer and a bowl of soup, but then hard to find fault pork belly. I was very unimpressed by the burger and a pizza that I was only too happy to give to a needier guest when I found out my friend was footing the bill yet again.

I go to Saul’s often because it is a favorite of my best friend. In fact will be going there Saturday. It is serviceable, but I almost never go there on my own. They removed all my favorite dishes from the menu: turkey burger, cardamom soda, chocolate layer cake. I had an OK trout dinner there 3 weeks ago. I really like their chocolate pudding and their French fries are crispy.

IIRC the best dishes at Vientian were the crispy rice ball salad, the grilled Lao sausage & a duck dish. Been a few years since I’ve eaten there so things may have changed a lot…

Shan dong - what a safe choice. They have a line out the door many nights. Whenever I see it on a best of list, I assume that the writer found it on someone else’s list, ate there once, and deemed it list-worthy. Eater’s list has nothing new and I can rank those restaurants on my own, so there’s no value add.

I havent been to Nido lately because we dont have a regular sitter, but it is high on my list since Ramos went from consulting chef to exec. chef. I was a huge fan of Nopalito in its early days. I hope he changes the horchata recipe, Nopalito’s was awesome and Nido’s was not.

Ive never understood why Ippuku and Comal keep making all the best of lists.

Chili Padi is excellent, just had their Singaporean chili shrimp again today. Im sure the crab version is also very good but I didnt want a messy lunch and it isnt really crab season.

China Village isnt on the list, which is unusual because it usually ends up on lists like these.

The chicken and waffle place is very mediocre, Brown Sugar Kitchen and Cosecha have far superior waffles.

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True. I moved out of Oakland in 2012 and there are only three or four more recent restaurants on that list, most of them high profile. It would’ve been nice to see at least one under the radar pick,
even a ringer to stir up controversy. Still, it seems like a useful list to point visitors to as a first stab.

Cosecha has waffles? Good to know!

Like Felice I have my own list of favs. I checked Eater’s list but like everyone else, saw the usual ‘safe’ choices. We are not fans of most of them.

Yes, did think it odd that EBay meant only Oakland/Berk. OTOH, when I talk to most of my friends who live on the Berk/Albany/ECerrito side, they NEVER eat in Concord or Dublin/Pleasanton/Livermore or Danville, unless by chance they work out there. The EBay is really big! Although when we lived in SF we would go down to the Peninsula to eat on a regular basis, people in the EBay generally don’t travel from one end of Alameda Cty to the other end of Contra Costa Cty just to dine. Too far and the freeways are too often dicey.

We live in the perfect location to go almost anywhere in Alameda or CCCty, but we always consider day of the week and whether the freeways will be crowded. I can get from my home to Albany in 13 min. if 580/880 are clear - but if I have to take the streets even part of the way, it can be 35 min to over an hour at bad times.

I like reading Tsai’s reviews, but our taste in food is not his. He really likes a lot of oversweetened, deep fried stuff, and that is not to our liking.

Oh yes Cosecha’s waffles are excellent, and the rare yeasted variety so they are airy. They are only available Saturdays for brunch/lunch. Between Miss Ollie’s and Cosecha, I have the perfect fried chicken and waffles as good as at Brown Sugar Kitchen, with no long line.

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Re: chicken and waffles.

There’s a problem in a lot of these lists: too much of the same-same. Everything’s a open beam open brick yadda yadda. Everyone’s following the generally chez pannisse mode and model.

I have actually not been to the Home of Chicken and Waffles, but could it be that they feel the need to add some of the older oakland-style restaurants, and want to pick one or two places that are the best of the crop, even if you can argue there are better chicken and waffles elsewhere.

That’s not to say you’d put in Nation’s… but I could see, of all the “older places” HoC&W might be the one I’d pick… what would you pick?

[ Discussion about the changing demographics of oakland - which is radical - omitted ]

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Ditto on Cosecha’s waffles.

I’ve been to Home of Chicken and Waffles, and I just didn’t think the chicken was that good. And I like older restaurants – in fact, I would prefer to get my fried chicken from old-style joints when I can.

Good ! Are there any “old school” places that are in the east bay you’d recommend?

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold