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Restaurant Guide

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Oakland’s Vientian Cafe makes one of the best Lao-style crispy rice salads in the region. - FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS DUFFEY
  • File Photo by Chris Duffey
  • Oakland’s Vientian Cafe makes one of the best Lao-style crispy rice salads in the region.


American

Grinders Submarine Sandwiches 2069 Antioch Ct., Oakland, 510-339-3721. Study the menu well before you belly up to the counter at Grinders, a tiny sandwich shop in Montclair Village: The owner will fire a barrage of questions at you about every conceivable topping you could put on your sandwich. You'd better have a strong opinion about your choices, because he does, too, and he'll let you know when you've committed a delicatess-sin. The payoff for the high-speed, high-stress grilling: Your favorite sandwich gets saved in the database, to be called up onscreen when you return. $

The Hobnob 1313 Park St., Alameda, 510-769-1011. With its stacks of board games and slat-backed benches built by one of the owners, this is a bar with a bring-the-kids vibe, perfect for Park Street. With sugary additions such as 7UP in the mojitos, the house cocktails are wholesome, too. But chef and co-owner Amy Voisenat's small-plates menu balances fancy with Alameda's tropical-shirt sensibility, like skinny fries turned subtly sophisticated with a side of fantastic truffle-oil aioli. Execution doesn't match intention in every dish, but things like crab cakes and garlicky sautéed prawns have an unfussy polish. $-$$

Hotel Mac 50 Washington Ave., Richmond, 510-233-0576. Retro American specialties like Cobb salad, pot roast, rack of lamb, and pineapple upside-down cake share menu space with spring rolls, jerk chicken, and chai crème brûlée at this unfocused, albeit affable eatery housed within a venerable Point Richmond B&B. Although the bill of fare is littered with perfunctory, uninspired land mines, there are enough delectable dishes to inspire a memorable meal or two: bright, sparkly oysters Rockefeller; creamy shrimp tostadas touched with wasabi and cilantro; a chewy yet richly flavored prime rib; an irresistible Snickers-laden candy bar pie. The ambience is generic yet pleasantly timeworn. $$$

Meal Ticket 1235 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-526-6325. The fiercely antipretentious couple who owns Meal Ticket want to make sure you get your bang for your buck. The Carters make everything in-house from fresh, high-quality ingredients, and while the food is simple it's always good, especially the cornmeal pancakes and the omelets. Order at the counter and get your own coffee; after that, the service (friendly when it's slow, brusque when it's not) takes over. $-$$

Sam's Log Cabin 945 San Pablo Ave., Albany, 510-558-0502. Sam's really is a log cabin, one that has endured dozens of tenants since it was built in the WPA era. These days the superstrong coffee, like the eggs, is organic, and the pulpy orange juice is so fresh it's almost still warm from the sun. At breakfast time a crowd gathers for nicely done egg dishes, pancakes thick and thin, and Hobbs applewood-smoked bacon. $$

Smokehouse 3115 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-845-3640. If you don't know where the Smokehouse is, you must be a vegetarian recluse. It's a shack. You eat outside. The fries are fresh. The burgers are skinny — you'll want a double. The reason everyone goes to the Smokehouse is that the meat tastes as if it was actually cooked on a real grill instead of a griddle. $

top dog 2160 Center St., Berkeley, 510-849-0176. 2534 Durant Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-5967. 2503 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-1241. top dog will make you remember why the all-beef frank made America great. The "top" is a slightly smoky, firm, meaty sausage, not a scarily overprocessed weenie. Sausage lovers will find everything from bratwurst to soy dogs to hot links; skip the bland turkey sausage, though. A late-night favorite with Cal students — especially since everything costs less than $4. $

The Vault Cafe & Restaurant 3250 Adeline St., Berkeley, 510-595-9600. Enormous, sunny restaurant dishing up healthy, hearty breakfast and lunch fare that's a cut above. The chef gives only a few nods to contemporary California cuisine — garlic-basil spread on the burgers, an eggplant and zucchini sandwich, a selection of fruit smoothies. But the West Coast influence shines through in the clean flavors, fresh ingredients, and food that's light on grease. $-$$

Z Cafe and Bar 2735 Broadway, Oakland, 510-451-2905. Oakland's Auto Row may be a daft place to open a neighborhood bistro — after hours, there are more shiny new cars around here than neighbors. But it's precisely the chummy neighborhood vibe that makes Sheila and Mehdi Zarekari's cafe an easygoing place to grab a Caesar, a burger, and a drink (the bar stocks more than one hundred vodkas). The rest of the menu can be clunky, but the grand-looking 1920s-era building communicates its own sense of grace. $$

Barbecue

Everett & Jones Barbeque 126 Broadway, Oakland, 510-663-2350. 1955 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-8261. 296 A St., Hayward, 510-581-3222. 4245 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-698-4340. This chain of family-owned barbecue establishments serves up traditionally smoked and grilled ribs, chicken, brisket, and beef links for both takeout and onsite dining. Although the ribs aren't up to the high standards of Memphis, Chicago, and Kansas City, they're luscious, spicy, and satisfying, and the chicken and the brisket are marvelously tender and smoky. (The tough, oddly textured beef links are safely avoidable, however.) Sides include rich, earthy pinto beans; silky, pungent greens; unexciting candied yams; and a crisp, spiky coleslaw. Get the sweet potato pie for dessert. $$

Uncle Willie's Original BBQ and Fish 614 14th St., Oakland, 510-465-9200. Uncle Willie Thomas produces mega-smoky Texas-style barbecue in barrel grills he fashioned himself, slathering on a marinade he calls "bugga juice." With a mesquite-and-hickory aura that sticks in your nose like creosote, the chicken is mandatory. Ribs and links are equally smokalicious, but the brisket is a letdown for those who like their barbecue tender enough to shred with a plastic fork. The made-from-scratch sides are nice, but skip the so-so fried fish. $-$$

Brazilian

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