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Restaurant Guide

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Mariscos La Costa 3625 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-533-9566. The standard taqueria fare at La Costa isn't bad, but this open-air restaurant's specialty is fresh seafood. You can get a half-dozen oysters on the shell, or more refined fare: The ceviche tostadas sparkle with lime, cucumber, and tomato, and the tomatoey broth in which the seafood coctel (shrimp, crab, or octopus) floats is good enough to sip once you've speared the last piece of meat. $

Otaez Restaurant 3872 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-536-0909. Long-running Otaez — newly redecorated with colorful murals — offers a menu of classic dishes from enchiladas to goat-meat birria on the weekends. But it's the daily and seasonal specials that are worth tasting, such as milanesa, breaded fried steak, or tortas de camarón, fried shrimp-flour patties served with nopales (cactus) in a red chile broth. Start your meal off with shrimp soup and end it with a bowl of capirotada bread pudding, chasing down everything with sweet mango agua fresca. $-$$

Picante 1328 Sixth St., Berkeley, 510-525-3121. Popular spot for delicious soft tacos, empanadas with poblano chiles and Oaxacan cheese, and excellent chicken soup. An outdoor patio gives extended families — and work parties — plenty of room to dine in the sun. $

Santo Coyote 4806 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-261-8696. Formerly called La Cenaduria de Ana Rosa, this Jaliscan-style restaurant's stock-in-trade is homey flavors and fresh meats. Make sure to get the quarter-inch-thick corn tortillas that are made-to-order, and arrive scorching hot to the table. The birria en su jugo — a stew spiked with lime and bright-red with chile — is rich and delicious, with tender pieces of goat that has been grilled and then braised. Homemade chips and salsa, plus a side of refried beans, come gratis and go well with the enduringly popular queso fundido con chorizo, a bowl of melted cheese topped with crispy-chewy-salty bits of sausage. And with Santo Coyote's modest prices, you may as well order a little extra — a plate of caramelized plantains for dessert, perhaps. $

Tacubaya 1788 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-525-5160. Owned by the same folks who made Doña Tomás a success, Tacubaya brings the authentic taqueria experience to yupscale Fourth Street. Well, not quite authentic — there's no grease on the tables, and the plates are too pretty (and pricey). The chef's subtlety is lost on the tacos and tortas, which could pack more heat. But as dishes such as kabocha squash tamales with salsa rojo and feather-light chile relleno demonstrate, the more showy Tacubaya's food gets, the better it is. $-$$

Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana 468 8th St., Oakland, 510-444-1944. An antojeria is a restaurant specializing in antojitos, those "little whims" that all of Mexico noshes on throughout the day. Chef Gloria Dominguez has traveled around the country, gathering regional specialties and treating them like alta cocina. Her tostaditas, sopecitos, mulitas, and even flan are delicate and soulful, reverent of tradition but internationally chic. So is the room, all exposed brick and windows. $$$

Taqueria San José 3433 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-533-5748. You'll find better taco fillings a block away, but this sprawling institution midway on Oakland's milagro mile is accessible and super-friendly. Cheap, too: You can fill up at the self-serve chips-and-salsa bar, and the big tacos bristle with enough meat to stuff a regular burrito. Filled with plump specimens griddled with chunks of tomato, the shrimp burritos are tasty. And some fresh-squeezed carrot juice tastes healthy enough to make up for all the chips you've scarfed. $

Taqueria Sinaloa 2138 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-535-1206. One of the best taqueria trucks, Sinaloa is easily identifiable by the crowd blocking the window. The menu painted on the side of the truck doesn't list much more than tacos, burritos, and tortas (Mexican sandwiches on massive French-style rolls). Get one of each — they're all good and you can definitely afford it. The full complement of taqueria meats is on offer; the tongue and carnitas are superb. If you don't drive away with your food, you can sit at one of the picnic benches in the back. $

Taqueria Talavera 1561 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-558-8565. You'd think just about any decent burrito joint on carnitas-loving Solano would thrive, and yet this space (covered in relentlessly flowery Talavera tiles, natch) has struggled. Now, as part of the Monteros restaurant group, its prospects look as shiny as ceramic glaze. Many of the kitchen's moves come from the middling-burrito-joint playbook — perfectly fine if you just want to fill up — but the signature Monteros dishes rise above. Don't miss the supertasty barbacoa, long-cooked lamb leg massaged with a cloves-heavy spice rub. $

Middle Eastern

Jerusalem Organic Kitchen 1897 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-525-7888. At this sunny little cafe, Israel-born chef Auny Abaya shoots for 100-percent organic vegetables and free-range meats. You can taste the depth of his earnestness when you scoop up his velvety hummus and baba ghanoush on triangles of whole-wheat pita, crunch into his citrusy Jerusalem salad, or try tender nuggets of spice-rubbed lamb or chicken shawarma. $

Razan's Organic Kitchen 2119 Kittredge St., Berkeley, 510-486-0449. Patrons leaving the movie house a few doors down pack this teensy 100-percent organic Mediterranean restaurant. Salads, smoothies, and combination plates including spinach-y garden burritos, free-range chicken shawerma, and Middle Eastern wraps. Razan's is hardly big enough to swing a steak in, though, so takeout is strongly recommended. $

Wally's Cafe 3900 San Pablo Ave., Emeryville, 510-597-1303. Wally's Cafe is perfectly aligned to attract 90 percent of the East Bay's iPhone picture-snapping food blogosphere, with its obscure location tucked behind an Emeryville roadhouse-style dive bar and its free baklava and lentil soup with every order. But the best reason to visit Wally's is simple: solidly prepared, reasonably priced Lebanese and Greek cuisine, with a little American stuff thrown in for the barflies. $$

New American

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