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Restaurant Guide

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Luka's Taproom & Lounge 2221 Broadway, Oakland, 510-451-4677. From lunch until last call, Luka's has it going on. Suited-up professionals, club kids, retirees, and moms comfortably mix it up at this stylish bar, restaurant, and club. Claiming a California brasserie theme, the menu showcases Belgian beers, mussels, and frites — some of the best in Oakland. The creatively conceived entrées sometimes read better than they taste, but the cooks deliver on the basics. $$-$$$

Venus 2327 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-540-5950. This popular neighborhood hangout serves abundant platters of inventive seasonal comfort food made from locally raised organic protein and produce. Highlights might include pan-seared scallops with apple matchsticks, roasted squash salad with spinach, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds, a big juicy roasted chicken with pear-cranberry chutney, and skirt steak with seared polenta and a delectable chimichurri sauce. Get the pumpkin cheesecake for dessert, if it's available. The wine list features several biodynamic and organically raised vintages. Affable, attentive service. $$-$$$

Pizza

Jupiter 2181 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-8277. Just a stone's throw from UC Berkeley, the local talent checks itself out at this upstairs-downstairs-and-outdoors pub, washing down wood-fired pizza, focaccia sandwiches, and salads with the outpourings of 30 taps, including twelve house brews. A crackling open fire on the patio out back perfumes the air for a city block, helping make this a first-date fave. $$

Zachary's Chicago Pizza 1853 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-525-5950. 5801 College Ave., Oakland, 510-655-6385. 3110 Crow Canyon Pl., Suite D, San Ramon, 925-244-1222. Winning nearly every popularity poll, Zachary's three locations have been packed at dinnertime for more than twenty years. Chicago-style "stuffed" pizza, with fillings between two dough layers, are the main draw, accompanied by Berkeley-style salads and good cheap wine. If you can't handle the hour-long wait, pick up a half-baked pie to finish in your oven. Despite — or maybe because of — the ruckus, Zachary's is a family and first-date favorite. $-$$

Seafood

Gourmet Delight Seafood Restaurant 701 Webster St., Oakland, 510-832-7661. Some nights, it seems as if all of Chinatown has descended on Gourmet Delight. The bustling restaurant specializes in inexpensive, fresh seafood, much of it swimming around in tanks until the Great Net from the Sky comes to collect it. Order the fancy stuff and you may be disappointed. The best of Gourmet Delight's food is homey and simple: clams and black-bean sauce, stir-fried crab or lobster with garlic and scallions, platters of bright-green vegetables, and clay pots. $-$$

Marica 5301 College Ave., Oakland, 510-985-8388. This comfortable Rockridge restaurant has transitioned away from its Asian-tinged seafood focus toward that of a more general neighborhood bistro. Like the funky décor, some overwrought items are a hodge-podge, but chef Christopher Cheung has a deft hand with his mesquite-fired grill. All fish is wild-caught and sustainable, but meats are a mixed bag. Six-dollar all-night happy hour brings in a younger crowd after 7 p.m. $$$

Skates on the Bay 100 Seawall Dr., Berkeley, 510-549-1900. This large, Podunk-friendly eatery in the Berkeley Marina isn't a place to visit for the food, but it's worth a try if you're looking for a unique and pleasantly surreal dining experience. The to-die-for view, cheerful waitstaff, and great happy-hour specials could all make it worth your while. Try a flight from the extensive wine list, or sample the sublime clam chowder or chocolate cake. Just remember that if you go to celebrate your birthday, you won't be the only one. $$

Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto 1919 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-845-7771. This venerable century-old fish house, now part of the McCormick & Schmick's chain, serves up seafood from around the globe in a variety of unchallenging preparations reminiscent of a bygone era. Everything's perfectly filling and nutritious, but aside from a few exceptions — the lush, spicy barbecued shrimp, for instance — it just isn't very tasty or exciting. Best bets: the perfectly crafted cocktails and the sublime desserts — try the chocolate bag filled with lemon mousse and fresh berries. Undeniably impressive ambience features several acres of vintage seadog memorabilia. $$$

Southeast Asian

Battambang Restaurant 850 Broadway, Oakland, 510-839-8815. Battambang is not just the best Cambodian restaurant in the East Bay, it competes for best Southeast Asian. Don't measure the restaurant by the curries, which may be too mild and sweet for diners weaned on Thai food. Instead focus on the grilled meats, wide array of Buddhist vegetarian dishes, and the house specials listed near the back of the menu. $-$$

Champa Garden 2102 8th Ave., Oakland, 510-238-8819. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, Champa Garden's menu resembles a set of Russian nesting dolls. Hidden among its hundred-plus Thai dishes — all the old familiars — are a few Lao and Vietnamese specialties, as well as one or two dishes from the Lue and Mien peoples. Go Lao, ordering things like the unique rice ball salad, larb (ground meat salad), and Lao and Lue noodle soups. For the specials board, the cooks also get creative with fish, tropical fruits, and curry pastes. $

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