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Restaurant Guide



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Jayakarta 2026 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-0884. Concentrated and meaty is how you'd describe Betawi cooking, Jakarta's original food. Owner and chef Irianti Jin grew up in Indonesia's capital, and her beautifully layered Betawi dishes eat like love letters home. Candlenut sauce on the lamb sate skewers is as rich as a pat of butter melting onto a steak, while tripe-studded soto babat, a galangal-flavored soup, practically glows. The dining room is bare, bland, and pink, but it only makes Jin's food shine all the brighter. $-$$

Lao-Thai Kitchen 1406 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-559-3276. Earl and Kham Daniel started up Lao-Thai Kitchen as a retirement project. Some retirement! This seven-day-a-week place is the ne plus ultra of mom-and-pop shops, with Kham in the kitchen and Earl charming the pants off the customers. The Daniels mostly serve your basic neighborhood Thai restaurant standards, but look out for Lao dishes like the larb, papaya salad, and barbecued pork with a sauce that'll take your breath away. Oh, yeah: Earl's contribution to the menu is Southern-style barbecued ribs, greens, cornbread, and the mysteriously tasty white-potato pie. $

Vientian Cafe 3801 Allendale Ave., Oakland, 510-535-2218. File this one under "worth a detour": Vientian Cafe, a Laotian restaurant situated on a completely residential stretch of East Oakland, turns out to be one of best places around for down-home Lao food. The restaurant offers a broad range of Southeast Asian cuisines, but the key to a stellar meal is to ask for the separate "Lao Specialties" menu. Highlights include the best nam kao (crispy rice ball salad) in town, the super-crunchy baked sai oo (fermented sausage), and the mok pa — chunks of catfish that are covered in aromatics, then steamed inside a banana leaf until the whole thing coheres together like a terrine: tender, succulent, and incredibly fragrant. Round out your meal with an order of sticky rice, the staple of Lao cuisine. $-$$

Southern/ Soul Food

Blackberry Bistro 4240 Park Blvd., Oakland, 510-336-1088. The original chef-owner has moved on, but hungry crowds continue to pack the sidewalk on weekends, proof that this compact Glenview spot still has legs. The menu, Deep South meets North Oakland, is pretty much unchanged, and dishes like shrimp and grits, frittatas, and cheesy omelets are just as rib-sticking as ever. Some signature dishes have lost a bit of their former flourish, such as stodgy banana-bread pudding that needed a bit more nuking and a clammy potato pancake. Stick to the eggy basics and you won't go wrong. $-$$

Home of Chicken and Waffles 444 Embarcadero W, Oakland, 510-836-4446. The popular soul food restaurant's interior is tricked out with sparkly blue upholstery and shiny starburst lights. The menu lists every possible combination of chicken (fried or fried and smothered), waffles, greens, yams, cornbread, and black-eyed peas you can think of, each named after a family member (highlights: all the sides and the mile-high coconut cake). And yes, you're supposed to eat the chicken and waffles with syrup. $

Souley Vegan 301 Broadway, Oakland, 510-922-1615. At this oasis in the Jack London district, Tamearra Dyson's barbecued tofu, garlic-and-pickle-spiked potato salad, cheeseless cheesecake, cheeseless macaroni and cheese, tender corn on the cob, and fresh fruit blends exude a sophisticated richness that flesh-eaters and even old-school vegetarians would say have no business being this far from bacon and Crisco. A lifelong vegetarian and a vegan since age sixteen, Oakland native Dyson started with a catering company and a booth in local farmers' markets before opening this small storefront restaurant in June 2008. Inside a wrinkly, peppery cornmeal-batter blanket half an inch thick and fried in olive oil — the only type Dyson uses — the crispy tofu served here as a side dish or in a burger brings back fond memories of fried fish. Without the fish. Remember those funky oh-so-local holes-in-the-wall where, when you were a carnivore, you walked right in (no scouring the menu for the single dish your diet might allow) and just chowed down? Well, this is one of those. $$


Bangkok Thai Cuisine 1459 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-6483. Bangkok Thai isn't fancy, just a reliable, casual, affordable Berkeley favorite. Standards such as the roasted duck and crispy basil chicken are consistently good, as are the green, red, and Panang curries. $

Bua Luang 1166 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-527-8288. A little slot of a place, but far nicer than a proper hole in the wall, this Thai restaurant exudes an earnest honesty that gives diners the feeling they've been invited home for a meal. And, as happens at a home-cooked meal, surprising ingredients such as avocado and pumpkin tend to pop up. Curried salmon is a definite success. $

Old Weang Ping Village 6217 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-430-8771. This funky, thatched-roof restaurant, which looks like a cross between a beachside hut and a 1950s diner, offers rustic, forthright food that's far more appealing than the sugar- and coconut-drowned fare you'll find at most Thai restaurants. Mix and match your favorite meats, veggies, and sauces from the menu, or order off the specials board. $$

Thai Delight Cuisine 1700 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-549-0611. Organic Thai food? Only in North Berkeley. Thai Delight's chef-owner has created a small organic menu — with slightly higher prices — to supplement her reasonably priced regular menu of familiar Thai entrées. The food tends toward the sugary but it's fresh and well prepared, and the service is friendly and competent. A plus: The tables are spread far enough apart for you to hear your conversation, not everyone else's. $-$$

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