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Restaurant Guide

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Central American

Fonda Restaurant and Bar 1501A Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-559-9006. This stylish restaurant serves small plates of rustic pan-Latin food. All its antojitos are both novel to the uninitiated and superbly prepared, as are stews such as the tinga poblana (pork, potato, and chipotle). These dishes are meant to soak up the booze, which includes tasty — and expensive — cocktails, hundreds of spirits, and North American, European and South American wines. $$-$$$

Platano 2042 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-704-0325. The Salvadoran dishes here glow with accomplishment, from unusually delicate pupusas to casamiento, rice and black beans sautéed together until they're crispy and almost fluffy-light. Irma Mischler's handsome, earth-toned dining room is a spinoff of Kaliente, her mom Maria's impeccable Salvadoran cafe in El Sobrante. Like Kaliente, Platano is a good place to get acquainted with the cuisine, through friendly service and clean-tasting versions of El Salvador's rustic, homey cooking. $-$$

Pupuseria Lupita 3340 Foothill Blvd., Oakland, 510-436-3851. Comb the menu to separate the Mexican and American chaff from Salvadoran gold at this family-run place that shares seating with a cybercafe. The pupusas are straight-up tasty — opt for the chicharron filling, which has a moist and mashy richness reminiscent of French pork rillettes. Chicken-filled pastelitos have well-made masa crusts and the dark resonance of toasted chiles. Don't forget to check out the lush Salvadoran goodies at the restaurant's tamale wagon in the adjacent parking lot. $

Taqueria La Bamba 12345 San Pablo Ave., Richmond, 510-235-2288. Taqueria La Bamba dishes up the real thing: homestyle Salvadoran food and respectable Mexican antojitos. Salt can be a problem with the Mexican-style meats. Come here for pupusas, Salvadoran tamales, creamy refried beans, and heartbreakingly good tortillas, patted out and grilled to order.$

Chinese

Bay Fung Tong Seafood Tea House 1916 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-832-3298. Amid the sea of modern-looking cafes and upscale boutiques that populate today's Uptown Oakland, Bay Fung Tong Seafood Tea House sticks out — for its weathered, Chinese-style facade and its affordable, old-school Cantonese cooking. Your best bets are the seafood dishes, including the restaurant's signature "Bay Fung Tong style" (aka typhoon shelter style) crab — a Hong Kong specialty that features a whole batter-fried crab buried under a mound of crispy fried garlic, sliced chilies, fermented black beans, and, most surprisingly, some kind of pork that's vaguely reminiscent of bulk Italian sausage. Deep-fried sand dab is another winner from the seafood section, and you'd be wise to round out your meal with an order of tong choy (water spinach) sautéed with fermented bean curd. $$

Ben's Restaurant 398 3rd St., Oakland, 510-763-8336. There are many reasons you might not have heard of Ben's Restaurant — because it's a Chinese restaurant that caters, in large part, to non-Chinese; because of its location, tucked away in the Jack London produce district; because it's a cash-only place that closes at 2 p.m. and isn't open on the weekend. Here's what you need to know: For 25 years, chef-owner Ben Fung has served tasty, inexpensive Chinese food to a diverse, loyal customer base. The restaurant's crowning glories are its crunchy, surprisingly grease-free batter-fried chicken (an off-menu special available on Wednesdays only) and its house-made black-bean hot sauce. But really, much of the menu is great: luxurious, comforting shrimp and scrambled eggs over rice; chow mein and fried rice dishes that feature fresh, wok-charred vegetables; and more. Best of all, an entire meal will only run you about six bucks. $

China Village 1335 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-525-2285. Long the East Bay's foremost purveyor of authentic Sichuan fare — a cuisine of fiery chilies and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns — China Village returned from a 2012 fire with an attractively remodeled dining room and the same great food. Highlights from chef-owner John Yao's menu include wok-charred cabbage, mapo tofu with a whole Dungeness crab, and the restaurant's signature West-style 1,000 chili-pepper fish fillet soup. Expect a long wait if you haven't made a reservation, especially during peak weekend dinner hours. $$-$$$

Da Lian 1674 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-883-1883. Chef/owner Benli Zou grew up in Dalian, a megacity in the north of China fueled by lamb, wok-baked sesame bread, and serious garlic. Those things spark Zou's menu, too, especially lamb with Chinese pickled cabbage, an enormous soup that balances the yin of house-made pickles with the musky yang of lamb fat. Order carefully: While the chef's northern Chinese fare catches fire, the bulk of his menu is neighborhood-takeout-grade Cantonese. $-$$

Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant 1301 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-893-0383. Though you'll find a lot of meat on the menu at Golden Lotus, every nugget of flesh is actually a skillful gluten facsimile. This Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant serves brightly flavored, fresh, inexpensive vegetarian fare. Many order the grilled "chicken," the Vietnamese noodle dishes, and the hot pot, or come at lunch for quick to-go combo plates. Golden Lotus is run by followers of Supreme Master Chiang Hai, a Buddhist spiritual master and fashion designer. $

Great China 2190 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, 510-843-7996. After suffering a fire, this titan of regional Chinese cookery has reopened in a new, modern-looking space located around the corner from its previous location. Now, the creaky charm of the original dining room has been supplanted by sleek minimalism, and an actual host stand has replaced the old front-of-house system (a pad of paper). Most importantly, the food is better than ever. The restaurant is best known for its Peking duck — a showstopper of a dish — but the menu offers an abundance of other, more understated pleasures: delicate fish dumplings; tiny, tempura-battered fried oysters; steamed surf clams served on the half-shell topped with oil and scallions; and sautéed Dungeness crab that you spoon into puffy steamed buns, like a Chinese reinterpretation of a crab roll. And although much of its award-winning wine collection was lost in the fire, Great China remains a worthy destination for oenophiles — a rarity among Chinese restaurants. $$-$$$

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