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Restaurant Guide

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English/Irish

Kensington Circus Pub 389 Colusa Ave., Kensington, 510-524-8814. Mum and da drink and play darts while the bairns mess about with toys provided by the management — just as they do at pubs in England. Most of the menu is British, for better or worse, with faithful renderings of shepherd's pie, sausage dishes, and fish 'n' chips; patrons whose Anglophilia ends at the placemat make merry with burgers, pastas, and salads. The staff's willingness to prepare child-size portions has given this place a reputation as the Chuck E. Cheese of the bar world. Ten taps spout American microbrews and English favorites. $$

Ethiopian/ Eritrean

Cafe Colucci 6427 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-601-7999. Eating Ethiopian food is a highly social activity; it's hands-on and communal, and not for the uptight or spice-shy. You'll enjoy sitting in cozy, dimly lit Cafe Colucci for hours, picking bites of savory stews off the plate with injera-wrapped fingers and chatting with your friends. Red-meat addicts and vegans will find much to satisfy their hunger. Just don't order the pasta, a remnant of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. $-$$

Enssaro Ethiopian Cusine 357A Grand Ave., Oakland, Oakland, 510-238-9050. One of the most popular Ethiopian restaurants in the East Bay now boasts an expanded menu and a much larger dining room. Like most East African dining establishments, Enssaro offers an abundance of solid vegan and vegetarian options. But the highlights of the menu are hard-to-find meat dishes such as bozena shiro (a sloppy joe-like mixture of ground beef and chickpea flour sauce) and lamb derek tibs — a grilled meat dish that's probably the closest thing you'll find to Ethiopian barbecue. For diners who like to wash their injera down with a cold beer, Enssaro probably has the best booze selection among the area's Ethiopian eateries — not just honey wine and local craft beers on draft, but also a number of Ethiopian bottled brews. $$

French

Grégoire 2109 Cedar St., Berkeley, 510-883-1893. 4001 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-547-3444. At Grégoire, Jacquet's minuscule takeout restaurant, the affable Frenchman cooks all the food to order. You'll have trouble making it home with your stack of warm, heavenly smelling cardboard boxes without taking at least one peek. (Don't try to keep your hands off the crispy, cheesy potato puffs, because they're best straight out of the fryer.) Lunch features a bevy of memorable sandwiches; dinners are more expensive, albeit casual, restaurant-style entrées like rack of lamb. $-$$

German

Speisekammer 2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, 510-522-1300. From the looks of the menu, you might think that Speisekammer is as Teutonic as could be — red meat and potatoes abound — but once the food arrives, you remember that this is Northern California. The dishes have been lightened up, and there are even a couple of vegetarian options. Things to look for: spaetzle, red cabbage, pickled herring, Nurenburger bratwurst. The decor somehow balances hunting lodge and church basement with stylish aplomb. Speisekammer also boasts one of the best selections of German beer on tap in the East Bay. $$-$$$

Greek/Turkish

Asena 2508 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, 510-521-4100. Deep, deep in the heart of the island lies a tiny, packed storefront restaurant that dishes up tasty Cal-fusion food at low prices. Asena's cuisine drifts lazily along the northern Mediterranean coast, picking up a pasta from Italy, ground lamb in phyllo from Greece, and spring lamb with rosemary from Provence. $$-$$$

Indian/Pakistani

Ajanta 1888 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-526-4373. With its fancy light fixtures, white tablecloths, and abundant silverware (a big fork and a little fork), Ajanta is one of the East Bay's more elegant Indian restaurants. More importantly, the food is as varied as it is refined, with a focus on creative preparations of harder-to-find regional specialties. The restaurant eschews typical curry-house standards such as chana masala and aloo gobi. Instead, the rotating menu of regional dishes might include things like seyal machi — perfectly cooked fish fillets served over a lush caramelized onion sauce — or dakshini gosht, a South Indian braised lamb dish with all the richness and depth of a good beef bourguignon. Even humble offerings like the mango lassi and the assortment of naan breads are much better than average. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$

Chaat Cafe 1902 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-845-1431. This critic's choice eatery serves up delicious lunch and dinner specials on a rotating basis plus a menu of chaat, curries, and the ever-popular chicken plate. Almost all dishes are accompanied by the best naan you've ever eaten. Tip: Go before 5 p.m. and pay the lunch price. $

Flavors of India 3211 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-658-3461. 3276 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, 510-268-8957. 1337 Park St., Alameda, 510-522-6821. Neighborhood North Indian with freshness, bite, and tandoori wraps decent enough to serve as off-night alternatives to the megaburrito. The prim dining room may be the blandest thing about this little place. Opt for spicy, and a dish such as veggie masala or chicken saag can deploy the kind of burn that'll keep your water glass in constant play. The lunch menu is limited, but it's packed with bargains. $$

Kabana Restaurant 1025 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-845-3355. This recently relocated Pakistani restaurant serves robust, spicy curries and stir-fries that'll put hair on your chest. The goat curry and the Karachi chicken are real highlights, as are the puffy, crispy tandoor-cooked breads. (Indian/Pakistani, Kosher/Halal) $

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