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Restaurant Guide



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Khana Peena 1889 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-528-2519. 5316 College Ave., Oakland, 510-658-2300. Most of us are familiar with Punjabi food — 90 percent of "Indian" restaurants in the US specialize in it — but Khana Peena has a few new tricks up its sleeve. Visitors to the sleekest Indian restaurant in the East Bay will find all the standards on the revolving menu along with new delights. The griddled breads (puris, prothas) top the tandoor-baked naan, and the zingy, fresh curries beat the overroasted meats time after time. $$

Mehak Indian Cuisine 2449 Sacramento St., Berkeley, 510-841-6118. You could recite Mehak's menu in your sleep: lamb, chicken, and seafood curries, along with tandoori meats, a goodly selection of vegetarian entrées, and breads — all respectfully prepared. But on the days when the Punjabi cooks pull out the stops and offer regional specials like Punjabi lamb masala and gobi kastoori, you'll find something special indeed. $

Priya Indian Cuisine 2072 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-644-3977. At dinner time, Priya serves a fairly standard mix of Northern and Southern Indian dishes, from arm-long masala dosas, crepes stuffed with spiced potatoes, to palak paneer. Their deluxe lunch buffet wins the real raves. The double-length steam table starts with veggie pakora and moves through spicy "Indian fried rice" and tandoori chicken legs into uncommon buffet fare like curried goat and rasam, a spicy tamarind soup. $-$$

Taste of the Himalayas 1700 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, 510-849-4983. The East Bay outpost of this popular mini-chain serves up impressive Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian specialties in a lovely, tranquil setting. Momos (Tibetan steamed dumplings) make a delectable starter; entrée standouts include a lush, soul-stirring chicken vindaloo, tandoor lamb, shrimp and chicken served smoky and sizzling on a wooden platter, and a bountiful, paella-like Himalayan biryani. The salmon curry and rice pudding are best avoided, but don't miss the rich, chewy naan bread and sweet, spicy mango chutney. $$

Udupi Palace 1901 University Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-6600. Vegetarian South Indian restaurants are few and far between in the East Bay, so it's lucky Udupi Palace is so good. This national microchain specializes in dozens of varieties of gigantic, lacy dosas (rice and lentil flour crepes) and wet, nutty curries redolent of coconut and kari leaves. For less than $11 you can order a South Indian thali, two platters covered with tiny bowls of curries, chutneys, starches, and desserts. $

Vik's Chaat & Market 2390 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-644-4432. Vik's serves some of the best Indian

chaat (snacks) on the planet. Lunch specials rate as best buys, and the weekend specials are stellar. $


Dopo 4293 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-652-3676. After 12 years spent serving reliably excellent rustic Italian cuisine, Dopo reinvented itself as "Palmento a Dopo," adopting an all-Sicilian menu that draws inspiration from chef-owner Jon Smulewitz's family roots in Sicily and his annual trips to explore the island's rich food and wine culture. You see the Sicilian imprint most clearly in the daily-changing cold and hot antipasti section of the menu, which is served as an extended sequence of tiny plates, each one consisting of no more than a couple of bites. These might include airy-light fresh ricotta, chilled cuttlefish tossed with fava beans and little nubs of ricotta salata, and an assortment of deep-fried pasta or risotto balls. Meanwhile, Dopo's pasta dishes remain some of the best in town, and although the entrée selection tends to be somewhat limited, that just gives us more reason never to pass on the decadently rich polpette all'Etna — chicken-and-pancetta meatballs cooked in between citrus leaves. $$-$$$

Oliveto 5655 College Ave., Oakland, 510-547-5356. This airy, earth-toned restaurant and cafe continues to earn national kudos for the simplicity and elegance of its Northern-Italian-based menu. Chef Jonah Rhodehamel has taken over where Paul Canales left off, and meals move gracefully from house-made salumi and feather-light pastas to braised pork belly. Downstairs, the renovated cafe offers a cozy, classy little venue for all-day, everyday snacking, sipping, and dining. $$$-$$$$

Riva Cucina 800 Heinz Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-7482. Chef-owner Massimiliano Boldrini grew up in Emilia-Romagna, the Italian region that invented pasta. Naturally, the many house-made shapes are fantastic, framed with the kind of radical simplicity that makes a dish like tubes with tomato sauce and grilled sardines taste primordial. Boldrini is fussy about his seafood — it's usually local and consistently delicious. The semi-hidden space he's carved out feels casual for a restaurant with such serious chops, but hey, it's all part of the charm. $$-$$$

Trattoria La Siciliana 2993 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-704-1474. Despite the fact that the local food cognoscenti rarely mention it, Trattoria La Siciliana remains wildly popular sixteen years after it first opened. The secret, in part, is garlic — tons of it, nowhere more prominent than in the intense olio della mamma, the complimentary dipping oil that starts your meal. Clearly, this is a restaurant that aims to bowl you over, to sock you in the face with flavor. And if you order wisely — sticking mostly to seafood dishes and Sicilian specialties — it's likely you'll be won over. Highlights include a seasonal heirloom-tomato salad that's amped up with olives, capers, and anchovy fillets; the bucatini chi finucchiede, whose saffron- and currant-based sauce speaks to Sicily's Moorish influence; and, most luxurious of all, the tutto mare linguine with its insanely addictive lobster-infused fresh tomato sauce. $$-$$$


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