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Restaurant Guide

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Cha-Ya 1686 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-981-1213. Zen temple cuisine — shojin to those in the know — is strictly vegetarian, with architectural arrangements of land and sea veggies whose subtlety, sauced and unsauced, blasts any fears you might have about boring blandness. The menu includes shredded-vegetable and soba salads, satisfying noodle soups, and sushi. The pot-sticker-like gyoza positively burst with flavor. $$

Coach Sushi 532 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-834-7866. Owner Hiro Okada was a baseball coach in Tokyo, but chances are he wasn't the kind who kicked dirt at the ump. The smiling Okada is a sweetie of a host, which is what sets his unassuming sushi joint apart from a gazillion others. Plus at $3.50, the masu sake has to be the cheapest buzz in town — your traditional wooden cup never goes empty. Afterwards, if you can still see straight, etch your name on it; the coach will have it ready for you next time you show up. $$

Kirala 2100 Ward St., Berkeley, 510-549-3486. Chic, lively Kirala is a godsend for pickers and grazers. Not only does it serve some of the East Bay's freshest, thickest sushi, but the robata grill puts out close to forty kinds of skewers — from scallops to corn on the cob. And the sake list has been compiled by connoisseurs for connoisseurs. The only downside? The wait: Kirala's already so packed from open to close that they don't take reservations. $$

Koryo Sushi 4390 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-594-0661. Business at Koryo picks up just when other restaurateurs would be clearing up the tables around you and looking pointedly at the door. That's because this jewel box of a restaurant is one of the best of the East Bay's scant late-night eateries. By two in the morning you'd expect the cooks to get a little sloppy with the wakame scattered across the agedashi and start slicing their dwindling fish stocks super-thin, but no: It's still all good. $$

Manpuku 2977 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-2536. Skinny little Manpuku is a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. Locals pack in for inexpensive, homey Japanese standards — noodles, teriyaki dishes, curries, and sushi. Bento boxes with specialties like pork katsu and teriyaki salmon hold enough food to stuff a sumo wrestler. At lunch, the refrigerated case of prepackaged sushi and salads empties out fast. $-$$

Mijori Sushi 3260 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-465-8854. The biggest, thickest, butteriest slabs of fish are to be found at Mijori. And just about everyone in Oakland seems to know it. Since sushi chef Jimmy Kim took over the business from his father, he has introduced a line of bombastic, colorful American-style rolls, but one bite of his uni or hamachi nigiri will show you that his skills — and his tastes — are steeped in classic Japanese technique. $$

Mitama 3201 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-652-6157. If sushi joints were high school students, Mitama would be the shy art geek that all the honors English girls had crushes on. This quietly chic restaurant, with its buttery walls and clear-plastic sculptures, looks more Berkeley than Japan. Some of the dishes, like the mountain vegetable salad and asparagus with sesame, are extensions of Japanese food we're accustomed to, while others, like the colorfully named American sushi rolls and battered strips of nori, are as fusion as they come. $$-$$$

Miyozen 1147 40th St., Emeryville, 510-923-0311. The sleek cousin of the Oakland sushi bars Drunken Fish and Koryo, Miyozen is more about the space than the sushi, which tends to be uneven. Come here for the plush visuals, including mod cherry-blossom wallpaper and a snaking conveyor belt, which circulates plates of sushi and cheesecake around the massive bar. If you're devoted to humongous maki bursting with unagi, imitation crab salad, and avocado, Miyozen just might be the new altar at which you worship. $$

Sushi King 1650 Park St., Alameda, 510-523-9888. It's minuscule and easy to overlook, which may be why this four-seater buried in Park Street's upscale foodie mall seems like such a gem, a bona fide find. Most of the stuff is takeout, either prepacked or rolled to order. And though it might seem that you've seen these unagi-stuffed, tobiko-speckled maki rolls before, the better-than-average quality of Sushi King's seafood can make a Crazy Monkey Roll taste, well, better than average. Great selection of hand rolls, too. $$

Tsuru Sushi 1427 E. 14th St., San Leandro, 510-352-3748. San Leandro's best Japanese restaurant (run by a large, friendly Chinese-American family) carries not just the Old World standards — sushi, tempura, teriyaki — but funky New World interpretations. Tsuru's sushi chefs specialize in elaborate American rolls, like the E. 14th Roll, a mile-long construction with tempura prawns, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, and tobiko, or the Dynamite Roll, which is dipped in batter, deep-fried, and drizzled with hot and spicy sauce. $-$$

Uzen 5415 College Ave., Oakland, 510-654-7753. Minimalist Eighties decor meets rustic pottery at this tiny Japanese restaurant, where solid culinary technique takes the yawn out of good old classics like udon and teriyaki. Dine early if you want a full selection of sushi and daily specials: the chefs buy enough fish fresh for the day, so when they're out, you're out of luck. $$

Yoshi's Oakland 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, 510-238-9200. Yoshi's champions both Japanese traditions and a style of nouvelle cuisine called "sousaku," adding sizzle to a place that has served as snack bar for the adjacent jazz club. The sushi is just okay, but the sousaku dishes excel. Broiled on sake-soaked cedar (to approximate Japanese charcoal), the Kurobuta pork chop is fierce. And barely smoked scallops splattered with truffle oil have the cool fire of vintage Miles. $$$

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