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La Burrita (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1832 Euclid Avenue
(At the back end of the La Val’s / La Burrita alley,
between Hearst Ave & Ridge Rd)
Berkeley, CA 94709
La Burrita
(510) 845-9090

La Burrita Rating

I’ve been a fan of La Burrita ever since I moved to Northside, in my grad school days, and I frequently recognize a few of the same guys who have been working there for years. La Burrita is tucked into the back of a little pedestrian food-alley on the west-side of Euclid Avenue, half a block up from Hearst, on a short commercial strip with nice cafes and a few other restaurants that mainly serve the campus community. Celia’s Mexican Restaurant and Brewed Awakening Cafe is just across the street.

There’s a big-screen TV hanging from the ceiling and tuned to sports, to keep you occupied while you wait for take-out, or stick around and watch the game. I could say that there’s nothing too special about the food, but year after year, I’ve made it a regular standby, especially when I’m on my own for dinner. I crave it because it’s consistently good, and you can tell that they understand the meaning of healthy ingredients. The portions are generous—I’m usually satisfied with a regular sized burrito.

La Burrita is very veg-friendly. They have six different vegetarian burritos which are just under $4 or $5, depending on the size you get. Not bad! Two of the default options are vegan.

La Burrita is actually where I discovered how much I love green, tomatillo salsa. It goes well with their thin, hot, almost irresistible tortilla chips. I struggle to take less than I usually do.

Once in a while, I’ll skip the burrito and order the Veggie Tamale Plate instead. The tamales can be hit or miss, but the rice and veggies that come with it are excellent. There’s also a different kind of sauce that they serve with the tamales that I like. I don’t know the name of it. The Tamale Plate is $4.29 and it’s large enough that I often can’t finish it.

There are a few large, picnic-type tables outside, where students gather around lunch and dinner time. Inside there’s more seating than it first appears, owing to the narrow row of two person booths along the north side.

La Burrita is enough of a mainstay for me that I miss it if I don’t go once every few weeks. I’ve got my stamped frequent-burrito discount card in my wallet, ready for the next time.

The Cheeseboard (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | 1 Comment
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , , ,

1504 Shattuck Avenue
(Between Vine and Cedar)
Berkeley, CA 94709

The Cheeseboard rating

I have to admit that it’s not easy to write about something you love so much, and hold in such high reverence as I do The Cheeseboard, a bakery and cheese co-operative in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. But here goes.

If you want to get to know one of the best parts of Berkeley, visit The Cheeseboard on a summer Saturday morning, grab anything that looks good, and sit yourself down on the covered outdoor benches facing the street. The whole city eventually walks by. Morning dog walkers tie their antsy pets to the parking meters. Fleece-clad couples stop by, pushing strollers bearing well-fed, wide-eyed babies. Tweed-wearing UC professors, and gray-haired activists mix with young couples still in last-nights clothes. Therapists in neutral colors and smart wool shoulder wraps amble with the ladies of Vine Street. Teenaged skateboarders text by, narrowly missing the exercise set, who clutch the silver and black coffee travel mugs they carry around. All while few familiar panhandlers languidly angle for spare change.

I love the bread, the luscious smell of Fresh Baked Bread. I love the piquant, wafting aromas of sharp cheeses, baked into the cheese rolls, and detectable from a block away. I love the thin outer crust of the zampano roll, perforated with slits or holes on top, with red pepper flakes and a slightly melted cap of shredded real Parmesan (Asiago?) cheese. I love the simple olive foccacia baked into a hand-sized four-part disk, with a cornmeal undercarriage. I love Wednesday’s beer batter rye, which holds its hearty taste and freshness for days. I love the sourdough English Muffins, which make this native San Franciscan’s heart sing— completely plain with absolutely no adornment. They make Thomas’ English Muffins seem like a bad cardboard impostor, forever after. I love the morning scones with bits of fruit (like currant). I love the blueberry millet muffins, with lightly-crunchy toasted balls of millet, I had only ever seen before in birdseed.

I love the baguette pieces which condense all of the sourdough goodness of a baguette into a three or four-sided pillow of crust and seeds. I love the City Batard when I need a perfect, wide loaf of Sourdough. And who wouldn’t love the fluffy Chocolate Things, which are a decadent excuse for more chocolate for whomever needs such an excuse.

I cannot not mention the greatest Bialy this side of old Białystok—a chewy sourdough disk, like a hole-less bagel, but baked, not boiled. Translucent onions flecked with poppy seeds melt their way into the Bialy’s center depression. Oh my.

I love the Mr. Espresso coffee (my very favorite local, boutique, organic, fair trade coffee roaster), served daily until 10 am. And I fully appreciate the worker-owned Berkeley co-op vibe, where everyone you see making bread and selling the cheese has a stake in the success of the business and earns the same wage. Their pride shows in every roll, and Berkeley loves them for it.

Everything there is oven fresh, with the bread traveling just a few feet from the prep table to the oven to the self-serve racks. The Cheeseboard rotates their menu throughout the week, so if you go there enough, you start to learn the days when your favorite specialties appear. (Otherwise, here’s a Cheat Sheet.) This isn’t a place for dull, wide baguettes, bland white-bread, or flaky butter croissants. This is where real bread is born and comes of age.

Oh and did I mention that they sell cheese? There’s a long, wrap-around cheese counter, staffed by highly knowledgeable and friendly folks who take the time to make suggestions, explain the cheeses, and dole out samples, cut right there for you to taste. The chalkboard on the wall lists maybe a hundred different cheeses, if I ever bothered to count. There’s no obvious line, so draw a playing card from the rack in the center, and that’s your “number.”

If you’re wondering whether the artisinal cheese and gourmet bread ever tied the culinary knot, look no further than the huge lines snaking outside of The Cheeseboard Pizza next door.

So, if you want to please me, just sit with me there for a while. I’ll savor my bread, pretend to read the newspaper I brought, and try my best not make a small mess of crumbs below. And, if you would, please let me know if there’s anything clinging to my beard, since I’ll be in too much bliss to care.

Ajanta (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
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1888 Solano Avenue
(Between The Alameda and Fresno Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 526-4373


Ajanta is my all time favorite Indian Restaurant, and one of my favorite places to eat in Berkeley. It’s beautifully decorated, the service is warm and solicitous, and the food is seriously amazing, with plenty of vegetarian options.

Ajanta has a wonderful, ever-changing menu, with rotating regional dishes, and a other favorites that we always see. But if you’re expecting chana masala (garbanzo beans), baingan bartha (eggplant), and aloo saag (spinach and potatoes), like (almost) every other Indian restaurant in the USA, think again.

My absolute favorite dish is Bheh, Khumbi Aur Matar, a vegan dish from Sindh (western India, now Pakistan) with lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and peas cooked with caramelized onions, ginger, garlic and spices including mango powder and coriander. Oh my.

You may also find entrées like Lobhia Aur Khumbi, a vegan Punjabi dish made with black eyed peas and organic shiitake mushrooms cooked in a sauce made with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices including coriander, turmeric, and paprika. Yum!

But whatever you order, do not miss the Tandoori Portobello Mushroom appetizer. It will forever change the way you think about mushrooms. It comes served with a spectacular mustard sauce.

If you’re vegan, let them know, so they can steer you clear of the dishes made with yogurt or butter (ghee). Whenever I have asked, they have always been completely accommodating.

Ajanta rates high on the date-worthy scale, and it’s a great place to bring anyone you want to impress. Even the wine list is broad and well considered. Given the quality of the food and the elegance of the place, the prices seem very reasonable to me.

Ajanta is across the street from the Oaks Theater.

TC Garden (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , ,

2507 Hearst Avenue
(between Euclid Ave & Le Roy Ave. Across from Campus.)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 540-1124


I started going to TC Garden in 1993, and I could swear that the prices haven’t changed one cent. TC Garden is a small, no-frills, Chinese restaurant serving the UC Berkeley campus, on the Northside, and I love it. It’s tucked into a small restaurant row that every grad student at Berkeley has to know about.

Back in the 90s, Mom and Pop ran the place, with twin sisters cooking in the back. The menu is vast, and the food comes quickly. I remember it for the Tiananmen Square poster they had in the window, and the kindness they showed me, knowing my order, and welcoming me a few times a week.

Mom and Pop retired a while back, but otherwise the place has not changed. Lunch for three, with an appetizer and hot tea for around $16. Seriously.

There’s a long list of vegetarian entrées, from rice plates to chow mein and chow fun. My favorites are the mixed vegetables rice place (veggies in a clear glaze, over rice) and the mixed vegetables chow mein (in a semi-sweet soy sauce) which is excellent.

Celia’s Mexican Restaurant (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
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1841 Euclid Ave
Between Hearst and Ridge
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 549-1460


Celia’s Mexican Restaurant is a relative newcomer to Euclid Avenue, the main street for lunch and cafes on UC Berkeley’s north side. La Burrita is another Mexican restaurant that’s been there, across the street, for years, but Celia’s is different enough that I hope the two can co-exist peacefully.

Celia’s has a nice, large, sit-down dining area, with booths along one wall. I’ve only had one dish there, and it’s amazing. I get the Vegetarian "Hand Burrito" which should be called head burrito because that’s how large it seems. Filled with lightly sauteed vegetables, and covered in a tasty red sauce, this burrito is a real treat. There’s something about the white onions, zucchini, or black beans I ordered that makes this meal a huge standout. So far, I haven’t figured it out, so I’ll continue conducting the experiment 😉 Bucking the Nor-Cal burrito style, Celia’s burritos don’t come wrapped in thin foil and can never be stood up on their butt. They are simply too large, too delectable, and too delicate for a vertical burrito hoist. No, Sir; be prepared to use a knife and fork.

The food comes with thick, fresh tortilla chips and a few different kinds of salsa. Everything tastes homemade and fresh, the beans and rice are vegetarian, and the waiter is very friendly.

Picoso (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , ,

1511 Shattuck Ave
(between Cedar St & Vine St)
Berkeley, CA 94709
Picoso in Epicurious Garden


Picoso is an excellent take-out Mexican Food place in the upscale Epicurious Garden on Shattuck, two doors up from César, and across the street from the Cheese Board Pizza. They make my favorite burritos in Berkeley, and if you time it wrong, around the dinner hour, you’ll end up waiting around with a nice group of hungry people who share my opinion. 🙂

I love the really flavorful rice; and the beans, salsa, and guacamole always taste exceptionally fresh.

At the counter where they make the burritos, there’s a about three stools where you could wait for your food, or sit and eat. You can also take your meal into the back garden, where the seats and small tables are scattered among an outdoor terraced patio with nice landscaping, although that’s probably a better lunch idea than dinner.

Cha-Ya (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , ,

1686 Shattuck Avenue
Between Lincoln and Virginia
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 981-1213


Cha-Ya is my favorite restaurant in all of Berkeley. A small (20 seat) strictly vegan Japanese kaiseki ryori restaurant in the Gourmet Ghetto. Kaiseki cuisine is an edible art form largely unknown outside of Japan, and most-closely associated with Kyoto. Take me there for my birthday, or any day; I never need an excuse to go.

A vegan meal at Cha Ya consists of many small plates, and there’s a huge variety of dishes and food styles to mix and match. Weekly specials are posted on the wall. You can probably go ten times and never order the same thing twice. It can be overwhelming on your first visit if you’re not familiar with the food. Here’s a little orientation, based on what I usually order.

Among the soups I’ve tried, I prefer the Dobin Mushi, a “pot soup,” with all kinds of delicious veggies and mushrooms. Once you pour off and finish the broth (like tea), you can dive into the pot and eat the veggies. The salads are all incredibly fresh, and come with seasoned hijiki (seaweed), ginkgo seeds, tofu, greens, and sometimes persimmon.

There are a number of small dishes (Kozara) that I love, but my hands down favorite is the Gyoza (vegan pot stickers). Served with gyoza dipping sauce, they’re warm and melt in your mouth as the steam rises from your first bite. They’s sweet and chewy and really a treat. I also recommend the simple and delicious Robata Yaki (which is served as pair of skewers with grilled vegetables, mushroom, and tofu, glazed with a sweet plum sauce).

Cha-Ya has a very wide variety of al la carte veggie rolls: both hosomaki (nori seaweed on the outside), and nigiri vegetables on top of the rice, strapped on with a little nori belt. Among the hosomaki, don’t miss the Kampyo, seasoned gourd. It doesn’t sound impressive, but it has a mouth-watering, sweet, slightly vinegar taste. With the Nigiri I really love the way they do the eggplant. Seasoned perfectly, the eggplant is soft and delicious.

There are some special rolls that are particularly decadent. The Cha-Ya Roll is my guilty pleasure: tempura sushi filled with avocado, yam, and carrots, the entire roll is lightly battered and deep-fried, served with a special house sauce. It’s amazing.

On a cold night, there are noodle soups, and on hot nights, you can order cold noodles, like Zaru soba.

The menu contains six or so Combination Dinner Sets, which come with a bowl of miso soup and a small salad, in addition to an entree. The combos are probably a great deal, but I can never wrap my mind around how they’re organized or what I should choose. If you’re already ordering an entree that’s part of the specials, it makes sense to see if the specials work for you.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that they have a number of vegan desserts. The Vegan (chocolate) Cake is usually excellent, but the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae is the real prize winner, with both azuki beans, and green tea sauce.

The menu features many kinds of fine teas, and a range of sake (hot or cold), including Sho Chiku Bai Sake from Takara, made in Berkeley!

The place is small and popular, so if you get there too late, you might be standing in the cold for a while waiting for a table. Be forewarned.

Khana Peena (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1889 Solano Ave
(between Fresno Ave & The Alameda)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 528-2519


When Khana Peena moved in across the street from Ajanta a few years ago, I thought it was a bad business decision. Now here it is, 2010: Ajanta is still at the top of it’s game, and Khana Peena is making it work, with a totally different style of Indian food, reasonable prices, and a nice ambiance.

I actually think their food has gotten much better recently. There’s a big vegetarian selection, and they do all of our favorites really well. Chana Masala (spicy garbanzo beans) is great; Aloo Sag (creamy spinach with potatoes) is Kathryn’s favorite; and I really love their Bhindi Masala (okra is a spiced dry sauce). The different kinds of naan (bread) are wonderful.

This is another place I like to take out of town guests. When you have a bunch of people, ask for one of the booths in the back. You can sit on floor-pillows, at a long low table and have a great private dinner experience.

I should also mention that Khana Peena delivers!

About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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