Vik’s Chaat Corner
726 Allston Way
If you live in San Francisco, it’s easy to forget how close Berkeley is. On a nice weekend, hop on the bridge for a short 15-minute drive over to the East Bay, home of the California Golden Bears (my alma mater).
Just off the University Ave. exit is an unexpected place to go for cheap, fresh Indian food. “Chaat,” as a friend told me, basically means “snacks”…and tucked in this industrial area is what looks like a garage-turned-cafeteria, serving Indian delicacies.
This has more variety than the ol’ Naan & Curry chain. Many of these dishes are not the usual “greatest hits” fare that you see in regular Indian restaurants. The menu is written in tiny font on a whiteboard…the font is tiny because there are so many items you could choose, and no one has had the time to buy a bigger board.
The line is long, but it moves quick. Think of it as the Soup Nazi – you won’t have time to read every single small-font description of the dishes, before it’s your turn at the counter. Fortunately, my friend was with me, and she knew what to get:
Bhel-Puri: It’s the Indian version of Rice Krispies, I guess. But in this case, they were not sweet. They were served sprinkled over a chutney sauce, and you’re supposed to mix it all up. If you get this to go, they’ll be nice enough to separate the ingredients so things don’t get soggy. But take-out containers are pretty creative — the puffed rice is just scooped into a paper bag.
Dahi Papri Chaat: One of the cold dishes we got, it is yogurt served with garbanzo beans, some potato powder balls (???), and little thing fried sprinkly things.
Chole Bature: This looks like a huge fried version of a jellyfish. It’s really some sort of dough-/crepe-like mixture that is poured into a vat of oil, and quickly expands to look like a billowing jellyfish (or close clam). It’s not solid…and also comes with some garbanzo bean saucey stuff. The goal is to tear up the big fried thing and use it to scoop up the sauce.
Some lamb roti?: My friend was a veg, so I needed to assess the meat here. The lamb roti came fresh & hot…basically ground lamb in between thin layer of pan-fried dough. It sort of reminded me of a pizza.
All this food was delicious and farely inexpensive ($4.50-6.00/plate). What impressed me was that this stuff was so fresh, and (to this Californian’s tongue) the menu items were “legit.”
It will be crowded there, since it’s only open during the daytime…no dinner is served, unfortunately. The two rooms of tables can get a little messy – there’s no one really wiping tables, and customers are sitting down as soon as the find empty ones, to claim their spots. There is a sense of legitamacy there though, as Indian patrons mingle with Berkeley students and yuppies alike. Viks’ also sells two cases worth of Indian treats, but I did not have any stomach space left to try them.
Also, note that the individual dishes are cheap, but…your first time, it’s easy to go there and order a lot, especially if you’re eatin family style. All our dishes, including two beverages, came out to over $20 for two people total. Counting the bridge toll and gas spent, Grubgirl is marking this an “average” cost place, but…I would most certainly go again.
So get there for a late (or early) weekend lunch, be hungry, and get ready to enjoy some finger lickin’ good food.