Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Take On The Chronicle's Bargain Bites

Today, the 96 Hour section of The San Francisco Chronicle rolled out its annual list of Bargain Bites. These are supposed to be the best restaurants in the Bay Area that serve entrees of $12 or less. I would have personally made the cap $8 or $9, but hey, we've got inflation these days.

As with all top 5, 10, and 100 lists, there is a lot of subjectivity. Here is my take on some of the "winners", in alphabetical order.
  • Bakesale Betty (Oakland). Overrated, trendy. The fried chicken sandwich (the restaurant's claim to fame) is above average, but it is nothing to write home about. The roll tasted store bought. The chicken itself was fresh and tender but the breading was stale. It tasted like it was fried and left out to dry for hours. The baked goods (scones and cookies) are no better. Oh, and by the way, the old ironing boards that have been converted into dining tables are like McCain's VP pick-- gimmicky. Yelp rating: 4.5
  • Fenton's Creamery (Oakland). I'm sure this was a great place to go to on a hot summer day, decades ago. But now, the food tastes anonymous, the staff is overworked, and the floors are always filthy. All I have to say is: Thanks, but no thanks. Yelp rating: 4
  • Kopitiam (Lafayette). This is currently my favorite restaurant. They just revamped their menu and I'm working my way down the list. The food is fresh. The flavors are comfortable yet bold. The staff is very friendly but not pushy. It is the most underrated restaurant in the East Bay. Yelp rating: 4
  • Koreana Kitchen (Walnut Creek). It's just cheap Korean BBQ in a box. Steve's BBQ in Berkeley, at its apex in the early 1990s, would put this place to shame. If you want large portions for low, low prices, Koreana is the place to go. If you want decent Korean BBQ, head to the Korean joints on Telegraph in Oakland. Yelp rating: 3.5
  • Old Mandarin Islamic (San Francisco). Authentic dishes, but crappy location, depressing atmosphere, and apathetic service. Yelp rating: 4
  • Pamir Afghan Cuisine (Emeryville). I discovered this place because I noticed the name-- Karakul Lake, the name of this blog, is at the Pamir foothills. Despite the great location at the food court, it does not get a lot of customers. Which is a shame. If I'm ever stuck in Emeryville, I stop here and get the chicken. It is by far the best restaurant in the large and talented international food court. It strangely shares a kitchen and cash register with a Korean family/stall. Yelp rating: 4.5
  • Petra Cafe (Orinda). This place has gone downhill. It is constantly staffed by third string help who cook mechanically, without an ounce of passion. Sad turn of events. Yelp rating: 4
  • Picante Cocina Mexicana (Berkeley). Seems to be popular with the hip 4th Street Berkeley crowd. Decent Mexican, but not memorable at all. Yelp rating: 3.5
  • Vik's Chaat Corner (Berkeley). Another Berkeley institution. Mass produced crap in an industrial setting. The market next door is worth going to for cheap spices in bulk. Yelp rating: 4.5

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