one shot: True Burger

trueburger

The True Deluxe: cheese, medium-cooked quarter-pound hamburger on toasted egg buns, lettuce, tomato, garlic mayo (no mustard, thank god), and a crispy portobello mushroom stuffed with smoked mozzarella. When I eyed it, Eric was like, “it’s BIG. Maybe you two can share one.” You two being me and Cheryl. Now that I think about it, Eric hadn’t seen me with burgers before. Luckily, Cheryl was also hungry and wanted her own burger. Hers was pretty small compared to the Deluxe, but she’s a skinny girl who thinks a regular In ‘n Out is sufficient. For Mai, there’s no burger too big. The most prominent plus side of True Burger is that it’s ready in less than 5 minutes. It satisfies our imagination of what a burger should be. It smells of fast food (but not of McDonalds, how does McDonalds maintain that distinctive McDonalds smell all these years?!) and of industrialized America. I don’t even know why I’m writing about True Burger when nothing about it really screams significance, even its name. It’s just that, somehow, sitting in a classic, simplistic orange-colored fastfood joint in the middle of a modernizing city, chomping on [...]

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One shot: Ramen burger – is it worth the hype?

sooishi-pulledporkburger

Through words of mouth (from a kid that comes to my office hour, to be precise), I learned that the ramen burger is here in Berkeley. Hah, you don’t have to be in LA or NY or SF to eat this (relatively) new craze(*). Mashable has a guide to make it yourself, but why go through the trouble when you can buy it? Unlike all other hypes that turn out to be various degrees of meh (in no order, truffles, caviar, foie gras, Cheeseboard, M.Y. China, Fentons, et cetera), the ramen burger is delicious. I gorged it down, completely defeated. Farewell, my hype-bashing days. So Oishi in Berkeley dishes out 3 types of ramen burgers ($9 each): pulled pork (with wasabi mayo), grilled chicken (with ginger miso sauce), and the usual beef patty (with teriyaki sauce). (You can ask them to swap the sauce.) We had enough sense to avoid the chicken burger (who wouldn’t?!), and were split between pork and beef. Both types contain sauteed mushroom and come with “Japanese fries” (katsuobushi and Japanese mayo). Both sides finished with complete satisfaction. [...]

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The last of June – Gregoire

Few Berkeley residents, minus the homeless people (I think), haven’t at least heard of Grégoire. Everyone I’ve talked to has eaten here, even my freshman students. Technically I also have, but only for desserts. Somehow the menu on the days that I looked never struck lightnings on me. I might have been looking on the wrong days. Then I stopped treking this part of town for over 6 months, minus a trip to Imperial Tea Court that turned out somewhat disappointing, which shot me back to Fourth Street. When the whole tea business got serious, I kinda started eating to subsist more than to eat. I stopped actively hunting for special things. I don’t think of restaurants anymore. Chinese fried rice has been a staple for the last 7 days, with intermissions of frozen pizza and ramen. That reminds me, Berkeley Bowl no longer carries Sapporo Ichiban, and I’m mad. Of course, if delicious-sounding food just rolls up to me, I’d take it. Like today, we’re close to Grégoire, and Grégoire (finally) has something that caught my eye. My lunch gleaming on the grill. [...]

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Better than banh mi thit nuong

Isn’t she a fine beauty? Stuffed to the brim. Peppery chunky crunchy meatloaf. Cucumber strips, cilantro twigs, carrot and daikon strings. And beneath it all, a layer of (possibly homemade) velvety vietnamesischer Braunschweiger, als ob es jeglichen Sinn ergibt. Ja, der Sandwich ist so explosiv gut it induces a spontaneous breakout of German. Bánh mì pâté thịt nướng*. Not the usual chargrilled pork banh mi I’ve had elsewhere, this one has some kind of briny rich meatloaf. I ordered only two miserable loaves. Shoulda got 20! [...]

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Papa’s on the Lake

You can hardly ever go wrong with a cheeseburger. When the cheeseburger also comes with a blue lake, a blue sky, a few palm trees too tall to shade off the daring sun, some chilly wind here and there, and extra good company, then you simply cannot go wrong. Talk about mood lifting food (read it both ways). Gwyn takes Aaron and me for a ride through the tree-lined roads somewhere in Magnolia to Papa’s on the Lake, right off 105. After an hour long horseback riding in the sun, or more precisely speaking, an hour long sitting on the horse and having him walk around the block, the breeze from Lake Conroe is so inviting I daydream about jumping into the rippling waves. First time riding, what can I say, the old man kept wanting to eat his grass and I kept having to pull his heavy head up to match Aaron’s pace. But as much as my hands get scratched by the leather reins and saddle horn, I’d sit on that horse forever if I could. We hadn’t had lunch and I was full on enjoyment. [...]

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Curiosity saves the taco

It all happens because of the tongues. First I found out that Ashley’s and Kaily’s favorite is Mexican food. Except for one taco at Taco Bell a few months back when I was starving in San Francisco and unable to find any cheap and quick filler, I haven’t had Mexican food for a few years, simply because the burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tamales, and other Spanish names that crossed my path didn’t impress me the right way. Then I hear Michelle praises the churros with such enthusiasm that makes me rethink about the cooking affairs south of the Rio Grande. Then Mudpie’s birthday comes up, for which Mexican is the desired course, and Tacubaya the desired destination. Two things on the menu catch my glance: churros and taco de lengua (beef tongue taco). Heck, any tongue is worth a try. Once you’re there, you can’t just get one thing, especially when each taco is the size of a tea saucer. So we each opt for two soft tacos and share one sweet potato puree (camote). Camote (sweet potato puree, left) – $4.25, and frioles pintos (refried bean, right) – $2.95 [...]

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Bánh mì Ba Lẹ Oakland

Must have been at least seven years since I had a bánh mì ốp-la (bánh mì with sunny-side-up egg). Most Vietnamese sandwich stores in the States don’t put eggs in their breads, but ốp la (probably a strayed pronunciation of “omelette” in French colonial days) is the most common type of bánh mì stuffing you can find on the streets in Vietnam. This store contains as much variety as twenty street food stalls: about 15 kinds of banh mi, with meats, pate, vegetarian, and even sardines (cá mòi), ranging from $2.50-$3 each. Then there are bò kho, bún bò, bánh cuốn, rice plates, bánh dầy, bánh tét, and a thousand other things. Thank god there is no phở here. Ba Lẹ’s bánh cuốn comes with a garden, finger-thick cuts of chả lụa, and cubes of deep fried mung bean batter named bánh cóng. It’s not as good as the shrimp-and-sweet-potato tempura accompanying Tây Hồ‘s bánh cuốn, but it has a lot more rolls than Tây Hồ’s for a lower price. Tây Hồ still has [...]

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Salmon day

There are two types of fish that you are guaranteed to find in American diners: catfish and salmon. Catfish is almost always filleted, battered and fried. Salmon is either grilled or smoked. Because the choices are so unlimited, I never order them. And this is the prime example of what you would miss out if you stick to your prejudice: had it not been because of Vân, I wouldn’t have had a tasty salmon burger and a tasty salmon-on-baguette today. Nation’s Giant Hamburger (NGH) is a small local chain spanning the Greater Bay Area, serving burgers, breakfast, hot dogs, and also pies. Of the 24 locations, Berkeley’s NGH on University is a little oasis of the ’80s rural: small dusty parking lot with old cars, highly-walled-up booths in dark colors, the smell of fries and oil and the grill twirled with the smell of old people and homeless people and unkempt teenage boys, the pies fluffed with whipped cream in glass cabinets, the chili, the wallpaper, the red and white theme. It doesn’t speak clean. It isn’t cheap either, a third-pounder costs anywhere between $3.70 to $5.70, depending on the type [...]

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Cheap, healthy, small

That pretty much sums up the In-N-Out buns. Those burgers are not merely a matter of recharging one’s battery, though one of these joints might have been quite crucial to my friend’s survival on his way from coast to coast, as it was the only oasis between miles of burnt brown hills and deserts after he crossed the state line into The Golden Bear. His uncle always compares other burgers to In-N-Out’s, so when his dad visited the area, the man shrugged “well, I guess I should try it”. His friend, who later came here for conference, felt the same obligation as the other non-Californian conference attenders checked out lunch at In-N-Out. By hook or by crook, this chain gets the reputation of conjuring up a regional specialty that everyone should have while staying in California. After living here for a year, I obliged. It was a sunny day driving back and forth between Milpitas and Berkeley, when I had zero gourmet craving and a simple need to eat a basic lunch. That’s a debatably good time for fast food. Don’t know if most people don’t get cravings, but In-N-Out was [...]

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Cous Cous Café in Oxford

– Guest post by Paul Simeon – While in Oxford for two weeks attending a summer school, I rarely needed to find a place to eat. We were given generous dinners in the large dinning room of St. Edmund’s Hall, lunch at the cafeteria at the Culham Science Centre, and breakfast at our dormitory, the William R. Miller Building, just outside the hustle and bustle of the main campus. So what do we eat on the rare occasions when we aren’t fed? I found that eating out was a little more expensive in England than in America. They had a few fast food chains, but not too many, even if I wanted to eat there. The sit-down restaurants were pretty expensive, around 9-12 pounds per item. Luckily, I found a nice place quite close to my dorm that was both affordable and noteworthy: Cous Cous Cafe. This Moroccan cafe served several types of sandwiches and wraps, as well as plate dinners with meats, vegetables, and, of course, cous cous. I probably would have gotten a falafel wrap had I not eaten it the night before at 11 pm from a [...]

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