Whoever came up with the idea of eating fried chicken and waffles as the perfect midnight snack is obviously onto something. A little syrup dripping over the edge of a waffle and onto fried chicken makes the chicken even better.
The House of Chicken N'Waffles, which was to be Northern California's only franchise of the Los Angeles-based local chain of Roscoe's Chicken N'Waffles, decided that they would rather strike out on their own. At midnight on weekends especially, the tables and the counter seats are full of folks trying the unique combination. For less than $20, they can enjoy their big plates of chicken and waffles. Try it -- you'll love every bite.
The House is at 444 Embarcadero West, (510) 836-4446; it's open 8 a.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m.-4 a.m. Friday and Saturday
-- Cyrus Farivar
Pancakes and Politics
It's 9:45 a.m. on a weekday morning and Ozzie's Soda Fountain owner Mike Hogan has customers. He's whipping up French toast, two fried eggs and bacon plus blueberry panckaes on a Mickey Mouse plate, a special request from a local 2-year-old. Hogan happily obliges and asks the girl's mother about their recent vacation -- he doesn't miss anything. Ozzie's is just that kind of place.
Since 1921, Ozzie's has been the cornerstone of Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood on College Avenue and is the last authentic soda fountain inside a pharmacy in the Bay Area. It boasts classic breakfast food (served all day, naturally) such as blueberry pancakes ($4) and bacon and eggs ($4.75). In addition, typical lunch fare like BLTs ($5) and tuna melts ($4.75) are also available. But Ozzie's truly outstanding creation is the generous milkshake ($4, and easily enough for two), made with real ice cream and a 1950s vintage blender. The menu even provides a warning: "KIDS! Prevent BRAIN FREEZE! Drink your milkshakes SLOWLY. Ask your counter server for a glass of water if you feel a throbbing pain in your head. Remain calm."
When kids of all ages are thinking straight, they often gather at Ozzie's for a typical Berkeley-style political discussion. Hogan says he enjoys the political banter, but that he wishes some would "come in and argue with them." but he doesn't mind too much -- he'll just keep flipping blueberry pancakes.
-- Cyrus Farivar
Spicing Up South Oakland
You don't have to go to Mexico, or even to the Mission District, to get great Mexican food. Check out Oakland's Fruitvale, the nexus of which is Fruitvale Avenue at International Boulevard.
A short walk from the Fruitvale BART station, the neighborhood boasts a wide selection of authentic and cheap fare from south of the border, and $5 to $7 buys my standard combo meal: burrito, taco and horchata.
Each item serves a different purpose: The burrito is a full meal, and it's filling, rich and astoundingly good. The taco is in traditional Mexican style, with two small saucer-sized soft shells, dressed with cooked meat, some salsa, onions and cilantro. The horchata is a Mexican rice-based, milky drink -- perfect for washing it all down because it cuts the heat.
There are a variety of meats to order that aren't available at every place, ranging from chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) to lengua (cow tongue) and carnitas (tender pork meat), carne asada (sliced steak) and al pastor (spiced porked cooked on a rotisserie). Order according to your mood.
Guadalajara, a taco truck at 1001 Frutivale Ave.; El Ojo de Agua, a taco truck usually in the 3800 block of Fruitvale Avenue just south of International Boulevard; and Taqueria San Jose at 3433 International Blvd. are well worth checking out for often-stellar Mexican creations that will have you shouting ay, caramba!
-- Cyrus Farivar