Alameda County

… don’t tell anyone, but I cheated on my diet when I was in Hayward last weekend.

Cruising down Mission Blvd Saturday afternoon, I was starving and there just wasn’t a healthy meal in sight. So the Pupuseria y Taqueria Los Cocos was the obvious next best thing.

Trying to keep the fall from grace a moderate one, I limited myself to a couple of pupusas revueltas. They were cheap ($2.25 each) large and very tasty.
pupas 1
After I got home, I checked out the Yelp reviews on the place, which were surprisingly negative – it got barely over 3 stars. Reading the comments, however, it seems like many of the complaints had to do with rude and/or negflectful service. I did not have that problem, however. The counter person was friendly and responsive and our food arrived fairly promptly. (In my experience, Salvadoran food tends to be a bit on the slow side.)
As I said, the pupusas were very good – although I suppose that given the fact that I have pretty much been eating non-stop vegetables for the past several weeks, just about anything that wasn’t green would have seemed awesome.
pupas sm(By the way, as far as I can tell, the PyT Los Cocos has no relation to the venerable and excellent Los Cocos on Fruitvale in Oakland, although I could be wrong.)

Pupuseria y Taqueria Los Cocos
29617 Mission Blvd
Hayward, CA 94544

(510) 889-9919

I was over in Oakland a few days ago, driving around looking at houses and thinking about food. Being as it was more or less lunchtime, eating a Vietnamese sandwich seemed like the right thing to do.

When it comes to banh mi, Oakland has lots of credible options, but I wasn’t into cruising for a parking space and/or walking 5 blocks after finding one – so I opted not to head into Chinatown proper, but instead stayed in the less-crowded New Chinatown neighborhood. Besides, I was thinking that I would just grab something and go over to the lake (Lake Merritt, that is) and have a little private picnic.

The obvious choice, then, was Than Thuy which, unlike all the other Vietnamese sandwich shops I know of in Oakland, has its own little parking lot out front.

Than Thuy is toward the northern end of New Chinatown in a somewhat seedy little strip mall.  It has a handful of tables outside, which are usually occupied by a handful of Vietnamese guys who always seem to be smoking up a storm.

The menu is the usual selection of sandwiches, as well as some noodle dishes.  Prices are reasonable at around $2.75 per sandwich.

If you’re in the mood, you can sit at the counter and check your Lotto numbers, or chose one of the small inside tables, but instead I got mine to go.

I thought seriously about going for a fish cake sandwich, but instead opted for the grilled beef.

Than Thuy’s Vietnamese sandwiches might not be the best anywhere, but they are very good – the rolls seem fresh and the meat and veggies are tasty.  Overall, a great value.

Lake Merritt is just a few blocks away, so I headed over there, parked my car and spent 15 minutes or so enjoying my lunch and watching the world go by.

Than Thuy
745 E 12th St
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 836-1212

Tennyson Rd in Hayward is another one of those Bay Area streets with a seemingly endless variety of interesting (and mostly very modest) little restaurants. The strip mall which houses the subject of this post is a good case in point, with a Mexican bakery/deli, a pizzeria and a Szechuan-Chinese restaurant all in a row.

As I have acknowledged previously, being from New Jersey, I have an admittedly narrow and dogmatic view of what “real” pizza is and how it should taste. Consequently (leaving aside Chicago-style pizza restaurants) I’m pretty damn fussy and just don’t do a lot of pizza.

Now, it happened that I was assigned a bank-owned listing in a little neighborhood off Tennyson several years back.  The occupants, not content to have stiffed the bank on some hundreds of thousand of dollars borrowed in various re-fi’s, were hanging tough in the property, declining (albeit very politely) all offers of “cash for keys” and refusing to move following the foreclosure.  They managed to drag things out for over a year before the eviction finally took place.  During that time I had to drive by the property at least once every week to confirm that they were still really there.  That was a lot of trips down Tennyson Rd.

During that time I got to sample many of the street’s lunch offerings, since I always tried to go mid-day to avoid the almost inevitable late afternoon and morning traffic jams on 880.  It was on one of these outings that I discovered New York Pizza.

The inside of the restaurant is cavernous and it seems like the kitchen area must be quite small, since the dining area doubles as a storeroom. (I guess that the place must mainly do take-out business, since there are never too many people there when I stop in.)

The furnishings are pretty ugly, as is the carpet, and the New York photo murals are showing their age – but the chandeliers do give the place an elegant look.

The important thing, though, is that the pizza’s actually good. The crust is very thin but avoids the crackery consistency you often have to settle for here in CA when you want to avoid the bland bready-ness from which so many West Coast pizzas suffer.

Equally importantly, the pie actually has some real taste to it.  The sauce is especially flavorful and reminds me of home (NJ, that is).

The slice (shown here cut in half) has plenty of sausage, which also has a nice flavor.

If there’s a knock on the place. it’s that they sometimes leave your slice in the oven a little too long.

Still, the piece is huge and at $1.99 for cheese or $2.49 for the sausage, you really can’t beat it.  One of these slices plus a can of soda and you still are out the door with an excellent lunch under your belt for less than 4 bucks.

Note: There are lots of “New York Pizzas” in the Bay Area, many of them unrelated. The Hayward New York Pizza is part of a small, mainly local chain, with several stores over on the Peninsula.  (There’s even a phone number for a Laguna Hills location, but no address.) I have not tried any of them, but, by the look of the web site, (and not surprisingly) the Palo Alto, San Carlos and San Mateo stores might be a little fancier than the Hayward location. They also seem to charge more for the slices – since the on-line menu shows them at $3.99-$4.99.

665 W Tennyson Rd,
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 786-3165

For almost 10 years I worked at an office on Shattuck Avenue on Berkeley’s North Side. I often think that 5 or 10 of the extra pounds I’ve carried around with me all these years are the result of the too-frequent lunches and afternoon snacks enjoyed at Berkeley’s Cheese Board in the days when I worked just across the street from it.
The Cheese Board is a venerable institution in the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, just a few doors up and across the street from Chez Panisse. Founded more than 40 years ago it has been a worker-owned collective for almost all of that time.

When most people talk about lunch at the Cheese Board they are thinking “pizza.”  Indeed, the Cheese Board’s pizza got so popular that some years ago they took over a storefront just south of the main location and opened a pizza restaurant which is pretty much always packed.

But I’m from New Jersey and – I’ll admit it – I’m an East Coast pizza snob.  While I don’t claim that the Cheese Board’s pizza isn’t good by its own lights, it’s a little too California and just doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve had it, it’s OK, but I’m for sure not going to stand on line for it.

Instead, when it comes time for lunch (or an afternoon snack) I’ve always opted for one of the Cheese Board bakery options.

They have an incredible selection of baked items – breads, rolls and scones – some sweet and some savory. Some are available daily, while others appear once a week or more. (See the Bakery Menu.)

I am a die-hard Friday guy because that is the day for both Cheese Scones AND X-Bread. I was fortunate enough to be in Berkeley looking at houses this past Friday (I might even have planned it that way…) so the first thing I did was head for the Cheese Board, stopping only at the Produce Center next door to pick up a V-8 to enjoy with my lunch. (Nothing goes better with a Cheese Scone than a cold V-8!)

One of the other pleasures of a Cheese Board lunch is sitting at one of the few small tables or on the benches out front and watching the North Berkeley world go by while you eat.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, all of the seats were taken and I had to retire to my private booth – ie, the front seat of my car.

As always, the Cheese scone ($2.00) was excellent – rich (as you would expect anything with cheddar cheese, butter, cream and buttermilk as 4 of the first 5 ingredients to be) and with just the right amount of cayenne pepper to give it a bite. (The only thing better would have been if I had gotten there early enough to get one still warm out of the oven.)

The X Bread, ($2.00) although it, like everything else there, cannot really compete with the Cheese Scone, is also very good, with the slightly sweet bread making an excellent counterpoint to the jalapenos and cheddar.

All in all, a fine lunch and, counting the V-8, it only set me back $5.00!

Note:  This was so good I went back the next day and had a Sourdough Cheese Roll ($2.75) and a Provolone Olive Roll ($1).  The Cheese Roll is actually available every day, unlike the rest of the savory items and, while very popular, isn’t my favorite, but on a non-cheese scone day it has to do.  The Provolone Olive Roll is very tasty, with delicious green olives, onions and, obviously, provolone cheese throughout.

Cheese Board Bakery & Cheese
1504 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA