When Roy Lam worked in Japan two years ago, he loved frequenting yokocho, narrow alleys lined with tiny restaurants and pubs. Those days inspired him to bring a taste of yokocho to the Bay Area.
This week, Lam opened Alley Kitchens, a restaurant near the UC Berkeley campus that functions somewhat like three businesses in one. There’s Unidon, a chirashi and donburi restaurant; Kuroki, a ramen spot; and Whisk, a matcha cafe. They all share one narrow, 2,000-square-foot space that replicates the look of a yokocho, designed with open kitchens, bar seating and lanterns.
“I found the most true Japanese food in small alleys,” Lam said, adding that it was a prime place to see the Japanese culture of perfectionism on full display, with most tiny restaurants serving just one specialty to a handful of diners at a time.
When people walk into Alley Kitchens, they’ll see the menus for Unidon, Kuroki and Whisk and order from a central counter. Then, they can sit right in front of the kitchen and chat with the cooks preparing their food. There are just 12 seats total, plus a standing bar.
“It is a very community-oriented setting to encourage people to open up and talk and have some good food,” said Lam, who also opened a series of Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea boba shops in California.
Given the restaurant’s proximity to UC Berkeley, affordability is crucial for Lam, who kept most dishes at around $10.
The Unidon menu lists a few rice bowl options, including honey teriyaki chicken ($8.95) and salmon, albacore and yellow tail sashimi over rice ($14.95). Lam is particularly proud of the chicken, which is marinated for 12 hours before getting grilled until the skin crisps.
Kuroki specializes in tonkotsu ramen ($8.95), which can be customized with additions like black garlic, as well as a vegan ramen ($10.95) with green noodles made from kale.
Whisk, meanwhile, serves organic matcha tea in lattes (starting at $4.75) with potential add-ons like boba, strawberry puree, red bean and cheese crema. There are also other teas, like hojicha, and matcha soft serve using milk from Straus Family Creamery.
Alley Kitchens. Noon-8 p.m. daily until Feb. 10, when the hours will change to 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 2309 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley. 510-356-4467 or www.alleykitchens.com
Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker
Source: Thanks https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/New-Berkeley-restaurant-Alley-Kitchens-channels-15014194.php