New Berkeley restaurant Alley Kitchens channels Japanese food alley culture – San Francisco Chronicle

Restaurant News

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.

Berkeley restaurant Alley Kitchens includes an organic matcha cafe called Whisk.

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

Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker

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