Viks Chaat Corner: Reviews

Viks Chaat Corner: Reviews | restaurant info | view photo gallery (flickr.com) |
watch episode (requires RealPlayer: windows | mac) |

Viks Chaat CornerViks Chaat CornerViks Chaat Corner
Masala Dosa, Vegetable Kathi, Assorted Indian Pastries


PeterName: Peter
Occupation: Film Festival Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Viks Chaat Corner
Reviewed Viks Chaat Corner: Sunday, October 16, 2005

Why would I recommend a place like Viks? After all, you can’t really get a complete meal there, and it is, in part, a nuthouse. You sometimes have to wait in a long line stretching out the door, only to have a few moments to decide among the dozens of regular chaat (Indian street-food snack) offerings or daily specials that come out of the kitchen, where at least a half-dozen women work furiously to turn out freshly crisped dosas (large, thin crêpes made of lentil and rice flour) filled with savory meats, airy-light poori breads, scrumptious samosas stuffed with spicy lamb filling, or moist chickpea cakes flecked with fresh coconut and mint chutney. Dining in a warehouse on paper plates is not exactly fine dining, but Viks is a stunning example of a type Indian cuisine that, while more at home in the alleyways of Madras than in the shadow of Berkeley’s precious 4th Street boutiques, deserves to be widely known and shared.

What started some ten years ago as a friendly, backroom snack service of an Indian goods market has blossomed into a full-scale chaat factory. The owners expanded the hot food service a few years ago into the market’s next-door warehouse, which now has been fitted with a few long counter tables, little round cocktail tables, rather uncomfortable chairs, and a ceaseless flow of delectable savory snacks. After placing your order, you have to listen for the announcement of your food’s availability over the East Bay’s worst public address system that manages to make every announcement sound like the same garbled message. Orders need to be picked up from the friendly counter person and brought back to your table, which hopefully has not been occupied in the meantime by another hungry party. To add to the frenetic experience, your order, which, if you are smart, will contain at least four snacks, even if you are eating alone, comes up, not at once, but in a kind of haphazard sequence… So just as you have made your way back to your table and are ready to tuck into your ground lamb kabobs in a spicy-hot chocolate-brown sauce, you may be interrupted with the news that your dhokla (the aforementioned chickpea cakes) or mirchi vada (potato-stuffed Anaheim chili peppers) are ready to be picked up. The daily specials are worth paying attention to — crumbly idli (mounds of little rice flour cakes topped with daal), or fish kebabs, or lamb samosas. As you are ordering, grab a few of the super-sweet desserts from the display case, so you don’t have to wait in line a second time.

But the chaos is worth it, for this kind of South Asian (thus mainly vegetarian) snack food must, by definition, be prepared to order, and Viks does so with meticulous attention to balanced flavors and ultra-fresh ingredients. Wash some of those snacks down with a mango lassi (no beer or wine, unfortunately), and duck in next door to the grocery afterwards to pick up a bottle of lime pickle or, if you’ve been inspired, a pound of rice and lentil flour to make your own dhosas. But I guarantee they won’t turn out as great as Viks.


RogerName: Roger
Occupation: Corporate Finance
Location: San Anselmo
Favorite Restaurant: Insalata’s Restaurant
Reviewed Viks Chaat Corner: Thursday, October 13, 2005

Viks Chaat Corner is located in Berkeley in a mixed industrial and residential area. I went there for lunch with no idea what I was getting into. I have only had Indian food twice in my life, so I was a complete novice.

The decor was Spartan; semi-industrial. Actually felt somewhat “Soviet” in its austerity. But that’s a design choice and somewhat typical of Berkeley. However, the smells wafting from the kitchen were intriguing and piqued my interest.

Ordering from the counter, I was able to get a table easily and waited only a short time for my food. It was busy, but not crowded, and I enjoyed listening to the Indian music wafting over the speakers. It was at a pleasant volume; present but not oppressive, and had I not been alone, it would have been easy to carry on a conversation.

Knowing nothing about the cuisine other than the understanding that curry is used in almost everything, I looked at the menu and randomly chose the Konkan Chicken Special, with a mango lassi to drink. I also ordered the Dahi Bata Puri appetizer (corn-puffed puris stuffed with potatoes and covered in a yogurt/tamarind sauce). The Konkan Chicken was a boneless chicken curry with homemade spices. The chicken also came with a mixed vegetable khadi, brown rice, chappati, papadum, and a raita and pickle sauce.

The chicken was good, although all I could really taste was the curry. I really enjoyed the vegetable khadi with its sublime mix of flavors that I couldn’t really place, but it was delicious nonetheless. I also enjoyed the raita and pickle sauce, which was a refreshing way to clear the palate. What I truly enjoyed was the mango lassi. It was fantastically rich-flavored and absolutely delicious.

The puris were a disappointment. Hard to get a hold of — was not sure if it was OK to eat Indian food with your hands; no one else was doing it. My basic takeaway from the puri was that all I ended up tasting was the yogurt and tamarind sauce. Served cold, it was a non-factor to my palate.

In terms of my overall reaction to the restaurant, I could see how, if one liked Indian cuisine, the mix of getting very good portions for very little money in an environment that allowed one to converse quite easily would be an attraction. However, I myself am not a fan of Indian cuisine, and probably only for that reason would not come back. Good value for the money, but you have to like Indian food.


KathyName: Kathy
Occupation: Public Relations
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Limón
Reviewed Viks Chaat Corner: Friday, October 14, 2005

When I first got there, it was very difficult to find parking. There were lots, but they all said “not for Viks.” Once we finally parked a couple blocks away, we walked into Viks Chaat Corner, which is more of a glorified cafeteria than a restaurant. It felt cold and uninviting. There is really no decor, and the whole serve yourself thing was just such a turn off to me. And what’s up with the sporks? Couldn’t they at least provide forks and spoons? It reminded me of KFC and how they give you a spork for your mashed potatoes.

The menu was so hard to read (a small wipeboard with tiny writing on the wall) and there were only three main course items to choose from, which was a challenge since I always get chicken tikka masala when I go for Indian food, and I was very disappointed to find out that they did not offer it at this place.

Although the crowd was very diverse, there was a good amount of Indian people eating there, which is always a good sign. Every time I go to an ethnic restaurant and see people of that ethnicity eating there, I like to think that it’s pretty authentic. In this case, it was just a little disappointing. The naan was really the biggest disappointment. Usually they are odd shapes, they come out still hot from the tandoor, and when you bite into them, they are nice and thick and chewy. In this case, they were like little tortilla shells made of naan dough, but drier and tasteless. The spinach was even worse. I found myself chewing for a while, because it was so tough and gritty and had bits of unidentifiable fiber weaved through. The sea bass special I ordered was okay, but there were only two little pieces of fish in my portion! I found myself “fishing” for more, but there just wasn’t any to be found. The so-called coconut curry sauce didn’t have any coconut flavor at all. My chai tea was way too spicy, and I wondered why it was only $1. You definitely get what you pay for here. You have to get your food and bus your own table. There is no service to really comment on.

People seem to really like this place. When we left, there was not one empty table and there was actually a wait. Seems like people eat here because it’s close to where they work and it’s cheap. I can’t say that I would ever go back. It’s just too far and not worth the $3 bridge toll from The City to eat mediocre Indian food. There are way too many other really great Indian restaurants right near my house that I think offer much better food and comfort. I think that if I worked near this place, I might go for lunch once in a while but only if I was dying for Indian food and there was nothing else available.

No tags for this post.
  • traci

    I can’t possibly understand how anyone could have a problem with Vik’s. Obviously, the guy who isn’t a fan of Indian food isn’t going to like eating Indian food. One doesn’t go to a fast food restaurant expecting white tablecloths and candles. Vik’s is about enjoying hot tasty Indian street food–not about comforting ambiance and doting service. It’s all about hot greasy samosas and flavorful chickpea sauces. It is large crisp dosas filled with tasty spicy stews and enormous puffy puris that sigh copious amounts of steam when you poke into them. It is not about ordering your same favorite dish you get at every other Indian restaurant. For christsake, live a little and order something you don’t know much about. On second thought, stay in San Francisco. The last thing we need is longer lines.

  • Diane

    Vik’s….mmmm…..
    I used to make weekend pilgrimages to have lunch there when I lived in SF, and joke that I moved to the East Bay tjust o be closer to it. (only partway joking) I love the chaos, the food and the fact that they have the best dosas around. The batura chole is my comfort food of choice whenever I’m feeling in need of a boost. And now that it’s expanded into the warehouse next door you can usually even get a seat, so eating there isn’t the contact sport it used to be.
    I think the lady with the negative review above doesn’t quite “get” Viks – it’s not a sitdown dinner place and definitely not a tandoori house (don’t go there for nan). Their daily specials are often the least exciting things on offer. What it does brilliantly is chaat – lovely street food with scintilating flavors. I’d toss over any of the fancy dining experiences in SF almost any day of the week for an order of pani puri and a batura chole.
    Did I already say “mmmmmmmm”?

  • http://barnali.com/weblog barnali

    It should be noted that Vik’s has a bigger weekend menu. The biryani that they have on the weekends is to die for. It seems like both reviewers went there on a weekday and got lunch plates. The lunch plates are usually simpler fare for everyday eating that caters well to folks who work in that area. Believe me paying $6-$7 for a sandwich on fourth street can start to hurt the wallet! The chaat (small plates of Indian street food) is also available on weekdays, all of which are quite tasty but the Batura is probably the only one that could comprise a meal. The best way to order the small dishes to order a few of them and share. If you order the aloo tikki or the samosas then you can also ask for a side of rice (not on the menu) for about a $1 to supplement the snack.

    Being from India, I have to say that all the food is not quite there yet. But what it lacks in that, it makes up for in terms of prices and variety of food in one place. The place has seen major renovations–expanded space, brass counters, better plates and improved cash register. The spork has always been around though.

    And don’t go there for white table cloths and service–but do go for the cheap, tasty food and creative chaos that almost resembles Indian street life.

    Roger, it is ok to eat the puris by hand, but best to spork it up and put the full thing in your mouth. Kathy, India has so many different kinds of cusines and even though I love it chiken tikka masala and naan, I would encourage you try other kinds of Indian food too.

  • janet

    My husband and I have been known to drive from Reno, NV to Berkeley to eat at Vik’s. It is the best chaat I’ve had outside of Mumbai. and I agree that some of the weekend specials are the best (obviously that’s the only time we go). Nann would be the last thing I would order there. But I love the puris with chana masala…and yes, you can eat with your hands. Go there with a crowd, order lots of different things to share, and don’t expect a multi-course meal. Think of it as cheap Indian dim sum……

  • Deepak

    Vik’s has revolutionized indian cuisine in the Bay Area. This is the original chaat house and is still the best. The long lines only proove that people agree. The food is ALWAYS fresh and always tasty. This is definitely not a place just for locals; I know of many people who drive from San Jose and even Sacramento (!!) just for “the trip to VIk’s.”

    I think Kathy just doesn’t understand the whole concept of Vik’s or even Indian food in general. She’s whining about ‘sporks?” You’re supposed to use your hands!!! She complained about the “naan being doughy and like tortilla shells.” I’ve been to viks alot and am pretty sure that Viks does NOT sell naan. They sell puris, which are supposed to be a littly doughy and shaped like tortilla shells (they are excellent).
    Give Vik’s a try, you will NOT be disppointed. There is a reason the restaurant has a cult following with people from all ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. Just promise to clean up after yourself.

  • Sergé

    Vik’s is *not* a run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant. That’s to be expected, though, for what is basically a recreation of street food. The street fare you find in Malaysia, Mexico, and Morocco is delicious and very different than you would find in a sit-down restaurant there. Indian food is the same!

    Decor, service, ambiance…these are all things for which you can suspend your standards in order to take in a unique eating experience. When Arinell’s became the first place to sell NY style pizza by the slice in Berkeley, people lined up for the chance to jostle their way to the register, shake on some peppers, and then eat their pizza sitting on a concrete wall in front of B of A. Vik’s doesn’t make pretenses about being a white-tablecloth place, and their prices reflect that fact!

    Kathy’s comment that she orders Chicken Tikka Masala every time she goes for Indian food reveals that she’s not a very adventurous Indian food eater and it’s not surprising Vik’s didn’t do it for her. She did seem like she was going out of her way to criticize every single thing she could about the place and in a very polarized manner. This kind of restaurant review smacks of an agenda, and when I hear this hyperbolic style of advocacy or criticism about a restaurant I tend to discount it.

    Personally, I find the food at Vik’s hit or miss – but that’s based on my tastes! Some people I know who grew up in India swear it’s the best food they’ve found. For the dishes I did like, I will say, they were divine…and cheap!

    By the way, this show is the best. More local programs, KQED!

  • dave

    i went to Vik’s last weekend to give it a chance, and left with the same impression that kathy did. the food was just mediocre and everything was just thrown together. all my sauces were mixed up on my plate – although, i did not mind the spork. i didn’t not enjoy it nor will i go back.

  • http://barnali.com/weblog barnali

    Dave,
    The sauces are meant to be mixed up together–the hot and the sweet. What you call thrown together is how chat is made-a quick sprinkling here, a splash there and then maybe a toss. If you are not enjoying the food mainly because of the presentation and a perception of lack of care, I fear my friend that you are misguided.

  • Malini

    As an Indian, I would have to agree with the notion of Viks still being one of the best chat houses around. Some of the best authentic food is found in the dives you stumble upon. Viks is definetely a step up from a dive and encompasses so many cuisines from the different parts of India. If you know your Indian food and know what to order, you can’t be disappointed. Chat houses aren’t even expected to carry nonvegetarian food, and yet they do to please every palate. But chicken tikka, while an excellent dish in ‘typical’ Indian restaurants, is not what you go to Viks for. If you really want a treat…go for what they’re really known for…ie: dosa, idli, pani puri, dohkla, batura, samosas, etc. And it is true…if the Indians are lined up around the corner as they often are there, then you know it’s worth the effort to get a taste of what real Indian food should taste like. Most Indians that I know who have any remote familiarity with the Bay area know about Viks. That has to count for something, right?

  • OexRex

    If this were a Chronicle movie review, the little guy would have vacated the seat long ago. The exterior, interior, as well as the food served and the lack of service were equally bad. Chicken Kathi Kabab, promised cubed, boneless chicken. Something must have been lost in translation, although the chicken was boneless. The Saturday special had fresh vegetables, fresh from Birds Eye. The diced carrots, and sliced green beans, had the look, cut,size,texture, and taste of Birds Eye or maybe it was S & W. The potatoe side dish looked like deep fried potatoe skins with garbanzo curry. The beverages were satisfactory………can of Coke and Sprite. The cashier had the personality of a DMV clerk. The food preparers were hatless,capless,and netless. The food is served via a man with a microphone that summons you when each dish is done, and not when the entire order is ready. I once read a film review that ended, “this movies is proof that there is no such thing as free parking at the movies.” Inexpensive food is too expensive in time and expections. The reviewers on the show are fond of using the word “explodes”, as in “the flavor just explodes in your mouth”. Viks Chaat just bombed in mine.

  • Steve Reiner

    VIKS proved to be beyond my expectations.
    Freshness, flavor, texture and variety.
    Each dish took my tastebuds for an exhilarating ride. Contrasts and combinations of hot, sweet, savory and tart with varied textures of crispiness , chewiness, and cooling creaminess were completeley new to my senses.
    A must try for any afficionado of indian cuisine.
    Don’t know if I’ll ever be happy with any other indian restaurant again.

  • Lucia

    I found heaven and it was served on Chinet paper plates. Even before walking around the corner into the upretentious warehouse eatery we were enveloped by wonderfully fragrant Indian spices. The service was no nonsense and our order was ready just as a table became available. The food was above mortal expectaions. The expert blending of textures and colors set against the contrast of cool and spicy made for a sublime dining experience. My husband and I used the golden brown breads to scoop up the perfectly done rice, chicken and cubes of veggies which were paired with tasty, complimentary sauces. As we began to eat we could hardly speak to one another because we were too busy putting food in our mouths while making sounds of delight. We took home a box of sweets which we very much enjoyed later. We’re telling everyone who will listen about the wonderful food at Viks. We will go back again and again.

  • a.

    i’m GLAD a food snob like kathy didn’t like vik’s – that means more chaat for me! she went to a chaat house and ordered naan! and her favorite indian dish is chicken tikka masala? honey, that isn’t even INDIAN – research its history and you’ll find out that it was invented in an indo-paki restaurant in london, to please the palates of the britishers. that in itself should tell you about the quality of the dish.

    i’ll stop bashing on her, but i will say this much – it sounds like she didn’t try a single chaat dish on the menu – that is to say, she didn’t try any of the food that vik’s is justifiably famous for. they’ve added all those more main-dish-esque dishes (like the sea bass kathy ended up ordering) for all the (mostly non-indian) people who come there wondering why they can’t get a full meal. and the fact is, those aren’t their specialty, and they’re not usually too good. perhaps check please! should give a little guidance to reviewers if they’re entering truly uncharted territory, so that the final review can actually have some relevance to other people who might want to try the place out.