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I was seized by a desire to see if ViKs, which started as an adjunct to the more-or-less wholesale Indian grocery next door, was still good. So on a misty day I scooped up my friend Peter, who was full of chat about the foods he'd sampled at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Center the day before (especially some seaweed noodles), to eat our fill of chaat (which, as ViKs takeout menu has it, means "to lick," based on the fact that roadside snacks in India are often served on a leaf and are so good that you can't resist licking the leaf before discarding it).
At ViKs the pakori chaat (amazingly light lentil dumplings covered with yogurt and dressed with tamarind and mint chutneys) arrives in a little paper box, and the bhatura cholle (the biggest puffed puri, a freshly made bread, you've ever seen, wonderfully crisp and served with well-spiced garbanzo-bean curry and mango pickle) indeed comes on a paper plate, as do the daily specials, of which there are two or three every weekday. (There are more to choose from on weekends, but beware, for the line to order can stretch out of the warehouse and into the street.) We tried the chicken curry (excellent), the lamb curry (good), and the vegetarian plate, which featured a most fabulous lightly charred spicy cauliflower curry called gobi.
1300 Stockton St.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Region: North Beach/ Chinatown
Whole steamed flounder $26
Pepper and salt - roasted squids $9.75
Salted egg, mustard green, and sliced pork soup $9.50
Sautéed scallops and prawns with sugar bean $18.50
ViKs Chaat Corner
Bhatura cholle (large puffed puri) $4
Chicken curry $4.50
Yuet Lee, 1300 Stockton (at Broadway), 982-6020. Open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., closed Tuesday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 12, 15. Noise level: moderate.
ViKs Chaat Corner, 726 Allston (at Fourth Street), Berkeley, (510) 644-4412. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Monday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
ViKs is better than "still good," as proven by a take-out dinner I picked up for Anna and Cathy a week later. I mourned not being able to order the freshly fried puffy breads that wouldn't survive the ride home, but we feasted quite nicely on aloo tikki cholle (two potato patties stuffed with peas and served with more of the glorious garbanzo curry), mixed vegetable pakoras (fritters of chopped cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, potatoes, and onions in chickpea batter), bhel puri (crisp puffed rice topped with a sharp salad of chopped vegetables), and a special that day of aloo paratha, a thin smear of cumin-y potatoes stuffed in a thick wheat pancake and served with raita, a creamy yogurt dressing, and achar, a hot crimson condiment.
Janice and Adam later joined me for squid, on a day when Chinatown was putting on the dog for the upcoming year of the Ram; they're even putting up lucky decorations at Yuet Lee. We ordered a couple of dishes that are the favorites of one of Janice's best friends in L.A., a divine soup of salted egg (very salted!), fresh mustard greens, and sliced pork, and a clay pot stuffed with plump oysters, roast pork, fragrant ginger, and onions. But the big hits were the crunchy pepper and salt-roasted fresh squids, which made our lips tingle with salt ("I could eat this all day long," Janice sighed) and a special, impulsive order of sautéed scallops, shrimp, and what Yuet Lee calls "sugar bean" but we recognize as the best sugar snap peas we've ever tasted.
"This place," I say, "is still good."
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