Friday, May 2, 2008


Back on my lunch prowl in Berkeley, I went to my longtime favorite for Mexican food, Picante.

Picante was opened in 1994, in an industrial part of Berkeley, on 6th Street near Gilman Street, by Berkeley natives Jim and Laura Maser. The Masers share a love of fact, they met in Mexico.

To this day, Picante is busy from the time it opens (11 a.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends) until closing time (10 p.m.). The restaurant is open 7 days a week. It's a neighborhood hangout; it's a lunchtime and after work favorite with local business people; its worthy of a detour off Highway 80; and, it's even worth a special trip from other Bay Area suburbs.

Why has Picante endured? Let me count the reasons....for starters, it is a place to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine. Prices are reasonable (just about everything on the menu is priced at less than $10). Servings are generous. And, in addition to making food that tastes oh-so good, the ingredients used are fresh and healthful. Tortillas are made by hand throughout the day (you can watch the tortilla maker at work) from corn that is ground daily at nearby Mi Rancho in Oakland. Herbs, spices and chiles are imported from Mexico. The meats are naturally raised. Local cheese artisans make the cheeses in the style of authentic fresh Mexican cheeses.

Picante is a casual place to dine. Line up to order and pay for your food at the counter. Find yourself a seat either inside in one of the large dining rooms, or outdoors on the patio. Soon, your food will be brought to your table.

J ordered the Manchamanteles Tacos, described as "tablecloth stainer" chicken in red mole. There were three tacos in her order, along with a side of beans...she chose Pinto Beans.

My choice was the Rajas Tacos; I chose Black Beans for my bean side dish. Rajas is roasted poblano chile strips with onions.

I also had a Fresh Fruit Cup for dessert. Our taco plates were $6.95 each. My very large cup of fruit cost $2.75.

Sampling the Manchamanteles, I preferred them to my Rajas, but both dishes were excellent. It was not until after I had placed my order that I discovered that one can order Tacos a la carte, as well as a plate of three as we did. Next time, I plan to have the Manchamanteles, a fish taco, and maybe a Chorizo and Potato one.

It's not all tacos at Picante either. Other choices include Quesadillas, Tostada Salads, fabulous Soups (the Sopa Azteca with chicken looked outstanding), Tamales, Enchiladas, Burritos, and more. A special Vegetarian menu indicates which dishes are Vegan, Lacto-Vegetarian, and Ovo-Vegetarian. A special Brunch menu is offered weekends and holidays until 3 p.m.

And, don't forget the beverages....several agua frescas (fresh fruit drinks) are offered each day and there are always Margaritas and Mexican beers.

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