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Sushi Lunch SpecialRainbow RollSeafood Gyoza
Sushi Lunch Special, Rainbow Roll, Seafood Gyoza

Paula Li
Name: Paula
Occupation: Massage Therapist
Location: Oakland
Favorite Restaurant: Kirala
Reviewed Kirala: Sunday February 17, 2008

I’ve been dining at Kirala since the 70s when it was located inside the Berkeley Bowl. It is still at this approximate location with a huge parking lot across the street, which they share with Any Mountain. The same hostess (co-owner) is still there to greet you at the entrance, where you put your name down on a waiting list. For lunch, there is usually no wait; however, I’ve seen a line around the corner for dinner some nights there.

I would say I eat lunch at this trendy Japanese restaurant at least 3 times a week. I could easily eat there every day and not get bored. Why? Because their food is FRESH FRESH FRESH, especially their fish. Nothing else like it! For lunch they usually offer a Sushi Special (that’s what I end up ordering very often) and a Lunch Special (for those with a larger appetite). The chef puts together different tempting combinations on different days. You can see it presented on a tray before you decide to order it.

At dinnertime, there’s a change in atmosphere. It’s more of a “scene” in the evening. The place is usually bustling with energy (and noise!) The waitresses are running around like electric mosquitoes to get your food to you at a fast pace once you order. Kirala has a moderate selection of wine and beer but a generous and wonderful selection of premium, imported sakes. Not only do they have fantastic sushi and sashimi, what they do with their robata grill is to die for. They cook many of their main entrees on the robata grill as well: juicy rib-eye steak, tender sea bass or chicken, salmon grilled to perfection.

When I go to Kirala for dinner, I like to order a main dish to share and then treat myself to a variety of small samplings from the robata grill or sushi bar. For those sushi-lovers who are watching their budget, the menu at Kirala offers at least 5 different sushi dinners as main entrees. Whether you want to taste through their healthy menu or eat in a more traditional way, you can’t go wrong eating at Kirala. When you taste their sushi and sashimi, you feel as if the fishermen have just brought it in from the ocean minutes before. For those who don’t like seafood, there is a large variety of meat, vegetable, rice, and noodle dishes to choose from. There is something for everyone here. And you can spend $20 or $100 depending on how much or what you want to order.

When my friends want to get together to eat out, I always suggest Kirala as my first choice. I feel like I’m doing my body a favor when I eat at Kirala. That’s why I’d go back again, and again, and again.

Ryan Navratil
Name: Ryan
Occupation: Environmental Scientist
Location: Palo Alto
Favorite Restaurant: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
Reviewed Kirala: Sunday March 2, 2008

My fellow restaurant-goer and I were surprised to see the long line of people outside of Kirala Restaurant at 8:00 when we arrived for dinner, especially since it was a Sunday night and they don’t take reservations. After driving all the way to Berkeley from the south bay, I was a little disappointed to wait even a few minutes longer. Luckily, it seemed Kirala was designed to run as fast as possible, and despite the fact we were 14th on the list, we were seated within half an hour. Once seated, however, we felt no pressure to hurry up, eat, and leave. Quite the contrary. The waitstaff treated us well, and the sushi chefs were more than willing to stop and chat with us about the food.

Kirala is a bit hectic; you’ll typically find the restaurant area, the sushi bar, and the drink bar full to capacity, so expect a bit of confusion while you wait for a table. You might also help things along by opting to sit at the sushi bar where you can order and watch the sushi chefs prepare a stand-out meal.

We both agreed “above-average, but not deliriously spectacular” was how we would describe Kirala. The service was quick, pleasant, and professional for such a hectic place, and the sake/beer menu was just a bit more elegant than what you would find at an equivalent price. There were a few items on the menu (e.g. quail eggs) that one wouldn’t find at your average sushi bar, and the quality of the seafood is superb. However, after a 45-minute drive from the south bay, I might have asked for something a bit more spectacular. If I lived in Berkeley, on the other hand, I would probably eat at Kirala every week.

Keep in mind that, because we were seated at the counter, we didn’t get a crack at the kitchen menu which, from the looks of things, offers just about everything under the sun, provided you’re willing to wait for a table. We were able to take a peak at the plates crowd-surfing through the sea of guests, and they all looked appetizing (sizzling beef and chicken teriyaki fill the restaurant with mouth-watering aromas).

When you head out to Kirala for lunch or dinner, remember there is parking for customers across Shattuck Avenue, but don’t stray too far looking for appetizers if you get served with a 45+ minute wait. There isn’t much in the way of time-killing in the neighborhood. If you do happen by, and the line isn’t too long, consider stopping by Kirala for a decent sushi meal. Many people we met were repeat customers, a good sign for any restaurant.

Zee Woods
Name: Zee
Occupation: Photo Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Maman
Reviewed Kirala: Friday February 22, 2008

I had lunch at Kirala with a co-worker. It’s about a 10-minute drive from San Francisco where we live and work. The location is in a random area and the building was nondescript. Street parking was plentiful. Once inside, the place was pretty packed, but we were seated immediately at a table. They seemed to pack lots of tables in a small space; I was back to back with a 10 year old. The lunch menu seemed quite typical of most Bay Area Japanese restaurants, so we did what most first timers do: looked around to see what everyone was eating. Since that didn’t work, we decided on sushi rolls.

It took some time for someone to come over, actually, I believe we had to flag someone down. Our waitress seemed a little out of it, with a glazed look. We couldn’t decide between the gyoza and seafood gyoza. She recommended the seafood as the “regular gyoza was store bought and the seafood gyoza was handmade”. Actually, that’s the only time we heard her speak. The appetizers came out pretty quick. The seafood gyozas were very tasty, and the seaweed salad (with soybean paste) was a nice surprise. The main dishes also came out pretty quickly. The rainbow roll seemed fresh with four different types of fish. Unfortunately, the waitress was not around to identify the fish (I’m pretty sure two were salmon and tuna). The spicy tuna was really spicy — so much so that my throat was irritated. The Rock ‘n’ Roll was good and fresh and the negihama (yellow tail) was tasty. Again, I had to flag someone down to ask for water and tea.

Overall, I thought it was just ok. I’m not sure that I would make the trip again unless I was already in Berkeley. The service was lackluster and the waitstaff seemed out of it. The prices were reasonable and again, the sushi rolls were good. I have no problem driving outside of San Francisco to enjoy a good dish (I drive to Napa for cornbread!); I’m not sure this is worth the drive.

Kirala: Reviews 23 July,2015Check, Please! Bay Area

  • Len Welsh

    I’m sorry to say this, but none of these reviews, nor the TV show, do a very good job of characterizing this extraordinary restaurant. I think that is partly because, with the exception of Paula, the participants don’t really understand Japanese cuisine. Paula certainly got it right about the freshness of the fish. That is very hard to come by.

    If you don’t know good hamachi, for example, you might think that it is supposed to be a dull white and brown color from what you see in just about every restaurant that sells it. At Kirala, it is bright white and pink. For that alone the place is worth a long trip, and I know of only one other place in the entire Bay Area that has such a strict ethic about freshness. For those of you who think you don’t like raw fish, you might find it an entirely different experience if you try it really fresh the way it is served at Kirala.

    But you don’t get any sense of the atmosphere and what it is like to sit at the robata grill from the show or the reviews. That robata is one of the main attractions. If you sit at the counter there, you can watch the cook grilling right in front of you a number of creative, appetizer-type items like aspara beef (asparagus wrapped in a thin sheet of beef and cooked to order from rare to well done), lamb chops, small or giant calamari, stuffed mushrooms, corn on the cob, atsu age, a delicious, chewy kind of tofu that satisfies a meat-eater’s cravings, and a number or other very tempting items. I often just sit there and order what looks good as I watch it cook right from the guy grilling it.

    There is also a traditional Japanese menu for items like sukiyaki, tempura, nabeyaki udon, and many others. If you are on a tight budget you can get a full meal for less than $15.00, and if you want to splurge, items bought ala carte from the grill, the sushi bar, or the kitchen can make you feel like a king. No matter what you want to eat, the bar around the robata is definitely the best real estate in the restaurant—you get to see all the action and you can order anything the restaurant serves.

    There is also an interesting multicultural flavor in the atmosphere. The first time I went there I was listening to all the Japanese being spoken around me by a couple of customers and the staff, and then, all of sudden, I started hearing Spanish being spoken among some of the staff. About the same time, I noticed that I kept feeling like getting up and dancing and realized that the music playing in the background was salsa.

    The place is an example of cultural fusion that can happen just about only in Berkeley. But having gone to Japan several times I can tell you that you cannot find more authentic Japanese food anywhere, although here you will find it mixed with items that have some interesting cultural twists. The other thing that stands out is that they really know how to cook, no matter what it is they are making.

    I have to concede that the service is not as consistently warm and solicitous as it could be. That is partly a reflection of the culture of the place. If you want attention, you do have to ask for it. You say “Sumimasen” to a waiter or waitress walking by if you want to try out your Japanese, or just “excuse me” and they will come to you immediately to see what you want. That is what they expect and that is what gets you good and prompt service.

    P.S. Since Ms. Sbrocco fancies herself a linguist, I thought I should mention that Kirala does not mean “mother nature,” as she seemed to announce on her show, and I’d sure like to try whatever alcoholic concoction brought her to that conclusion. The word doesn’t exist in Japanese—it appears to be a creative play on the word kirakira, which means sparkle.

  • Joseph H.

    Kirala has been one of my favorites for years! Not only is it worth the drive from Napa, its worth the wait for a table. The quality of the food is of the best! Service is what you would expect from any busy japanese restaurant. You don’t ask you don’t recieve. I have never felt rushed nor uncomfortable in anyway. Consistantly good time after time year after year.

  • Janet Taksa

    My husband and I eat at Kirala virtually weekly because of its absolutely fresh, delicious sashimi, excellent sushi, and delicious noodle dishes. It is the best most reasonably priced seafood in the East Bay and I’d drive a distance to get there if I had to. And when we travel, we look forward to going back to Kirala when we return.

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