We went to Viks Chaat Corner at the suggestion of one of Hegui’s Indian colleague from work. Suhas couldn’t stop raving about it! It’s in Berkeley on the corner of Channing Way and Fourth Street, only a few blocks from wine.com’s retail outlet.
Viks is a combination Indian retail store and “fast food” Indian restaurant. According to their site, it started out primarily as a retail store in 1989 with a small “chaat corner” within the shop selling “street food.” Apparently the food was a real hit to the point that the place grew into this marvelous, large restaurant with a smaller store attached. “Chaat” apparently means “to lick” and refers to the finger-licking-goodness of the food. After our experience there, we couldn’t agree more with the name!
The shop offered a lot of the traditional Indian-food-store kinds of products: various dried spices, a large variety of basmati rice all in huge sacks, canned products, preserved spicy limes and mangoes, and some frozen pre-made dishes. They had a case of refrigerated fresh vegetables and herbs. We saw fresh fenugreek leaves, bitter melon, eggplant and some of the usual onions, garlic, cilantro, etc. In another refrigerated case they had a few kinds of paneer cheese and pre-mixed, uncooked batter for making dosas (a type of savory bread similar in shape to a crepe or large pancake) at home.
The shop’s pretty large but is dwarfed in comparison to the bustling restaurant. To order, you must stand in a long but fast moving line and pay in advance. Then you try to find an empty table, as you wait for your dishes to be prepared. Everything seemed to be made right on the spot from the freshest of ingredients. The place was completely mobbed when we were there on a Saturday in the mid-afternoon. Many of the customers appeared to be of Indian descent, perhaps suggesting that this was a popular and authentic Indian establishment. We needed little external reassurances after having our meal. It was simply divine!
We ordered a few items from the “Chaat Menu:” Sev Puri, Pani Puri and Samosa Cholle. In addition, we tried the vegetable dosa on the weekend special menu. The dishes took about fifteen minutes to come out and were served on no-frills compostable paper plates with compostable sporks.
Sev Puri came with little round “papdis,” which were sort of cracker-like things, topped by a potato onion topping, various chutneys and “sev” which looked like fried shredded wheat. Pani Puri were puffed crisp bite-sized “cracker balls” accompanied by a potato garbanzo mixture with a tamarind chutney and a spicy mint water. The menu recommends that you crack open the pani and fill it with the rest. It was really good. The samosa came with two pieces and accompanied by some sauces. The dosa arrived last. It reminded us of the ones from Udupi Palace or Dosa in San Francisco. It was a huge savory pancake stuffed with a spicy vegetable mixture with some chutneys and sauces on the side. The food was spicy, sweet, tart, with a variety of exciting textures as well: crunchy, soft, moist and dry. Exciting! The whole meal cost only about $20 and really hit the spot.
The facility itself is beautiful. There are high ceilings with attractive hanging lamps. The walls are all painted in rich colors in a simple and pleasing design. It was very clean with neat modern looking restrooms. It has an open kitchen behind a long counter. We enjoyed watching the staff prepare some of the dishes while we waited for ours. Parking was plentiful. We’d definitely go back and probably will soon.