Rumors are flying about the new taco spot in Nob Hill, but the buzz is so much more than mere gossip. Although that’s the translation of Chisme, the bespoke restaurant has already proven itself a worthy contender in a city teeming with Mexican eateries. Menu options are limited, focused on a short list of fillings to swaddle in soft, handmade tortillas, served two per order. Simple yet irresistible appetizer staples like chips and guacamole or fried potatoes do beckon, but stay focused here. Take a closer look at those taco options. Not only are the vegan choices clearly marked, but compared to the more meaty entrees, they dominate the colorful paper printout.
Fusion is the name of the game for these unconventional offerings, such as eggplant slathered in peanut mole, or plantains and black beans paired with a creamy coconut ranch dressing. Perish the thought of strained, unsatisfying attempts at “authenticity” here; flavor comes first, regardless of origin. Chisme caters to a different sort of crowd, and those customers seem to be eating it up.
Order at the front, grab a number, and take a seat at the communal table or benches. One might call the space spare and the service no-frills, but it’s warm and friendly, open and inviting, regardless. Besides, in a matter of minutes your surroundings will become irrelevant as a hot plate of food drops in front of you. If there’s only one dish to order, it’s the Jackfruit Taco. Marinated in a savory sauce and fried to crispy perfection, it remains juicy inside, with an impossibly meaty bite all the way though. Greens and cabbage are par for the course, adding a bit of freshness and crunch to the conversation, but the unexpected brightness of the mint verde sauce truly seals the deal. It sounds like a crazy combination, but trust me, it just works.
Don’t sleep on that fiery green hot sauce that comes on the side, either. It’s the sort of condiment that people would steal if it was put into bottles, or for those with more restraint, buy by the case if it was sold in stores. If the heat becomes overwhelming, cool down with a dairy-free coconut horchata for dessert. The sweetness of this cinnamon-spiked elixir could easily rival that of a proper milkshake, but is a welcome refreshment on a hot day.
Stop the gossip and get the facts. Chisme is the real deal.
Snaking past the illuminated case of thin-sliced meats and artisan cheeses, spilling out the door and onto the sidewalk, the line is already at least 15 deep, and it’s not even noon yet. Any respectable food establishment in downtown Berkeley will inevitably experience the usual lunch rush on any given day, but The Butcher’s Son is guaranteed to be more or less a mob scene no matter the hour. After a year and a half of slinging sandwiches to these hungry hordes, their popularity shows no sign of waning, nor the excitement from dying down. Eavesdrop on the masses already tucking into their oversized sandwiches for encouragement to endure the wait; exclamations of deep, primal joy echo off the walls, speaking louder than any formal review.
Salads and fried snacks round out the menu, but make no mistake, it’s all about the sandwiches here. Overstuffed with plant-based meats and dairy-free cheeses, these generous assemblages transcend the boundaries separating vegans and omnivores. Scores of staunch meat eaters have been shocked to discover that this old school deli is entirely flesh-free, even after devouring a full meal. There’s a certain finesse to the casual fare that reveals dedication to the craft that can only come from passion and attention to detail.
Each towering creation is a feat of culinary architecture. The Fried Mozzarella & Meatball could comfortably satisfy two diners, and the Roast Beef Reuben piles on thinly shaved beefless slices and sauerkraut with the same enthusiasm.
Bestsellers include the BLAT, a classic combination of bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato, straight to the point and sure to satisfy any nostalgic cravings. It’s tough to leave without ordering the Pulled Pork though, a saucy, smoky barbecue sensation that’s crowned with tender strings of caramelized onions and creamy coleslaw.
Groaning, straining within the confines of one’s previously well-fitting pants, it would behoove the average diner to reach for a takeout box early on. Resist the temptation of cleaning the plate, no matter how strongly the urge strikes. Besides, there’s still dessert to consider. Don’t overlook the pastry case, stocked with a rotating selection of pies, cheesecakes, cookies, doughnuts, cannoli, flaky croissants, and all variety of other sweet surprises. Just in case you need a meaty fix throughout the week, cold cuts and cheese are sold by the pound, right alongside house-made sour pickles.
Come hungry and early to secure a table, especially for the epic weekend bunch menu. This isn’t your average delicatessen, but the overall experience wouldn’t lead you to think it was any different.
The Butcher’s Son
1941 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
In case you’re hungry for some edible precious gems of your own, I have a little gift to at least whet your appetite. Click around and you’ll find that the second image will expand into a full-sized wallpaper, which can be downloaded to enjoy as your desktop wallpaper. Simply right click the larger version, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to best fit to your screen.
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Rhythmically, persistently, a small child is kicking me in the shins. Propelling his legs with blissful abandon beyond the constraints of his stroller, the rubber-soled shoes strike with a dull thud as regularly as a metronome. This is the least of my concerns though, as I struggle to find an open pocket of air in the overcrowded BART car. A nauseating bouquet of sweat, cologne, and Chinese takeout infiltrates my lungs, mingling together in one pungent, irrepressible plume. Each inhalation skews slightly to one or the other, though none holds particular appeal. Breathing becomes a careful, measured effort, akin to meditation.
Hurtling through tunnels, cutting across highways and open fields, chasing after the fading sun, the train starts and stops, yet not a single person moves an inch. Wedged firmly in place, it would be impossible to fall, even if one gave up standing on their own volition. Familiar vistas flash by through smudged windows, but from my vantage point staring directly into some tall man’s armpit, the scenery looks all the same to me. Somewhere between Embarcadero and West Oakland, I find myself wearing someone else’s headphone wires. Perhaps the whole mob, myself included, is beginning to merge into a single person.
Compared to many, my trip across the bay is mercifully short. Swimming upstream against the current of writhing arms and legs, it takes many gentle shoves, a few accidentally trampled feet, and many profuse apologies to disentangle myself from the mass when the doors finally open at my home station. The stagnant but open air has never felt so good. To all the faithful, tireless workers who continue forward on their journeys, to repeat the trip once again the next day, again and again with no end in sight: I salute you. That onerous commute is a full time job, in and of itself.