I have an embarrassing confession to make. For an ethnic food-loving, Bay Area native, it wasn’t until late last year that I made my inaugural visit to Vik’s Chaat Corner.
To be fair, I’d been hearing about it for years (decades, even), but I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about so I never got around to it.
I’m kicking myself now because since that first visit last Fall, I can’t get enough. Located on 4th Street in Berkeley, Vik’s is always busy, despite its early closing hours (6 p.m. on weeknights and 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday).
The process is simple: get in line, place your order, give your name, find a seat in the cafeteria-style dining area, and listen attentively for your name as the cooks behind the counters call out your order.
My favorite thing about Vik’s is that they specialize in chaat, or savory snacks that are popular in roadside stands in South Asia. Fried dough is a prominent ingredient, as are potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt, and chutney. During my first visit, I shared an order of dahi papdi chaat and chicken biryani, paired with mango and salt lassis.
The papdi chaat were comprised of fried dough wafers and served with potatoes, chickpeas, chilies, and tamarind chutney. The dish is spicy, but the tamarind provides a cooling contrast to the otherwise fiery bowl. This has since become one of my favorite dishes at Vik’s.
The chicken biryani was even spicier. I shared this with my dining companion who had been endlessly searching for good-quality, authentic biryani since a trip he made to Hyderabad three years ago. As it turns out, Vik’s is the closest to the real Hyderabadi thing.
If you find yourself to recreate these dishes at home, there’s a South Asian grocery store at Vik’s as well, stocking everything from rice to legumes to produce to spices. Many of the dishes may not be familiar to you if you’ve never had chaat, but that’s part of the fun at Vik’s: with so many dishes to choose from, I keep coming up with reasons to go back for more.