Taking over food blogging duties for The E’ville Eye is Brenda Ton, a two-year resident with a passion for food and proprietor of her own food Blog, Bites & Bourbon. Her leadoff review is for local favorite Wally’s Cafe that recently made news by making the 2014 Yelp Top 100 places to eat in the ENTIRE U.S. based on an algorithm of positive feedback within the Yelp community. E’ville’s secret “Hole-in-the-wall” spot … may not be a secret for much longer. Read on!
Lebanese Comfort Food for the Soul
When I moved to this wonderful city two years ago, I would tell people that I’m new to the neighborhood and suddenly their eyes lit up. Proud locals would ecstatically list off and recommend their favorite local food spots to me. The three most recommended were Wally’s Cafe, followed by Rudy’s Can’t Fail and then Arizmendi Bakery & Pizzeria.
Wally’s Cafe is a mom-and-pop Mediterranean Lebanese restaurant that has been in the area since 2007. I knew I had to try this place out after hearing so many positive things, especially if it gained popularity through mostly word-of-mouth. One day, I wanted to check it out for lunch, but I couldn’t find it. I literally walked back and forth around the street, then I gave up and thought it may have been closed.
I found out a couple of weeks later when visiting with co-workers that the restaurant is located behind a dive bar called Bank Club Cafe and past the green dumpster. You wouldn’t know this place even exists. But that doesn’t stop the somewhat hole-in-the-wall restaurant from being extremely popular and a favorite among not only locals but possibly across the country within Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat, generated by the engineers on Yelp’s data mining team using a technique based on the Wilson Score to compile a list of highly rated places to eat.
With recent buzz, I wanted to give this place another shot. On my very first visit two years ago, I ordered the Chop Chop Chicken Liver Sandwich and could not handle the lightly seasoned earthy livery taste. I haven’t been back until recently and I am sure glad that I did because Wally’s Cafe’s combination of comfort food and simple charm really makes this spot a diamond in the rough.
Here is the quick breakdown of my visit and review of the food:
TIME AND DAY OF VISIT: Saturday at 1:30pm. There were 6 people there when we arrived and a fair amount of seats left for dining inside and out.
SERVICE: The service was quick and friendly. The food came out in about 10 minutes.
SEATING: The place is small but you can take a seat at the 15 or so chairs at the u-shaped counter space, the long tables outside or at the bar next door.
PARKING: There is very limited street parking so most people park across the street at Pak ‘N Save.
PAYMENT: Cash only.
PRICES: The price is very reasonable and the food is considered as cheap eats for the generous portion size. Ranges from $7.50 for wraps to $12.99 for most specialty plates.
FOOD: The menu is focused on Mediterranean ethnic Lebanese food, such as gyros, kabobs, shawarma, and falafel. There’s also a good amount of bar food items consisting of burgers, chicken wings, and fries. The most recommended dish is their pomegranate chicken plate and their traditional lamb and beef gyros, so my husband and I ordered both along with a side of fries to share. I heard about the secret menu consisting of his wife’s homemade tamales from a few articles, but it turns out they no longer serve it. Before the meal begins, my husband goes to the Bank Club next door to grab us two bottles of beer. The order comes with a nice spicy cumin lentil rice soup as the starter.
The pomegranate chicken dish included a green salad, tzatziki (pronounced “za-ZEE-kee”) and an intense, raw garlic dip, known as skordalia. The chicken was grilled with Lebanese spices and had a slight tangy taste from the pomegranate used in the marinade. The chicken was a bit on the dry side for me. Overall, it was a nice combination of flavors and I especially loved the skordalia, but it wasn’t something that we’d order again.
Next up is the lamb and beef gyro filled with lettuce, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce. It was the best gyro that my husband and I have ever had. It was hot and fresh. The portion was generous and full of meat. The fluffy pita had a great texture and chew. Each bite just makes you keep nodding up-and-down with a silent but repeated “this is so good” expression as we ate our way through the meal. I would eat this multiple times a day if I could. The side of fries was previously frozen, but still nice and very crispy.
We end this great lunch with Wally’s amazing in-house Lebanese baklava made up of pistachios, cashews and a light orange-blossom tasting syrup. It’s one of the best baklavas that I’ve had – wonderfully buttery, airy and flaky. It’s not too sweet and has just the right amount of nuttiness.
Overall, Wally’s Cafe lives up to the hype and I can see why it’s a favorite local eatery. The place may be a hole-in-the-wall, but it makes for a more adventurous and interesting local dining experience at reasonable prices. The gyros were one of the best we’ve had and the baklava is heavenly. If you haven’t tried Wally’s yet, you’re missing out big time.
Note: I called in and went back two days later for takeout and the gyros were just as delicious as the first time. It took 10 minutes and they still throw in the lentil soup and baklava, also packing everything carefully for transport.
Their menu can be read online at Gayot.com →
Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.
3900 San Pablo Ave
Emeryville, CA 94608
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