This is a nice neighborhood restaurant. About half of the nine tables were occupied on an early Thursday evening and a few people stopped by for take out. It is not fancy or a destination but the food is good enough to plan future visits to try some of the other items.
Most of the dishes run in the dishes run from $6 - $11. Lunch specials with rice are $6 - $7. The special seasonal crab dishes are more. The server mentioned that the prices were higher than on the five year old take out menu. Prices increased for most dishes by fifty cents.
Having never ordered a Vietnamese crepe, theres no benchmark. The menu says the crepe is made with coconut and rice flour and filled with shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, onions and bean sprouts and served with lettuce and mint. It is eaten scooped up in lettuce leaves
It was heavy on the bean sprouts. The large yellow crispy crepe pepped up with the fresh mint leaves and a bit of the garlic / chili sauce. It was fine, but once is enough. There are other interesting menu items on the list to be sampled on future visits.
Soft shell crab is in season and two large crabs were on a bed of watercress with a thin lime sauce for dipping ($18.99). It was fresh tasting, salty, and mildly garlicky though not as crispy as I prefer.
There are three Vietnamese beers, Halida, Saigon and 33 export. The 33 export is probably the version bottled by Heineken since there were a few other Heinken beers on the menu. Probably not Ba Muoi Ba the version bottled in Vietnam, The Vietnamese name means 33 to represent the alcohol volume (3.3). This light tasting pilsner was a pleasant drink with the crab.
The lemon mousse with berries was a large bowl of tangy, light and foamy mousse topped with a few blueberries and a few pieces of diced strawberries and kiwi.
The restaurant is not fancy but is clean and the glass-topped tables have white tablecloths and vases of mums. There are a few sketches and paintings of Vietnamese scenes. The restaurant has been open about two decades and has been kept up well and doesnt look faded.
Mama Lan died about six years ago and the family continues to run the restaurant. Her son was cooking tonight. There are faded restaurant reviews under the glass on each table.
There are standard Vietnamese dishes. The place doesnt serve pho or bahn mi.
Soups include Vietnamese noodles with crab and shrimp, white asparagus with crab, Mamas seafood and a vegetarian soup.
The specialty is crab, but the menu says it is seasonal, so Im not sure about the status of the Dungeness crab dishes which include stir-fried crab, roasted crab, tamarind sauce crab and Mama Lans crab stew (whole Dungeness in a cream sauce).
The reviews mention the Country fried garlic catfish and the caramelized catfish.
Other interesting dishes are
Roti chicken (braised in herbal broth and then pan-fried with garlic
Saigon chicken (chicken breast marinated in five spices and lemongrass. Served with mango aioli)
Grilled short ribs marinated in a red fruit called Gac
Sautéed clams in black bean sauce on a sizzling platter
Grilled pork chops in five spice sauce
Duong Chau fried rice (with shrimp, chicken, sausage, peas and carrots)
Eggplants smoked with minced pork and shrimp
There are vegetarian version of many items like the imperial and spring rolls. Some vegetarian dishes include
Clay pot crispy tofu
Vegefish (soybean, seaweed, soy sauce, ginger)
Ive read the crispy tofu should be avoided though.
There are the usual dishes and the woman at the next table said she liked the shaking beef. In an old Chowhound link below, there is also a shaking beef recommendation.
Other desserts included
Fried bananas with ice cream, the banana in egg roll wrappers
Other beers included Anchor Steam, Becks, and Haake (non alcoholic)
Wines were mostly Big House and Husch with a few other bottles like Frogs Leap.
Service was friendly and prompt. However in this neighborhood that mainly has residents that are not Vietnamese, after twenty years they warn of any dish with the slightest hint of spice and they try to steer you to the dishes mentioned in the reviews.
Mama LAN's Vietnamese Restaurant
1316 Gilman St
Berkeley, CA 94706
Monday Saturday 11 am 9:30 pm