Lalime’s won’t return; two new Thai spots come to Oakland

Matt Horn plots a burger shop; Cafe Mezzo springs back

Lalime's restaurant in Berkeley.
Beloved Cal-Mediterranean restaurant Lalime’s shuttered in April 2020 after a 35-year run. Credit: Lalime’s/Facebook

The space that once housed Lalime’s will soon be for rent

Berkeleyside tipsters were thrilled to see an ownership change notice posted in a window at 129 Gilman St., the former home of 35-year-old Mediterranean restaurant Lalime’s. “It appears they may be starting up again under new ownership,” a reader wrote hopefully, but that’s not quite the case, I must regretfully report.

As Nosh reported last April, Lalime’s owners Haig Krikorian and Cindy Lalime Krikorian said that the combination of the pandemic-induced indoor dining ban and their desire to retire — certainly understandable, after 35 years in business — spurred their decision to shutter the beloved restaurant. Commenters on the report were stunned, with many saying that Lalime’s was their favorite restaurant, citing special events like birthdays and anniversaries that they’d celebrate each year.

So it’s understandable that area residents might leap at the possibility of the restaurant’s revival. However, while the restaurant’s liquor license is indeed in the process of being transferred to a new owner, that licensee isn’t Lalime’s 2.0. Instead, it’s well-known real estate investor Ito Ripsteen, who confirmed to Nosh that he’s purchased the building with a plan to renovate the structure and fill it with a restaurant “that will honor the legacy of Lalime’s.”

This isn’t Ripsteen’s first venture into the restaurant property space: He cites his purchase of Piedmont Avenue’s Bay Wolf restaurant building as an example of what might become of the former Lalime’s space. The trendsetting, 40-year-old Bay Wolf restaurant closed in 2015 when co-founder Michael Wolf retired. Ripsteen bought its building soon after, then worked with Wood Tavern owners Rich and Rebekah Wood to open The Wolf, a restaurant that kept many of its predecessor’s greatest hits, in the spot.


Ripsteen said that he’s “searching for the next collaborative partnership” in that same vein, and noted that he’s reached out to some buzzy local restaurateurs already. “My office is in walking distance” of the venue, he says, so he’s got a personal, lunchtime interest in whatever is next for the space. So far, he hasn’t placed the spot on any local listing services, but he expects to do so within “the next few weeks.”

Pladaek’s version of classic Thai salad som tum. Credit: Pladaek Thai/Instagram

Two new Thai restaurants are preparing to open in Oakland

Two new restaurants are promising fresh spins on classic Thai dishes like pad kee mao and som tum for hungry Oakland diners. Jo’s Modern Thai is planned for 3725 MacArthur Blvd., while a place called Pladaek Thai has posted a “coming soon” sign at 4133 Piedmont Ave.

Pladaek Thai’s location is no stranger to Thai food. Its space was most recently home to Orchids Thai, which shuttered in December after a series of health violations. The new spot, which does not appear to have an online presence beyond its Instagram account, promises the salty and sweet Esan (which is often spelled Isan or Isaan) style Thai food, like curry puffs and its own take on the classic Thai papaya salad. Additional information on the restaurant remains unknown, as Pladaek’s owners have yet to respond to a message from Nosh as of publication time.

The SF Chronicle was first to report that Oakland native Kao Saelee is gearing up to open Jo’s Modern Thai inside the former home of longstanding Nigerian restaurant Miliki. Saelee’s family has owned reliable Berkeley Thai takeout spot Racha Cafe for 16 years, so he’s no stranger to the game, and the Jo’s menu was created by Intu-on Kornnawong, whose eponymous Thai drinking snack pop-up has garnered raves across the Bay. Expect some of that same “Thai drinking food” at Jo’s, Kornnawong told the Chron, and a lineup of dishes that isn’t “specific in what type of food — Bangkok, Isaan, it’s all that’s cool.” According to Saelee, Jo’s should open on July 1. Pladaek Thai, 4133 Piedmont Ave. (near 41st Street), Oakland and Jo’s Modern Thai, 3725 MacArthur Blvd. (near Loma Vista Avenue), Oakland

Pitmaster Matt Horn sits with his former 500-gallon off-set smoker Lucille. Photo: Horn Barbecue
Pitmaster Matt Horn plans on opening two more Oakland restaurants this summer. Credit: Horn Barbecue

Pitmaster Matt Horn will open a burger shop inside a now-shuttered vegetarian spot

Matt Horn, the celebrated smoked meat authority whose Horn Barbecue opened in Oakland last fall, has big plans for 2021: As Eater SF reports, he’ll fully join the white-hot fried chicken sandwich market with a brick-and-mortar location of his Kowbird pop-up just down the road from Horn, at 1733 Peralta St. But buried in the frizzled fowl news is another expansion of Horn’s empire, a burger spot slated for Old Oakland.

It’s not a secret that Horn’s been dabbling in burgers. This past spring, he launched an Instagram account for a venture called Matty’s Old Fashioned, which (per SFist) was followed by a preorder-only 100-burger event in March. The meals were pretty simple, a double-patty made with a Horn-created beef blend and topped with cheese and special sauce. The burgers sold out, in a flash.

Horn said at the time that he was seeking a permanent location for the Matty’s venture, and now he’s found one. According to the SF Chronicle, Matty’s is set for 464 8th St., a location familiar to longtime locals as the former home of New World Vegetarian, a beloved plant-based spot that served the meatless for well over a decade. The space is also next door to well-established craft beer destination The Trappist, a nice juxtaposition for folks seeking a well-respected brew to accompany their buzzy burger.

Kowbird is expected to open in Old Oakland some time this summer, and Matty’s should open next month. Menus for either spot have yet to be revealed, but given the headlining dishes, it’s safe to assume that Horn is making some big buys when it comes to buns. Kowbird, 1733 Peralta St. (near 18th Street), Oakland and Matty’s Old Fashioned, 464 8th St. (near Broadway), Oakland

Devotees of Mezzo’s salads and sandwiches can return to the restaurant next week. Credit: Melati Citrawireja

After a 15-month closure, beloved Berkeley salad spot Mezzo is back

Mezzo might be one of the most resilient restaurants around. Founded in 1983 as Café Intermezzo, a five-alarm fire in 2011 (one of Berkeley’s biggest blazes, as reported at the time) shuttered the spot for six years. It reopened six years later as Mezzo, with a familiar menu of sandwiches and salads, including the poppy seed dressing that arguably cemented its position on the East Bay food map.

The restaurant closed a second time in 2020, as the pandemic-related health orders quashed indoor dining across the state. But on June 15, most of those health orders will be lifted, and restaurants will again operate at full capacity, indoor and out. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that Mezzo will also come roaring back on June 15 after a year plus in the dark.

For now, hours will be limited, the restaurant said: It’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with breakfast service wrapping up daily at 11. Expect those hours to expand as Mezzo staffs up, as well as long lines — lines you can avoid by phoning in your order at 510-705-1089. Mezzo, 2442 Telegraph Ave. (near Haste Street), Berkeley

Eve Batey is Berkeleyside's interim Nosh editor. Email: eve@berkeleyside.org.