Local Mediterranean restaurant Arabica closes, Taiwanese hotpot restaurant takes its place

Audrey McNamara/Staff

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After three years in Downtown Berkeley under the banner “Sustainable Mediterranean Cuisine,” Arabica has closed its doors, making way for a new Taiwanese hotpot restaurant.

Offering an organic and vegan-friendly menu of Mediterranean mainstays, as well as baklava and burgers, Arabica specialized in cooking methods inspired by the owner’s childhood in Jordan, 15 miles away from the Dead Sea. Tasty Pot, a Taiwanese chain, will open its third Bay Area location in its place on Kittredge Street.

Employees of nearby businesses were surprised by Arabica’s departure and remembered the restaurant for having little traffic and limited hours of operation.

Arabica’s owners also run Razan’s Organic Kitchen, a cozy establishment next door that opened in 1993. Offering a more casual dining experience, Razan’s began as a food truck, which would often park next to the UC Berkeley campus. Sergio Rivas, a Razan’s employee, cited the difficulty of operating two restaurants as a reason for Arabica’s closure.

“I’m just going to miss my customers,” said Rivas, who works behind the counter at Razan’s and formerly split shifts at Arabica.

“It’s sad that they weren’t open that long,” said Carey Iida, a lifelong Berkeley resident who missed the chance to visit Arabica but comes back to Razan’s for the healthy ingredients and good prices. “For what’s fast food, it’s quite good. … With organic, you can tell the difference.”

Arabica opened in 2013 at the former site of Great China, which has since relocated to Bancroft Avenue. The space was vacant for more than a year after a kitchen fire that forced Great China to close.

After its first U.S. locations in Newark, California, and San Jose opened last year, the incoming restaurant, Tasty Pot, set its sights on the new location when one of its partners graduated from UC Berkeley.

“A lot of customers who visited were college students,” said David Yang, who works at the San Jose Tasty Pot. “One of our partners graduated from UC Berkeley. She wants to open a location serving the students over there.” That partner, he added, will manage the Berkeley store.

The owners and managers of Arabica and Tasty Pot, respectively, could not be reached for comment.

The Tasty Pot menu, inspired by Taiwanese traditional recipes with American influence, features hotpot varieties such as spicy fermented tofu and kimchi dumpling soup, with pearl milk tea and ice-cream sandwich macarons for dessert. The sausage, tea and mochi are imported from Taiwan.

Filling a void for authentic Taiwanese hotpot restaurants in Berkeley, Tasty Pot will bring its most popular dish, the “Taiwanese Supreme Spicy” pot and a tradition of free bubble tea for the “customer of the month.”

Alexander Barreira is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @abarreira_dc.

Because of misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the franchise was popular in Taiwan. In fact, there are no locations in Taiwan.

Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the location of one of the Tasty Pot restaurants as Newark, New Jersey. In fact, the restaurant is located in Newark, California.