Japanese alley-style restaurant Alley Kitchens opens on Telegraph Avenue

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Alley Kitchens, a restaurant on Telegraph Avenue styled after a Japanese-style alleyway eatery, had its soft opening Monday.

According to the restaurant’s founder and UC Berkeley alum Roy Lam, his decision to open the restaurant stems from his experience in Japan. While living in Japan, Lam tried various types of foods — from gourmet food to street food — but alleyway eateries were his favorite.

“The most Japanese food is in alley food,” Lam said. “You think of Japan, lots of high rises and a lot of alleyways.”

These eateries were hard to find and largely targeted toward locals rather than tourists, Lam added. In these eateries, a family could spend their whole lives making one particular type of food.

Besides enjoying the food and affordability, what really drew Lam to these eateries was the unique social aspect.

“They (alleyway eateries) are tiny and fit only about 10 to 15 people who usually don’t know each other … but eat and drink with each other and become friends,” Lam said.

When Lam returned to the United States, he visited many different restaurants, hoping to recreate that alleyway experience, but was unable to find a restaurant that could capture the same feeling.

Lam then set out to create his own restaurant and decided to open the restaurant on Southside because of its close proximity to students.

“This (Southside) is where I hung out as a student … I know this place really well,” Lam said.

Lam’s restaurant seeks to recreate this unique dining experience in which patrons are seated at a counter where they can talk to the chefs.

The restaurant also has a standing bar, another feature from Japanese restaurant culture where patrons can eat while standing. This feature could be particularly helpful for students who don’t have time to sit down and eat, according to Lam.

Another unique aspect of the restaurant is how it is organized into what Lam describes as three restaurants in one — a matcha shop, a ramen shop and a sushi restaurant. Customers order at the front counter where menus from each shop are available to choose from.

The matcha shop, Whisk, uses organic matcha from Japan and Straus Family Creamery organic milk.

The ramen shop, Kuroki, sells tonkotsu ramen, a ramen dish made with pork bone-based broth, and vegan ramen, made from kale and flour.

Umidon, the sushi restaurant, serves chirashi sushi, which is sashimi placed over sushi rice. The restaurant also serves donburi, a cooked dish involving cooked meat and fish over rice. Lam noted that the chirashi is made with fresh fish every day from a supplier.

“I want students to know that this is an environment where students can talk to the chefs and be comfortable and social,” Lam said.

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.