Jump Ahead:

If you hadn’t heard of chef Kelly Whitaker or his restaurants—Basta, the Wolf’s Tailor, Brutø, Dry Storage, and Hey Kiddo—before the Michelin Guide came to town last fall, you almost certainly know him now. After all, Wolf’s and Brutø each received a Michelin star, along with green stars denoting leadership in sustainability; Basta was named a high-quality-for-the-price Bib Gourmand restaurant; and Hey Kiddo nabbed a Recommended nod.

The thing about dining at a Whitaker restaurant is that you know you’re in for an impressive mix of deliciousness and ingenuity. When I say Whitaker’s menus are innovative, I don’t mean unapproachable or pretentious. Rather, I mean there’s almost always a clever dish or an interesting ingredient (or both) that’s destined to lodge in my brain and send food-nerd me researching after the meal. Planting question marks and conversation starters throughout a meal is very much by design. As Whitaker sees it, dinner isn’t a transaction, it’s a dialogue—and Hey Kiddo in Berkeley definitely encourages discourse.

Kelly Whitaker & chef Jonas Zukosky
Kelly Whitaker and Jonas
Zukosky. Photo by Sarah Banks

Opened in January 2023, the eatery was dreamed up by Whitaker and Deuki Hong—a San Francisco–based Korean American chef who consulted on the project—and several others at Whitaker’s restaurant group. The menu is a mishmash of flavors, techniques, and culinary heritages: There are Korean dishes (galbi, shaken rice, kimchi) interspersed with European items (shrimp cocktail, chicken liver mousse, potato pavé), but it manages to all hang together under the banner of an American restaurant.

After riding the elevator to the third floor—Hey Kiddo lives above a boutique hotel—you’ll step into the angular space, accented by light wood, where you can choose to eat in the bar or in the adjoining dining room that faces the open kitchen. Choose the dining room, because the menu, which is helmed by chef de cuisine Jonas Zukosky, almost begs you to ask questions. I found the service there to be friendly, fluid, and well-informed—staff easily answered queries about ingredients, cooking, techniques, and pairings—while the bartenders were often distracted and far less knowledgeable. No matter where you sit, the pro move is to order from the boutique wine and bubbles list because, while the cocktail menu is filled with unusual spirits, sadly, many of those enticing flavors don’t pop to the forefront. Those seeking first-rate cocktails should head to Ok Yeah, a tiny sister bar in the back of the restaurant.

Chicken Liver Mousse
Chicken-liver-mousse-topped toast. Photo by Sarah Banks

The top of Zukosky’s menu lists generous starters such as cucumber wedges garnished with mint and a nubby, where-have-you-been-all-my-life chile-hazelnut crisp. I visited three times and ordered this crowd-pleasing dish twice. But the $10 Texas toast piped with dreamy chicken liver mousse and topped with crispy tempuralike bits and pickled mustard seeds is hard to pass up, too. The starter is so satisfying that I could easily sit at the bar and just order the toast, sip on a glass of the bright, vaguely floral Fallen Grape orange wine, and leave very, very happy.

There are, of course, larger, higher-priced plates on the menu that can easily be shared as well. Hong is known for his Korean fried chicken, and it’s a Hey Kiddo standout. Chefs Whitaker, Zukosky, and Hong went deep on the R&D for this dish—there are three versions (whole bird, half bird, and popcorn)—and ultimately used regenerative Colorado flour to exact crunch and snap. For the wagyu beef galbi, traditional Korean-style short ribs arrive dressed with soy and sesame oil while whole charred scallions cut the richness. (Pair this dish with the house kimchi and ever-changing pickles for an ideal tang-and-crunch quotient.) Sticky Kurobuta pork ribs feature a glaze crafted from sourdough gochujang that’s fermented in-house, a brilliant product that sings with umami and reduces food waste to boot. There are other mains, but honestly, the joy of Hey Kiddo is cluttering the tabletop with smaller items.

Whatever you decide to order, don’t skip the shaken chef rice. The dish, which is a cache of rice and leftover mise en place from the kitchen, is presented in a tin box before it’s shaken—literally—tableside. The creative mashup harks back to the experiences of members of Hong’s parents’ generation, who headed to school with containers of rice and sundries that, after bouncing around in their backpacks, would get mixed in a happy culinary accident.

Of course, there’s nothing accidental about Whitaker’s success at Hey Kiddo. He wants to pique your interest and make you wonder, as I did, about the inspiration behind ingredients such as sourdough gochujang and where I can buy tins to reproduce shaken rice at home. When a meal incites such questions and curiosity, I consider it dinner well done. 4337 Tennyson St.

In Summary

  • The Draw: A number of well-executed dishes ranging from Korean to French
  • The Drawback: The quality of the service depends on where you sit; Hey Kiddo’s cocktails are intriguing but lack balance
  • Noise Level: Medium on a busy night
  • Don’t Miss: Shaken rice, cucumber starter, chicken liver mousse, popcorn chicken, wagyu galbi, anything on the specials board

How To Enjoy a Cocktail at Ok Yeah

If you can’t figure out what makes Ok Yeah’s cocktails taste so beguiling, it’s probably because they’re crafted with something unconventional like beef tallow. The intention behind this bar inside Hey Kiddo is “full utilization,” or thinking of typical throwaways, such as leftover pickle juice, as ingredients ready for a second life, says Caroline Clark, director of beverage and hospitality. Here’s how to enjoy the perfect sip. —AMF

Bartender at Ok Yeah
Ok Yeah bartender Benjamin Lewis. Photo by Sarah Banks

1. Select

There are usually six beverages to choose from on the nightly menu, which could include creations such as the gin- and yuzu-infused Two for the Show. But we recommend telling the bartenders what flavor profile you enjoy—boozy, citrusy, floral, etc.—and having them concoct a customized cocktail that will cost from $18 to $25 (“Within Reason”) or market price (“Let’s Be Unreasonable”).

2. Observe

Watch the barkeeps mix, shake, and stir a bespoke drink that screams you. My cues were bitter, anything green chartreuse-ish, and low ABV, and I was rewarded with a tulip glass holding a divine elixir of two kinds of sherry, Suze (a French apéritif), and a squeeze of lemon.

3. Pair

While you’re nodding with pleasure and whispering OK, yeahhhh between sips, order a couple of handrolls, such as the spicy tuna with sourdough gochujang and crispy tempura bits.

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This article was originally published in 5280 April 2024.
Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.