Before I tried Phil's Sliders, I never understood why sliders existed. It was essentially a mini hamburger - a kid's or dieter's portion. But Phil's Sliders proved me wrong. Each slider has so much flavor and tastiness in the one bite that the deliciousness would get lost in a full-size burger. After the sticker shock of $2.50* for a bite wears off, you can bask in the perfect balance of Marin Sun Farms grass-fed beef, lettuce, cheddar cheese and special sauce.
Phil's Sliders opened a few weeks ago where New China Express used to be in downtown Berkeley. The narrow space is transformed with a decently-sized though minimalist dining section and an open kitchen. See the hanging posterboard menu and check the chalkboard wall for homemade dessert and shake specials. Once you know what you want, grab a mini-clipboard, write your order and hand to the cashier.
The portabella sliders pale in comparison, so I would avoid them unless you're a vegetarian. The poppyseed coleslaw ($2) was average and something I could find at any potluck, but the potato tots ($2.50) were fantastically starchy, creamy and crispy. Unlike butter-heavy croquettes, we ate these tots with our fingers without much need for napkins.
While the homemade shake sauces (chocolate and dulce de leche when we went) are delicious themselves, the shake ($2.50) disappoints. I like my shakes milky and rich, and Phil's are not that. The base looks and tastes like soft serve, melts too quickly, and is a bit grainy. We skipped the dessert, but an assortment of homemade cookies and brownies are displayed nicely at the cashier.
Service, while pleasant, still needs work to catch up with demand. Our to-go order of 4 sliders, a side of slaw and tots and a shake took 15 minutes to ready. The one cashier also makes the shakes, which holds up the line to order. I'm not sure what two of the three cooks do, as only one of them is assembling the sliders. I give the slider maker props, though, as ours were packed neatly and precisely while they could easily have been slopped together.
Overall, I'm glad to see Phil's in town. I definitely will continue to visit. I can afford the sliders and tots, but I'm not sure if the limited, pricey menu can sustain downtown where college students probably won't splurge for $2 sliders when there's a $6.99 buffet nearby.
*Posted prices say $2, but our bill total broke down to $2.50.
2024 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley