Guide to Delicious Food in Berkeley and Surrounding Areas

Ever wonder what engineering grad students at Berkeley love to eat when they’re not working on big research problems?  I’ve shared these two lists so many times that I figured it would be easier to simply post it on my blog.  The first is from graduate women at Berkeley, and the second was given to me as a Christmas present by my thoughtful Electrical Engineering/Computer Science PhD friend.

clip_image002 Guide to the “Food” Life in Berkeley courtesy of The Graduate Women of Etcheverry

Overall best restaurants:

  • Chez Panisse
    One fixed-price menu each night, featuring the best products available. Short but reasonable wine list; servers are very knowledgeable and unpretentious. -- Michael Bauer (SFGate)
  • Rivoli
    The menu changes every few weeks, but chef Wendy Brucker has become known for her elaborate accompaniments, such as pairing grilled gulf shrimp with a potato, leek and brandade gratin. The dining room has the feel of a midcentury ranch house. -- Michael Bauer (SFGate)
  • Kirala
  • Dopo
  • Lalime’s
    “…a comfortable class act you want to visit time and again; the rustic, amazingly delectable Cal-Med fare prepared to absolute perfection showcases fresh, locally grown, mostly organic veggies and robust flavors, and it’s all served in a lovely, unassuming atmosphere by an engaging staff…” (Zagat)

Best buys:

  • Vik’s Chaat Corner
    A mainstay for the chaat hungry, this lofty warehouse serves spicy roadside snacks, curries and dosa. Try the puri, cholle bhatura and dosa. -- Amanda Berne (SFGate)
  • Picante Cocina
    Long a Berkeley favorite, this upscale taqueria is a hit with young families, couples and groups of friends who come for the standout carnitas, carne asada and other classics. The menu also includes plenty of vegetarian options, kid-friendly combos and regional dishes such as pescado Veracruzana. Corn tortillas made on site provide a welcome distraction while you’re waiting in the usually long lines. (SFGate)
  • Udupi Palace
  • Gioia Pizzeria
  • Turkish Kitchen
    The soft, chewy, house-baked pita (without a pocket, as it’s done in Turkey) is reason alone to visit this busy restaurant in downtown Berkeley. The menu romps through Turkish cuisine, with intriguing dishes like the popular chicken beyti, a well-sauced pinwheel of stuffed and baked lavash, or the chef’s specialty, stuffed eggplant. The menu will look familiar to fans of Alaturca in San Francisco, whose owner, George Baylar, is a partner in this Berkeley spot, along with two Alaturca veterans, chef Mehmet Vural and Ferzan Yolcu, who manages the friendly, efficient service. (SFGate)
  • Cactus Taqueria
  • Brazil Café
  • Amanda’s (burgers, sweet potato fries)

Best breakfasts:

  • Bette’s Oceanview Diner
  • Fat Apple’s
    “…the only place to go for olallieberry shakes, pumpkin pancakes, juicy cheeseburgers, and wonderfully chock-full chicken pot pies; the honest, American-style diner food that always hits the spot…” (Zagat)
  • Sunnyside Café
  • Rick & Ann’s
    ”…serves up homemade American chow that’s better than Mom’s; every item is wonderful – it’s easy to try something new each time and leave with a full belly – but what it’s really known for is the delightful breakfast…” (Zagat)
  • Café Fanny
    “You haven’t experienced Berkeley until you’ve been to Alice Waters’ French café for…superior café au lait served in the traditional bowl, and delicious organic lunches…” (Zagat)
  • Venus (lemon ricotta pancakes, hot chocolate)
  • Chester’s Bayview Café
  • La Note
  • Cheeseboard (for bakery)
  • La Farine (bakery)

Best dessert:

  • Fenton’s Creamery
  • Ici
    “Serving up fresh daily-made ice cream and a variety of interesting flavors (that change daily), this place definitely caters to the local Berk students and a more sophisticated palette.
    Flavors of the day I went included caramel pecan, brandied cherry, vanilla clove, chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch, coffee and chocolate cookies, and a myriad of sorbets like pear and raspberry.  In addition, they offer delectable ice cream sandwiches that are VERY popular.” (Yelp)
  • Sketch Ice Cream
    “The best ice cream I have ever tasted. Yes, it is expensive, but you get what you pay for. The flavors are delicious and the toppings equally scrumptious. They often have unusual flavors and toppings that are excellent and that I have never seen another ice cream shop make. If they have it I usually opt for a flavor that will pair with the olive oil and sea salt (so many people say this sounds weird but it is really good). The fleur de sel caramel sauce is delicious too. My all time favorites though are the jasmine or lemon verbena granita. The earl gray and cardamom ice creams are awesome too.” (Yelp)
  • Masse’s Pastries
    “Since their products are consistently amazing, I would recommend them for any special occasion (birthday party, wedding, etc.) but I feel they are too expensive to just drop in one morning for some pastry. Nevertheless, I have to rate them 5 stars for being one of the most extraordinary bakeries ever.” (Yelp)
  • Tara’s Organic Ice Cream
  • Love at First Bite (Vine & Walnut)

Other recommendations…

  • The Epicurious Garden
  • Scharffenberger Chocolate Factory -- FREE (with free chocolate during the week)
  • Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers (especially for curly fries)
  • Breads of India
  • Sunday brunch at the Thai Temple
  • Café Gratitude (for the “full Berkeley experience”)
  • Anchor Brewery tour
  • Gregoire (potato puffs)
  • Kasuga (on San Pablo in Albany)
  • Sushi House (on Park in Alameda)
  • Rudy’s Can’t Fill Café
  • Zachary’s Pizza
  • Cha-am Thai
  • Kirin (Chinese on Solano)
  • The Great Wall
  • The Holy Land
  • Cha-ya (vegan sushi)
  • Vanessa’s Bistro (Vietnamese on Solano)

List of Food Places, courtesy of my PhD friend:

Easy Bay Restaurants:

  • Grayson’s, Berkeley – Best chicken/waffle in the east bay. Most everything they do is pretty good (fries are great). I have been back countless times. Very reasonably priced for the quality of the food.
  • Ruen Pain, Berkeley – Probably the best Thai in Berkeley. Order spicy and it’s good. Order Thai spicy and get no sympathy from me (they literally have told me that most brave Indians get teary-eyed with Thai spicy). The hottest I can handle here is medium Thai spicy.
  • Downtown, Berkeley – Have never eaten here. Heard the food is not that good. Stopped by for cocktails once – they have a great bar and great bartenders. They’ve been closed for remodeling for a while, not sure if/when that will change.
  • Casa Latina, Berkeley – Good carnitas (taco or burrito). They are mainly a bakery for Mexican style cakes/cookies. Their torta sandwiches the best, they are very good.
  • Picante, Berkeley – Most of what they do is good, authentic (sometimes a hard combination to find in Berkeley). I prefer their manchamanteles (sweet mole with chicken), azteca soup, carnitas plate.
  • Kabana, Berkeley – Pakistani/northern Indian, and wow, so delicious. Their chicken karahi is amazing. I have enjoyed most everything here. I tend to avoid the veggie dishes. Besides chicken karahi, I recommend the ginger chicken and the chicken tikka (clay oven baked chicken on a skewer).
  • Vik’s, Berkeley – Like Kabana, people come from all around to eat here. Vik’s is southern Indian (like Udupi Palace) and is “fast food” as my friend Murali would say. It was one of his favorite places, and now it’s one of mine. I stole it.
  • Monte Cristo Taqueria, Berkeley – Their main advantage is that they are usually open until 11pm or midnight. Better than average taqueria. I tend to stick to the burritos.
  • Chez Panisse, Berkeley – Alice Waters’ place. One of the best restaurants in the bay area and produces a good number of chefs willing to open their own places. If you haven’t been, well, you should go at least once before you leave.
  • Wally’s Café, Emeryville – One of my favorites, have certainly lost track of how many times I’ve been there. Mediterranean/Lebanese cuisine and he’s such a nice guy! Amazing complimentary lentil soup and his baklava is the best I’ve tasted in the bay area. His café is the highest rated restaurant in the east bay on Yelp for a reason. Short draft beers from the bar next door are only $3.
  • Rikyu, Oakland – Small, sushi place. Owner/sushi chef is nice, he used to work at Kirala (I’ve never been but it’s one of the more popular sushi places in Berkeley). A little pricey, but quality is good.
  • Bakesale Betty’s, Oakland – Probably the best fried chicken sandwich in the east bay. In fact, fried chicken sandwich is all they really do.
  • Pizzaiolo, Oakland – This place was started by a Chez Panisse veteran and they do Neopolitan style pizza. The crusts are awesome as are most of the combinations of ingredients for the pizza. I’ve been told that their other dishes are good (and I know most of their appetizers are good), but I always go back for the pizza. They also have a very nice bar. Oh, it’s also a good date place.
  • Boot and Shoe Service, Oakland – Opened by the same guy who owns Pizzaiolo. Pizzas are just as good, sometimes more creative. Drinks are awesome. It is a stripped down version of Pizzaiolo, not as uppity a crowd. I liked it a lot.
  • Shan Dong, Oakland – Good dumpling place in downtown Oakland/Chinatown. I like the place and have been back a number of times.
  • Spices! 3 – Spicy Taiwanese food. Has replaced Great Szechuan in the 99 Ranch plaza as my go-to spicy Chinese/Taiwanese place (Great Szechuan used to be a good place that just went downhill, so sad).

San Francisco Restaurants:

  • Slow Club, SF – excellent food and great cocktails for the price. Cuisine is “Americana”. Appetizers are almost always great. They have the best burger in the bay area (not just my opinion!) and excellent fries.
  • The Alembic, SF – Mainly a bar with amazing bartenders and cocktails (their cocktails were once profiled in the NY Times). They also do small plates – some of them very well. It’s in the Haight, but worth the trip.
  • La Taqueria, SF – 24th or 25th and Mission. Simple taqueria, but one of the better tasting ones.
  • Oola, SF – Fairly decent food, bonus is that the kitchen is open late.
  • Nopa, SF – another trendy place where the kitchen is open late.
  • Katana-ya, SF – Probably has some of the better Ramen in SF/bay area. Not as good as ramen in New York City (or, obviously, Japan).
  • A-16, SF – This place had some absolutely amazing pizza (my favorite margherita pizza outside of Two Amy’s in Washington, D.C.). Their head chef, Applebaum (sp?), won a James Beard award, then left within about a year and headed to New York City to make a name for himself. He then proceeded to bash SF diners by saying that they’re “so easy to please, put some tripe on a plate, call it organic and sustainable, and they lap it up”.
  • Gialina, SF – some of the best (and voted the best by critics) neopolitan style pizza in SF. Their traditional margherita is very, very good, but I like A-16’s more (back when Apelbaum was their head chef). Their other pizzas are excellent and the crust is surprisingly good considering they don’t have a true wood burning brick oven.
  • Russian Family Bistro, San Bruno – The best Russian/eastern European food in the bay area. Okay, I’m not an expert, but the guy is super nice and friendly and others who are experts go here. His wife makes most of the dishes from scratch. Definitely worth the trip to San Bruno, he infuses some of his own vodkas, but be prepared for a long dinner (she does make it from scratch…).
  • Boulevard, San Francisco – Obvious choice to include on the list (Michelin star). Some dishes come across as hit or miss at their prices. Service has always been good. Very good cocktails.
  • Luce, San Francisco – Hard to imagine they got a Michelin star. I guess the critic got some of the best dishes that night. Overall, the food is really good, drinks from Bar888 are really good. The service, however, is not Michelin star worthy.

For dessert:

  • Mission Pie, SF – 25th and Mission. This place makes great pie. I believe it started as an alternative after school program for inner city youth. Sustainably sourced ingredients (so they say). I don’t usually like banana crème pie, but I always get it at Mission Pie.
  • Bi-Rite Ice Cream, SF – probably the best (or some of the best) ice cream in SF.
  • Tartine
  • Citizen Cake