The bay area is nationally recognized for great food, and Berkeley has a TON of great food without the SF prices. I didn’t gain an appreciation for good food until my time at Cal. During my final two years my roommate had a mentor, and every week the mentor would treat him to a good dinner. Occasionally, I would be invited to tag along; being a poor college student I’d jump at the opportunity for a free meal. With the mentor also being a Cal grad, and having lived in the area a long time, he knew plenty of great restaurants. After I graduated, I stayed in the area and continued trying new restaurants and enjoying what Berkeley has to offer. Now that I’m moving away, I’ve decided to pass on some of the knowledge I’ve collected over the past 6 years.
Below are the 10 restaurants I will miss most. My opinions don’t reflect which restaurants I think have the best food, but rather which I will miss most and is determined primarily by a combination of food, atmosphere, and cost. For the students out there, I intentionally excluded the Durant/Telegraph portion of Berkeley. I ate there many times as a student, this isn’t a knock on student food, but I wanted to expose the CGB populous (and specifically students) to the variety of excellent options available.
10. Fonda: Located on Solano Street. Fonda is a tapas restaurant with great food and a great atmosphere. The duck tacos are simply amazing as are the steak skirts. The wait is about 15 minutes and parking can be difficult, but the drink menu more than makes up for it. Thick and varied, it includes flights of tequila, whiskey, and rum to complement a lengthy and assorted specialty drink menu. The drinks appeal to both men and women, FYI stay away from the drink with the egg whites. The one knock on Fonda is the price. As with most tapas places, the price of beverages and foods easily escalate, Fonda is toads an expensive place.
9. Baywolf: Located in the Piedmont area. Baywolf is definitely a high-class restaurant. You don’t have to dress up, but the entrees generally run around $25. I had the roasted duck, and it was breathtaking. I think it was the best entrée I’ve ever had. Succulent and moist it drooled with flavor. Baywolf also has a good wine list, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of the wines I’ve tried. I also had an incredible salad once there. It had apples, honey, gorgonzola, and feta cheeses, pure deliciousness.
8. Kirala: Located at Shattuck and Adeline. Kirala is a sushi place, and it is on my list. Since you don’t know me, let me enlighten you on something, I do not like seafood, AT ALL. I don’t know why, but I just don’t have a palette that takes to seafood. Yes, I’ve tried it, again and again. I’ve tried cheap places and I’ve tried expensive places, it doesn’t make a difference, I don’t like it. That said, a sushi place has made my list (that should say a lot about the place). The sake is delicious and they have multiple options. My friends all love the sushi and routinely rack up a large sushi bill. I myself, enjoy the ginger beef. The beef is extremely tender, and the mild hints of ginger complement it well. I would give an approximate price, but we always get way too much sake, and my friends always overeat on the sushi. I would guess it breaks down to about $25 a person.
7. Cacao Café: Located at 7th and Heinz. There is some uncertainty with Cacao Café as they are connected to a chocolate factory which recently went out of business. Cacao Café is only open for lunch and breakfast, either is delicious, but I tend to go for the brunch. They have a wide selection of egg dishes, as well as their patented chocolate banana pancakes. I prefer the French toast with seasonal fruit. Parking is a breeze, and the waits are difficult to predict. They also have a nice spectrum of beverages to choose from. Cost of a breakfast for two is about $25.
6. Pyramid Brewery: Located at 7th and Gilman. Pyramid is the only place on my list where I don’t rave about the food; though my friend’s all love it. Instead, Pyramid is just a fun place. They have a large main space with TV’s all around so you can watch the game. They have a bar, but this isn’t a pub or bar that also serves food, it is definitely a restaurant. The menu changes, but they have pizza, ribs, burgers, and some seafood (if you are so inclined). They also have some tasty wings, the only thing I would not recommend is the Mac and Cheese, it was very blah. The best part about Pyramid is it is a brewery. They have a wide selection of beers, including some seasonal beers. I greatly enjoy the Pyramid Hef or the Curve Ball; they also have drinks to appeal to women. My girlfriend for example loves the ciders and Hefenaid which is part Hef and part lemonade. They also have tours of the brewery if you are interested, and show movies outside in the parking lot during the summer. I had most of my post-season soccer parties here and it worked out well. I’ve always wanted to watch a Cal football game here, but the one time I gathered a group of people, Pyramid was experiencing a black out. Prices are reasonable, my girlfriend and I go a lot with another couple, and when we pay it usually works out to $55-65 per person, and includes alcohol for the four of us.
5. T-Rex: Located at 8th and Gilman. T-Rex is a very nice restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere. It is also more expensive, but I believe the food is worth it. As the name suggests T-Rex specializes in meat, and it does have an assortment. I have been about five times and though I don’t remember any specific entrée, I have always left with thoroughly ecstatic taste buds. Portions are large, but the entrées don’t come with sides, you have to select them, driving the cost up. T-Rex also has a great drink menu. It doesn’t have the selection of Fonda’s, but it does have quality. My friend and I went to celebrate our birthday (we are a week apart) and we ordered every drink on the menu. There wasn’t a bad beverage. Again, T-Rex tends to be expensive and the drink menu reflects this as the average drink is about $9.00. I took my girlfriend there for our 6 month anniversary, we each had several drinks, entrées and a gluttony of sides, the total cost was $100 (we were also celebrating, you could probably get away with $35 a head). On a side note, they have a pretty decent brunch, and have an upstairs loft space complete with bar, comfy chairs, and tv’s. During the previously mentioned anniversary my girlfriend and I were engaged in conversation when we heard a sudden uproar from that section of the restaurant, Graham Harrell had just completed a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree in the final seconds to knock off Texas.
4. Jupiter’s: Located at Shattuck and Center. I love Jupiter’s. It has great atmosphere, great beer, and some pretty good pizza. The inside is outfitted with large tables great for social occasions, but the real gem within Jupiter’s is the back patio. If you live in Berkeley you absolutely HAVE to have a happy hour on their back patio on some warm summer day. On cooler days or at night they have heat lamps and a fireplace to lounge around. Sometimes they have live music, which I don’t care much for as I’d rather talk to who I’m with than listen to some mediocre band. Jupiter is owned and operated by the Pyramid Brewery, therefore share most of the same selection of yummy beer. The pizzas are great, run about $13.00 a pop, and are usually large enough for two people. Also, the pizzas aren’t your standard cheese, or pepperoni, they are gourmet pizzas with an odd assemblage of toppings in the mold of CPK. On the warmer days it can get busy, and you may have to wait for a table, particularly outside. If you are outside, look for Jupiter.
3. Dopo: Located in the Piedmont area. Dopo is a traditional gourmet Italian pizza place. It is intimate and small, and has amazing pizza. Dopo has by far the best pizza of any place around (cheeseboard, Zachary, west coast, Jupiter). It is thin crust, meaning one pizza usually suffices for one person. They also serve other items like pasta and seafood, but I have never tried them as I’m hooked on the pizza. The atmosphere is nice, and I’d wear pants, and a shirt without holes. My favorite part of Dopo is the wine. It is all from Italy, and it is AMAZING, my taste buds are salivating just thinking about it. I generally ask the waiters for their recommendations and I have never been disappointed. The problem is the wait. It is made better by the fact that the host will serve you wine while you wait, and offer blankets to stay warm on colder nights. Parking can also be a challenge. For the quality of the food, it is reasonably priced; a pizza will run about $12.00; however the wine will run about $10-15.00 a glass (It is toads worth it). The tables are smaller and more intimate, and I would not recommend a party greater than four. Dopo is also a great date place.
2. La Note: Located at Shattuck and Channing. La Note brunch is fabulous; I go at least twice a month. Everyone I take becomes addicted. I always order the cote est, which comes with oatmeal raspberry pancakes, two eggs, and home fries/bacon. It is more than enough, and each of the flavors complements the other extremely well. The other foods include Lemon Pancakes, a bunch of omelets, and some standard breakfast dishes like fruit, cereal, etc. It is all delicious, but I always get the cote est with oatmeal raspberry pancakes. Much like Jupiter, La Note has a great patio area, so if you are there some warm summer morning I would definitely recommend it. The problem with La Note is that it isn’t much of a secret, and if you don’t get there before 10:00 you should plan on waiting 45 minutes to an hour. I generally give my name and walk next door to Pegasus books and browse. The cost for two people is usually around $30.00.
1. Gregoire’s: Located at Shattuck and Cedar in the gourmet ghetto.
I love Gregoire’s and have raved about them previously. When my girlfriend first came out to Berkeley, Gregoire’s was the first place we went to. The food is extraordinary. We generally order two entrées (meat and fowl) a side of potato puffs, and a desert. The entrées run between $13.00-16.00, with the sides potato puffs being $4.50. The desert’s I don’t care much for, but the other items are great. Gregoire’s is a take-out place, so there is no seating. When my girlfriend came out, we went to Gregoire’s placed our order, went across the street to Andronico’s picked up a bottle of wine, picked up our food, went to my place, and had a marvelous evening. The food is unique, rich with flavor, and always a delight. I thoroughly recommend Gregoire’s and think everyone in Berkeley should try it. Even if you are a starving college student, find some people and treat yourself.
These are my favorites, what are yours? Do you agree or disagree with any of these? I’m curious to know and am always seeking great new eats? If you want to know more about any of these let me know, I’ll do my best. And remember, when it comes to food, there is no right or wrong, it is all completely dependent on your own tastes.