Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bon Appetit: My Favorite Restaurants in Berkeley

I haven't done a food post in a long time, so I thought I'd share my list of my favorite restaurants in the Berkeley area. I’m “mostly” vegetarian and all of these places have at least some selection of veggie entrees. If you live in the East Bay, let me know if you have any good places to add to the list. There are lots more, I know, and I'm always interested in trying new places! If you plan to visit, you can’t go wrong with any of these restaurants. Just be sure to invite me along.


Ajanta at 1888 Solano Avenue

Elegant Indian cuisine with subtle sauces. The menu changes monthly and it’s always good. Lots of choices for vegetarians. I love the cashew naan and silky kofta entrees. Tandoori asparagus is nice, too.

Breads of India at 2448 Sacramento Street in Berkeley or 948 Clay Street in Oakland

Appropriately, the breads are exquisite! The portions are large though, so I usually bring my own containers for leftovers, especially if you get the sampler platter.

Café Raj at 1158 Solano

More down-home Indian fare than Ajanta, the portions are large, but if you order take-out, check your order carefully. They often get it wrong. The papadam are as large as platters. Somehow this feels like a dinner at your Indian grandma’s.

Udupi Palace at 1901 University (cross MLK)

South Indian vegetarian cuisine with low prices and large servings. My husband and I split a Mini Thali, which is a sampler of lots of dishes in small silver bowls on a tray, and order extra bread, but the dosai crepes and curries are also great.


Picante at 1328 Sixth Street

Started by Chez Panisse graduates (what restaurant in Berkeley isn’t?) this is fast food at its very best. You order at the counter and they bring it to your table. Guacamole is great as are the tacos, platos and chicken soup. You can have brunch here, too. Family friendly.

Juan’s at 941 Carleton Street

A classic Mexican restaurant without a hint of foodie pretension, it’s tasty and filling. I like the cheese enchiladas with green sauce, but the mole is good, too.

Tacubaya at 1788 Fourth Street (near The Pasta Shop)

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you order at a counter but the food is sit-down good. I really enjoyed the quesadillas de verdures filled with onions, kabocha squash and topped with salsa and pomegranate seeds.

Taqueria Talavera at 1881 Solano

Counter service, but the food is definitely worth going for. Hours can be arbitrary though.


Norikonoko at 2556 Telegraph (in the same complex as Fondue Fred’s)

A very authentic mom-and-pop place, if a bit more expensive than some other restaurants. The noodles, curry and grilled foods are delicious and they serve special Japanese New Year’s dishes during the first few days of the year. A meal here really is like a short trip to Japan.

Ochame at 1830 Fourth Street

California-style Japanese, but the steamed rice is the best anywhere and the noodles are special, buckwheat soba or white flour udon topped with roasted oysters, smoked trout, or tofu skins and spinach. The salmon carry-out bento are wonderful.

Tachibana at 5812 College (near the bread store)

A good place to go for sushi or a small-dishes meal. Order a bunch of sides and share them, Japanese style. We like the tofu (either yudofu or age-dashi tofu) anything form the robata grill and the ume-shiso sushi.

Suzu (in San Francisco’s Japantown) at 1581 Webster in the mall near Post

Just thought I’d add this because it’s my favorite noodle shop in the city. Moderately priced, and crowded at lunch, so go early if you can. The veggie noodles are delish!

Cha-ya at 1686 Shattuck

Japanese vegan cuisine--does that sound bland? Don’t be fooled, this place is wonderful and makes you feel very healthy as well as satisfying your foodie urges. Order a variety of dishes, including salads, small sides, and vegan sushi, and share. The place is very small, but since I like it, I’ll call it intimate, instead.


Soi Four Bangkok Eatery at 5421 College

The fanciest of the group, it can get a little loud, but the tofu with cashews and curries are wonderful and the mango with sticky rice the best.

Tuk-Tuk Thai Cafe at 2468 Shattuck and Haste

Very reasonably priced, the som tum papaya salad is the best in town and other dishes have a homestyle heartiness that doesn’t disappoint. There's an actual tuk-tuk inside for the kids to play on.

Sabuy, Sabuy II at 1233 San Pablo in Albany

We’re not sure why this restaurant isn’t more crowded because the food is great and very authentic and the service wonderful. We like the steamed vegetable salad (which you usually have to request), but the ginger salad is great, too. As are all of the stir fries, curries and pad thai. Sometimes you'll get a complimentary ice cream--or maybe that's just if you bring cute kids along?

Sweet Basil at 1736 Solano

This is where I go with my writing buddy to critique stories. If you like what you read of my work, you may want to seek the same sustenance. We always order the crunchy tofu with cashews and sweet onions. The kang tofu (with green curry), egg rolls, and snowpea shoots with mushrooms are other inspiring literary lady favorites.


A Cote at 5478 College Avenue in Oakland

An eclectic, small plates restaurant that lets you pick and choose from around the world for a tasty meal. If you can, sit outside under the tent. I like the Middle-Eastern inspired dishes, the cheese plates and the desserts.

Angeline’s at 2261 Shattuck

A place for New Orleans cuisine, it has all the standards plus a nice vegetarian mushroom jambalaya. Save room for pecan pie, beignets or banana bread pudding for dessert.

Cesar at 1515 Shattuck

Go at lunch if you want to hear your companion, otherwise the scene is noisy. But the food is always a great selection of tapas which changes daily. You’ll feel very cool as you sip wine and share a bocadillo. Started by another Chez Panisse graduate.

Chez Panisse Café at 1517 Shattuck

This place is the beating heart of California cuisine. The room is craftsmen chic, the food is always seasonal and delicious. Save room for dessert—always. I like upstairs because you can choose your menu, but once a year of so, the prix fixe downstairs is worth the splurge (although strict vegetarians will want to skip it).

Lalime’s at 1329 Gilman

Cheaper than Chez Panisse and almost as good, this restaurant always has an interesting veggie entrée. They are very respectful if you bring your own good bottle of wine. They also have monthly special dinners.

Riva Cucina at 800 Heinz Avenue

Tucked away down a side street near Magic Gardens, this quiet Italian place has excellent pasta and a nice wine list.


Pizzaiolo at 5008 Telegraph, Oakland

Ethereally thin, crispy wood-fired pizza by Chez Panisse alum. This place is definitely worth a visit. From the bread basket to desserts, it’s all a cut above in an area where everything is already pretty good.

Gioia at 1586 Hopkins

This is for takeout or bare bones counter seating, but the super thin crust pizza with fresh toppings is reminiscent of Rome and a nice change from the usual. The selections are limited to five or six varieties per day.

Zachary’s at 1853 Solano

Hearty Chicago-style pizza. The spinach and mushroom deep dish is superb, the thin crust is nice too, with a dusting of corn meal. I like the Mediterranean pizza olives, artichokes and feta.


Rick and Ann’s at 2922 Domingo near the Claremont

Our favorite place for a celebration brunch. The pancakes and scones are wonderful and change daily. The Claremont hotel is across the street and adds nice scenery to a great meal.

Café Fanny at 1603 San Pablo and Cedar

Unless it’s a sunny day, outside seating is chilly, but the café au lait in bowls, buckwheat crepes, poached eggs with baguette and oatmeal make you feel very Continental. The millet muffins and beignets are good, too. Also open for lunch. A sister restaurant of Chez Panisse.

Fat Apples at 1346 MLK and Rose

A great, all-American restaurant. Eggs, pumpkin or buttermilk pancakes, oatmeal, it’s all good. Cranberry oatmeal scones and almond pastries are Berkeley classics. The coffee is super strong and makes Peet’s seem weak. For lunch or dinner, the burgers and chili and salads are satisfying.

Café Intermezzo at 2442 Telegraph and Haste

The Veggie Delite, with no sprouts and herbal vinaigrette on the side is simply the best salad on earth. I get one for my birthday every year and I need nothing else to celebrate. I try to get one as often as possible at other times of the year, too. One is good to split and it comes with sweet honey whole wheat bread.

900 Grayson at, you guessed it, 900 Grayson

A good place to go for a dainty, upscale and very urban cool brunch.


Pyung Chang Tofu Soft House at 4071 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

Like most Korean restaurants, it has lots of meat dishes, but the Vegetarian Soon tofu is fabulous. The meal starts with a feast of small dishes filled with interesting tidbits like kimchee, spicy green beans and savory boiled potatoes, then comes the entrée with rice cooked in a stone pot. The rice is DIVINE, smoky and complex, just like imagine it tasted in the old days when great-grandma cooked over wood fires. Most of your fellow diners will be Korean—always a good sign!

Kirin, Cuisine of Northern China at 1767 Solano

Our local Chinese takeout joint happens to be an upscale place suitable for company and celebrations. The crab noodles are especially delicious, but everything is good—Mu Shu, Kung Pao shrimp or tofu, Spicy Eggplant. Even the fortune cookies are good.

Bui at 1647 Solano

The fancy food presentation and low lighting make this a good date restaurant, but fortunately the Vietnamese food is also very good, although the menu is more limited than most Asian restaurants.


Maryanne Stahl said...

Oh my!!!!

I can not POSSIBLY choose, so I will have to insist you come along and decide.

well, OK, one thing I want to try is something italian or pizza because, well, I'm an Italian from New York and I live in the Deep South. enough said?

oh and banana bread pudding!

Maryanne Stahl said...

oh--I have to ask...have you posted any of these on Yelp? and if not, would you?

Donna said...

Gioia for lunch or Pizzaiola for dinner. Both are wonderful. And banana bread pudding--actually "Bananas Foster Bread Pudding"--is pretty hard to resist. I should probably do a special dessert list, too!

I haven't done Yelp, but I should, shouldn't I? I use it for my own research....

Craig Sorensen said...

Okay, that settles it.

I'm moving to the bay area.

It all sounds so good, and what wondrous variety.

Donna said...

Come visit, Craig! How many days would it take to eat at all of these places, breakfast, lunch and dinner? That would be a vacation to remember.