Best Restaurant: Chez Panisse
Whether you’re climbing the wooden steps to the treehouselike cafe, or stepping into the elegant yet modest dining room below, Chez Panisse will provide you a meal to remember. With a constantly changing menu of organic, locally-grown ingredients, the historical restaurant tucked inside the Gourmet Ghetto has offered California cuisine of the highest tier for over 40 years. Think hand-cut pasta with braised Monterey Bay squid, or spit-roasted Llano Seco pork loin with wild fennel and roasted turnips, if you want just the tiniest taste of what April’s menu looks like.
Although the Alice Waters initiative was named “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet Magazine in 2001, its sparkle in the foodie universe has since been dimming, resulting in the loss of its Michelin star in 2010. This May, however, the next generation of culinary experts assume the restaurant’s head chef hats. Despite this transition, there is no doubt that Chez Panisse will continue to satisfy taste buds with more nuanced flavors and culinary class than any other restaurant in Berkeley.
— Sarah Burke
Best Indian Cuisine: House of Curries
Exquisite Indian food is full of flavor and spice. House of Curries does Indian simple and does it right. The menu features a wide collection of curries with lamb, chicken and prawn as centerpieces and vegetarian options that are just as good.
The chicken tikka masala is a favorite with students and the vindaloo, both chicken and lamb, although a little more on the spicy side, is a close second. House of Curries also offers a good selection of tandoori along with kebabs. To accompany the main dish, you can buy a side of naan, and it comes out of the oven wonderfully soft and crunchy. (The garlic naan is highly recommended.)
And to top off the meal, the mango lassi is an icy yogurt drink that provides a delicate counterpoint to the spicy Indian flavors. Inside the restaurant, the lighting is dark, but adds to its atmosphere as a casual, self-serve affair, perfect for a quick meal with friends. If the curries are not tempting enough, free chai with any meal should give that extra push to get you in the door.
— Kelly Fang
Best Italian Cuisine: Gypsy’s
Perennial favorite Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiano is once again king of Italian in Berkeley, and for good reason.
The Asian Ghetto stalwart is as dependable as ever, providing tasty pasta, topping-filled pizza and calzones the size of half a human head to students on a budget. And even though a giant calzone might seem like it would be a heavy brick of food, the ones at Gypsy’s feel almost delicate — mozzarella, ricotta cheese and either pesto or tomato sauce are layered around meat and veggies, and this is all enveloped in a thin, crisp pizza crust pocket.
Just as consistent in the restaurant are the strip mall diner decor and order numbers called out over loudspeaker, but patrons know not to expect fine dining at this fan favorite. One factor that could have dethroned Gypsy’s this year is an increase in prices — a combo with an entree, a salad and a drink is about a dollar more expensive than it was in the fall — but the restaurant’s quality and quickness kept it on top for yet another year.
— Christopher Yee
Best Japanese Cuisine: Joshu-ya
Joshu-ya Sushi Brasserie is a little gem packed into the world of Berkeley cuisine. The eatery is nestled in just below Telegraph Avenue, a small wooden frame with an adorable outside eating space, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of Berkeley and glowing within a rim of strung-up outdoor lights. Inside, Joshu-ya is cozy, and sitting by the big circular, vine-curled window is entirely conducive to the start of the sushi consumption process.
The food at Joshu-ya is inspired by flavors from around the world, concentrated foremost into sushi and tapas. Tapas, you may ask? Yes, Joshu-ya serves California and New York-style tapas with a Japanese influence, giving a kick of oriental flavor to dishes that never saw it coming. And yet somehow it works. Joshu-ya cuisine is a treat. The foods are finely crafted and experimental, with a freshness that is overwhelmingly tasty. While it may be pricier than its fellow Berkeley sushi hubs, the extra few dollars is easily worth it. Where else can a connoisseur find sushi rolls inspired by Disney favorites such as “The Lion King?”
— Hannah Levy
Best Thai Cusine: Thai Basil
Cash in your wallet? That means one of two things: strip club or Thai Basil. If choosing the latter, be prepared for long lines and hilariously slow service. And to be honest, Thai Basil is pretty average. Scrolling through the Yelp reviews of Thai Basil, most of them sound like juvenile insults for somebody’s mother. Most of them contain the words “quick,” “easy” or “cheap.”
But that’s just what sets Thai Basil apart from the competition: the proximity to campus, the bustle and the cost all draw college students like flies to honey. For Cal students, Thai Basil has become a sort of comfort food. Most regulars of the Asian Ghetto landmark order the same exact dish every time, knowing that it will be a lot of food and completely edible.
Don’t go if you want to impress your dinner companion or want to go out on a culinary limb. My only advice for Thai Basil? Stop playing Animal Planet on the big screen. I don’t wanna see an antelope get taken down while I’m enjoying my pad see ew.
— Taryn Erhardt
Best Vegetarian Cuisine: Saturn Cafe
Vegetarian food has the unfortunate connotation that it must be exclusively healthy. Being vegetarian, I can attest to the fact that I have days where I don’t want a salad, dammit, I want something deep-fried. For like-minded vegans or vegetarians, Saturn Cafe is a rockabilly oasis just for such cravings. Vegetarians, pay attention: You can eat everything on the menu. Not just salads or tofu, no bland pasta dishes that you could have made yourself. Here, laid out in front of you is an entire menu where you don’t have to look for the little green “v” beside the item descriptions. Vegans, too, have a large array of options. The best part? Most of it is gloriously, deliciously unhealthy. Burgers, shakes, deep-fried ex-vegetables all take center stage. Seriously invested carnivores can even (begrudgingly) enjoy the cleverly disguised soy products purveyed by Saturn Cafe. As if the food isn’t enough of a draw, the adorable, bespectacled waiters and waitresses certainly are. Finally, you can convince yourself that being vegetarian may not have been the worst mistake you’ve ever made.
— Taryn Erhardt