We love our Berkeley — its history of social movements, gorgeous views of the Bay, eccentric characters on Telegraph. Published each year, the Best of Berkeley issue captures how fortunate we are to live in one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich cities; it invites us to taste, learn and live Berkeley.
Each day the Daily Californian publishes information and opinions, but it is this time of year when we ask something of you. From April 1 to April 8, thousands of you voted on your favorite pizza place, coffee joint, hook-up spot, professor, bookstore and 34 other categories from a list of nominees composed by the Daily Cal staff. Here, we present the winners — your winners.
Sometimes, I try to quit drinking coffee, but then I remember that Philz exists, and I stop my nonsense. A cup of Philz coffee is more than just a morning pick-me-up; it’s a coffee-lover’s dream. Since 2003, Philz Coffee has been serving up its one-of-a-kind brew to the Bay Area, starting in San Francisco and coming to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto in 2010. With brews like “Tantalizing Turkish” and “Ambrosia Coffee of God,” deciding on a cup can be just as much fun as the joe itself. If the overabundance of choice stresses you out, don’t worry. The baristas offer a personalized experience, helping customers pick the perfect roast and flavor and adding cream and sugar until the drink is just right.
Customer favorites include the Tesora, the Ginger Snap and the Iced Mint Mojito, which blends coffee, cream and fresh mint leaves into an indulgent coffee cocktail that puts Starbucks to shame.
The lines tend to be long, and a single cup of coffee will cost you $3 or more, but if you bring your own mug, Philz will fill it up for the price of a small coffee. For students, the tables in the back of the shop make for a great study and workspace.
— Grace Lovio
From almond to peach, taro to mango, honeydew to strawberry, Sweetheart Cafe’s milk teas delight your taste buds.
There are over 130 varieties of tea to appease every sweet craving. Plus, the service is quick. At $1.79, boba milk tea is also quite affordable. If you are not up for the plump, firm and super chewy texture of boba pearl, the avocado shake is one of their more popular selections and will satisfy your non-boba craving.
Besides tea, the shop also has light snacks. For the daring, there is deep-fried squid to satisfy the salt fix. Adding a hint of chili powder makes it a slightly spicy treat. Also, the two for $1 eggroll can be shared with a sweetheart (or a friend).
— Amabelle Ocampo
In this food fight, Berkeley Bowl emerged victorious. Its bulk section is unrivaled. Its produce offerings are second to none. And if you’re savvy, you just might snatch up a bag of 10 slightly bruised but perfectly edible champagne mangos for a dollar.
Into the Food Movement? Berkeley Bowl is into you. Its regional, organic options are enough to make any locavore swoon. It’s a community affair, after all — you won’t find a Berkeley Bowl outside of city limits. When you want to provide the best, you keep close to home.
The Bowl provides food proudly but humbly. For consistently good ingredients, Berkeley Bowl takes the cake — and the bulk, produce, meat and dairy sections to boot.
— Natalia Reyes
Even at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, we can’t turn down a breather involving pizza and beer. There’s an adage that claims, “Sex is like pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good,” and judging from the cacophony of Natty Ice being shotgunned on frat row, the same can be said for beer. Jupiter, on the other hand, does both pretty damn well.
Its pizzas come out piping-hot from its wood-burning brick ovens with just the right amount of crisp in the crust. The restaurant offers beer that’s made in-house as well as guest brews that change monthly. Day drinkers rejoice — the garden is your haven. When the sun goes down, there’s a heated patio with live music being played each day from Wednesday to Saturday. With its prime location on Shattuck, it’s in stumbling distance of movie theaters, restaurants and several other bars (when beer isn’t adequate).
— Ephraim Lee
As most food-lovers will tell you, homemade is where the heart is. Ici, the artisanal ice cream parlor located in Berkeley’s upscale Elmwood neighborhood, is no exception. With flavors made on the premises and delicious hand-rolled cones, Ici (which gives off a Laduree vibe minus the Parisian snobbery) puts a gourmet twist on your classic frozen dessert shop.
Owner Mary Canales, who previously worked as Chez Panisse’s pastry chef, ensures all ingredients are bought from local producers, putting special emphasis on organic dairy and seasonal bounty.
This attention to quality ice cream yields a menu that is as diverse as it is unexpected. Flavors include Earl Grey and honey thyme, but for those who are more traditional ice cream lovers, classic chocolate and vanilla are also offered.
Though the line often extends down College Avenue, these frozen indulgences are worth the wait. Ici provides Berkeley residents with the most tasteful answer to, “What’s the scoop?”
— Addy Bhasin
Finding delicious vegan options when dining out can be tough. Most restaurants offer only a modest vegetarian menu, with maybe one option that can be made completely vegan. Enter Saturn Cafe. With its retro decor, lively music and an array of classic American comfort dishes, it’s sometimes hard to believe that its 100% vegetarian. Almost all of their fare can be made vegan, from vegan cheese burgers complete with soy cheese, to delicious mint chocolate chip vegan shakes. Saturn also boasts a growing soy-free and gluten-free menu, which makes it the perfect spot for friends of all dietary guidelines. Even if you eat meat and dairy, delve into Saturn’s large menu and experiment with foods you’ve never thought could be made vegan.
— Carli Baker
For years, Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana has been a staple for UC Berkeley students, offering hearty Italian food with relatively little strain on one’s time or wallet. The eatery boasts calzones comparable in size to human heads and rich pastas that can fill you for days. Fan favorites include the Crazy Alfredo: fettuccine packed with sausage, chicken and red peppers and doused in a generous helping of alfredo sauce. With every order comes a piece of garlic bread, which is quite literally roasted garlic on bread — customers either love or hate this Gypsy’s trademark. Much like other comfort foods, Gypsy’s flavors are not overdone: balanced combinations of cheese, tomato, garlic and various meats. And that is what makes Gypsy’s the best of Berkeley. It is the ultimate comfort food.
— Josie Yang
The unassuming decor at Lotus House maintains focus on the food and lots of it. Although Szechuan cooking is synonymous with mouth-searing flavor, don’t fear the house favorite, Szechuan beef noodle soup. It is a perfect amount of spice tempered in a savory broth with bok choy and green onion. The liberal amount of rich sauces used in most other dishes, like the Hong Kong-style chicken pan-fried noodle, will fill up your tummy and leave leftovers for later.
A separate menu had to be made just to highlight the various after-dinner dessert drinks. The regular milk tea with boba is a great introduction before one explores the many different cold and iced drinks. In the end, Lotus House is all about convenience. Fast service and inexpensive dishes make this location great for a quick bite after class or in between study sessions.
— Chase Schweitzer
Pedro wants you to love his tri-tip. The larger-than-life owner of Berkeley staple Brazil Cafe comes from around the corner of his colorful shack, introducing himself to you and your friends who are still fighting over where to eat lunch. He’s sporting his long gray hair and shades, doling out free samples of juicy meat dipped in his famous green garlic-cilantro sauce. The thing is, you don’t even need that free sample — one smell of the surrounding air, and you’re hooked. The obvious choice on the menu is “Pedro’s Favorite Tri-Tip Sandwich,” complete with the aromatic meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, pineapple, cheese, olives, jalapenos and that incredible garlic-cilantro sauce. There’s no better sandwich in Berkeley, and Pedro knows it.
— David Bradford
Right in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto, Cheese Board has become a Berkeley staple. Featuring a different kind of pizza every day (always vegetarian), Cheese Board provides pies that are fresh, unique and refined. At $20 for a whole pie, it is incredibly cheap for the quality delivered, and it is easily the most affordable restaurant in the Gourmet Ghetto. Never fear the long lines that seems to crowd the place; your order is usually ready within a couple of minutes.
The atmosphere captures the essence of Berkeley in one little store. Worker-owned and -operated, Cheese Board boasts cashiers who are always friendly, a diverse crowd and live music. The collective takes every perception of pizza as cheap, sloppy food and throws it out the window and, in turn, becomes a gateway for great food in Berkeley. Even with Sliver, opened by Cheeseboard alumni on Center, replicating the Cheese Board experience, our readers have shown that nothing can beat the original. What ultimately makes Cheese Board so great is neither the incredible pizza nor the lively atmosphere. It’s the only pizza place that feels embedded in Berkeley’s history, and that’s something none of the other nominees can quite achieve.
— Art Siriwatt
Pad thai, pineapple fried rice, pad see ew. Like most Thai restaurants, Thai Basil offers dishes typical to that country’s cuisine. Part of its success is probably due to the popularity of Thai dishes themselves. If you’re looking for that distinct flavor of chili with basil or coconut-milk curry, Thai Basil will satisfy your craving. Its quantities help make it readers’ favorite: One order lasts two meals, and the cooks don’t skimp on ingredients. Unlike places that heap on starches to make up for a lack of meat or seafood, Thai Basil heaps on everything! Be warned, however: Due to its Asian Ghetto location, seating is often difficult to find. Moreover, Thai Basil only accepts cash. Still, people looking for large amounts of quality Thai food on a lower budget continue to frequent the restaurant.
— Josie Yang
Fancy yourself a fervent falafel-o-phile? Frightened you’ll faint should you forfeit your feast of fava bean fritters? Fear not, friend, for you can feasibly find a falafel fix at Sunrise Deli.
Forsooth, I may be almost out of F-words, but I’m not faking when I say the sandwiches here are fantastic.
Served either in a lavash wrap or pita bread, the crispy falafel rounds are complemented by lettuce, tomatoes, pickled cabbage and the most perfect hummus I’ve ever tasted. If you’re feeling fancy, treat yo’self to the avocado sandwich. It’s my go-to.
Suffice it to say my fervor is so far from finite, I’ve fallen into a falafel fantasy.
— Jenny Sholar
No matter how many frat boys extol the virtues of Chipotle, Berkeley knows better: Gordo Taqueria truly does serve up the best burrito.
A burrito is a well-balanced yet portable meal. You’ve got beans (that’s protein), then meat (and cheese if you so choose), then pico de gallo and guacamole for your veggie intake. And your parents worry about you getting enough to eat.
You know what else you can get? Refried. Beans. Why do people get black beans when refried is an option? You go to Gordo for the authenticity, after all. Odds are you’re also reaching for the agua fresca. Refried beans are the glue that holds the rice and meat and tomatoes inside your burrito; they’re your insurance policy to a mess-free ride.
You don’t even need to use hands, people. Gordo burritos are so sturdy that, if you’re really lazy, you can just plop the foil-wrapped goodness on the table and graze like a cow. No judging here.
— Annie Gerlach
A good burger can be a lot of things. For some, it’s the most worthwhile way to cheat after trying out a strict diet. For others, it’s the perfect sponge for absorbing all of the Bacardi sitting in their stomachs after a Friday night. And to the rest, it can be a meal in itself, containing all of the essential food groups: meat, dairy, produce, grains and … mayonnaise. So it’s no surprise that Bongo Burger, with its generous helpings of meat and cheese served on a crnium-sized bun speckled with constellations of sesame seeds, won this year’s Best Burger. This well-known Berkeley eatery is also a delicious way to meet up with friends, hang out and people-watch through the giant storefront windows. With three mouthwatering locations — Dwight Way, Center Street and Euclid Avenue — no matter what side of campus you’re on, there’s always a Bongo Burger grilling nearby.
— Ryan Koehn
For a chilly, windy day in Berkeley — and God knows we have plenty of those — the perfect solution to your gloomy weather depression is a large, steaming bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup, for the culturally ignorant). Pho K&K, located on Telegraph in between Dwight and Parker, offers some pretty speedy service when it comes to the pho industry (if such an industry exists). If you know how you like your pho and what you want, Pho K&K makes things efficient for you — enter, sit down, order and within the next five to 10 minutes, you’re already eating. Plus, unlike some restaurants, these folks are never stingy when it comes to heaping on extra bean sprouts and lime. Pho yes.
— Lynn Yu
When you have a severe case of the drunchies or munchies (or both) and are stuck on frat row a couple of hours past midnight, a nice, sizzling-hot juicy sausage or hot dog can pretty much solve all of life’s problems. Featuring a wide selection of franks, there is something to please everyone, even vegetarians.
Each dog is served on a perfectly toasted french roll, and there’s always enough mustard, onions and sauerkraut to fit your condiment needs. Prices round to the nearest dollar, so there’s never change to deal with. And at only $3 a dog, you won’t find a huge dent in your wallet when you wake up the next morning wondering what happened. Top Dog closes at 3 a.m., and in my experience, if the line is too long, that just means you came too early.
— Art Siriwatt
In my house, brunch is synonymous with Ann’s Kitchen. On the corner of Dwight and Telegraph, Ann’s Kitchen, serving breakfast all day at a reasonable price, is hands-down the best hangover meal.
As you wait in the line that tends to go out the door during prime brunch hour, you have time to decide between cinnamon French toast, a three-egg omelet, grilled cheese, salad or a burger. Or you can get what my friend Kate tends to get: eggs, toast, homefries and pancakes. Three pancakes.
Central to the hangover brunch is sharing last night’s stories, discovering pictures on your phone and having an awkward “Did I meet you last night?” moment with someone across the restaurant. The fast and energetic pace of Ann’s Kitchen creates the perfect environment to laugh about all the wrong decisions you have made, including the three banana-chocolate-chip pancakes sitting in front of you.
— Anya Schultz
Joshu-ya Brasserie offers a trifold eating experience unmatched by other Japanese (and really most) restaurants in Berkeley: great-tasting food, high-quality ingredients and entirely appropriate pricing. The restaurant gives our town a glimmer of hope that we can uphold the Bay Area’s reputation for exceptional food while still remaining accessible to our hungry but stingy college demographic.
Situated just off Telegraph, the brasserie is centrally located but removed from the street’s divey eateries. Its menu — which changes seasonally — boasts unique Japanese-style tapas and standard sushi/sashimi selections, emphasizing freshness while forming a delicious fusion between traditional Asia and nontraditional California. And Joshu-ya’s subdued, comfortable atmosphere easily allows for scholarly conversation over good sake. Did I mention the fudge-brownie tempura ice cream? Have it.
— Claire Chiara
If addiction is a disease, I don’t want to be cured. Cinnaholic’s gourmet cinnamon rolls are indeed habit-forming. After a bite of one of the bun shop’s perfectly puffy and liberally iced pastry pinwheels, you may find yourself frequenting the Oxford Street storefront with astonishing regularity.
With a staggering selection of toppings — ranging from healthy fruit to sinful specialties like cookie dough and oatmeal pie crumble — and the even more impressive icing offerings — root beer and irish cream — how could you possibly stay away?
Even better: Everything on the menu is entirely vegan. So go ahead — indulge in that Oreo explosion roll. Cover that bun in brownie bits. You’ll be a cinnaholic in no time.
— Natalia Reyes
There’s a dearth of choices when it comes to Indian cuisine in Berkeley, but House of Curries remains at the top, and for good reason. Its menu is varied, and everything on it — from the spiciest of curries to the mildest options — is flavorful, well-seasoned and affordable. A student favorite is the chicken tikka masala, which is rich and one of the least spicy dishes. The freshly baked naan is a must-have to go along with the entree, especially to dip in the sauces. Also popular is the mango lassi, a cold drink made from yogurt, mango and spices. It’s sweet and refreshing, and it complements the flavorful dishes perfectly. The restaurant itself is informal but inviting, perfect for busy students who want a quick yet quality meal with friends.
— Kallie Plagge
To call Steve’s BBQ the best Korean restaurant in Berkeley is like calling Taco Bell the best Mexican restaurant in the United States, but we’ll allow it. Despite selling pseudo-Korean food in its comfy corner of Asian Ghetto, Steve’s does have perks that carved out a specific niche among the Berkeley community.
What Steve’s BBQ truly should be getting a Best of Berkeley for is “Best Post-Workout Food.” Ask for one of its grilled chicken, beef or spicy pork plates, and you shall receive a smorgasbord of meat, rice and pickled vegetables. Despite the restaurant’s imitation kimchi, the cornucopia of meat compensates for Steve’s botched attempt at the sacred food of the Korean people.
That’s where the charm of Steve’s lies: However much you may bemoan its quality and authenticity, it will win you over with its quantity.
— Seung Y. Lee