Best Pizza, Best Meal Under $5 and Best Bakery: Cheese Board Collective
It’s a Saturday afternoon. You’re hungry. You have little to no cash and you love cheese. Where do you go? You know the answer. It’s known by two glorious syllables: Cheese Board (formally, The Cheese Board Collective). Every weekend, I pass the vibrant scene at this gem of a restaurant on Berkeley’s Northside. Every weekend, after I purchase my boring groceries, I look over at the many youths sitting on the grass in front of Cheese Board — laughing, joking, listening to the wonderful live bands and eating finely-crafted pizza. I couldn’t be more jealous.
By any standard, Cheese Board should be a luxury. Just like their restaurant neighbor across the street, Chez Panisse, Cheese Board offers freshly-made food that varies from day to day. But despite their proximity, there couldn’t be a bigger difference between the $2.50-a-slice pricings at the cooperatively-owned pizza eatery and the high-priced dining of Chez Panisse. With a diverse selection of pizzas (with cheese and baked goods right next door), a carefree attitude and a democratic spirit, the Cheese Board Collective is the ethos of Berkeley — pizzafied.
— Jessica Pena
Best Late Night Food: La Burrita
La Burrita is my favorite late-night snack. With its fair prices, coupled with the glory that is the Wet Burrito, La Burrita has taken my heart. Although, as a vegetarian I can’t comment on the quality of the meat, I feel like La Burrita is the most consistent and enjoyable place near the Berkeley campus that’s open past 9 p.m.
Their chips are warm at all hours, and their salsa bar caresses the mouth’s senses with spice and flavor that represents all my love of salsa.
Outside of their food, La Burrita is also a great pick because of their speedy service, comfortable atmosphere and secret back patio in their Southside spot.
Another awesome thing about La Burrita is its convenient locations, one on Euclid for those that live on Northside, as well as across the street from the Asian Ghetto on Durant.
If you’re new to La Burrita, try their Super Burrito, or if burritos aren’t your dish of choice, La Burrita offers a variety of other things, from tostadas to quesadillas and even salads.
— Carli Baker
Oh, La Burrita, the canonical late night food spot. With all the numerous after-hours food locations on Durant, it’s a miracle that La Burrita manages to attract an audience. Perhaps it’s because most people who go there late are too intoxicated to notice the salsa has more water than spice, or maybe their munchies craving covers up the fact that their burrito lacks the usual enticing Mexican spices like cumin or hot peppers. It doesn’t matter though, because there is no justification powerful enough to masquerade La Burrita as a satisfactory restaurant.
A customer can expect the joys of flavorless ingredients and bland produce from any of the menu items. Their rice and beans taste like cylindrical nothings, merely there to give the tortilla shape. Even the flavored tortillas can’t save the dishes from their banal existence. As a last resort, perhaps you can douse your dish with the various salsas. Unfortunately, the result is a soggy, wet burrito, sans the delectable seasoning.
But hey, at least they can’t screw up the chips. Right?
— Ian Birnam
Best Sandwhich: Brazil Cafe
I’ve never been to the world-famous Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. I’ve never worn a feather headdress and I’ve never danced the samba with a tanned, exotic man. But I have eaten the tri-tip sandwich at Berkeley’s own Brazil Cafe, and that, my friends, is a festival for the taste buds. Their succulent slabs of meat, rich arrays of fresh vegetables, refreshing mango smoothies and tangy cilantro garlic sauce are all reasons why the BraCaf (as nobody calls it) is the best around. But that’s not all.
So, they have the best sandwich. What of it? Cafe Milano has some good sandwiches. Subway has some cheap sandwiches. I bet even if the Earl of Sandwich himself slapped some slices of ham between bread, it wouldn’t be half bad. The point is, the sandwich is an easy food item to perfect. But what Brazil Cafe does so well, beyond its unique palette of flavors, is its atmosphere. At their University Avenue location, you can often hear the soothing sounds of local musicians. At their indoor restaurant on Shattuck, you can sit among the warm and vivid paintings of South American landscapes. Whatever food option you choose at whichever location, Brazil Cafe is sure to bring a party.
— Jessica Pena
Best Coffee: Caffe Strada
With its cash-only service and medieval Wi-Fi, it’s a wonder Caffe Strada survives at all in a wired, Bay Area university town.
But take yourself down to Bancroft and College on a sunny Friday afternoon, and it’s clear what keeps the crowds coming. The best outdoor seating in Berkeley, friendly staff, rich espresso coffee and a fine range of cabinet food — in the dining department, there’s little that Strada leaves wanting.
Strada is the perfect place to read the paper, maybe even this paper — there’s a stack of Daily Californians conveniently placed beside the counter. Should you want to study, you might find yourself cursing at the 2006 Best of Berkeley Wi-Fi award that stares mockingly down from the back wall as you point your laptop towards the Anthropology Library, hoping to catch just a single bar of AirBears.
But with coffee served until midnight and toasty gas heaters wheeled out after sunset to keep you warm, what Strada lacks in technological comforts it makes up for in charm and good conversation. Just be sure to bring cash.
— Thomas Coughlan
Best Boba: Sweetheart Cafe
Sweetheart Cafe, located in the Durant Food Court (colloquially, of course, the Asian Ghetto), is unobtrusive to say the least, the kind of place you might not notice when in a hurry. Make no mistake, however: Sweetheart’s boba will stop you in your tracks if given the chance.
Boba, the round, jellylike pearls at the bottom of a cup of refreshing tea, are thick orbs of tapioca starch. The chewy bubbles are the perfect complement to the cafe’s menu of teas.
With an impressive — even intimidating — plethora of offerings, Sweetheart Cafe will undoubtedly keep the intrepid beverage adventurer from hitting a wall in the never-ending quest towards the perfect refreshment.
The sweethearts at Sweetheart will put boba in pretty much anything — almond milk, green tea, red bean tea, grass jelly or chrysanthemum drinks, and even in a selection of coffee drinks.
If boba isn’t your cup of tea (no pun intended), the Sweetheart cafe will graciously serve you anything without the chewy bubbles — just ask.
Certainly, for price, location and flavor, Sweetheart Cafe wins for best boba.
— Natalie Reyes
Best Ice Cream and Best Place to Take a Date: Ici
Ici’s minimalist, single perfect sphere of ice cream nestled on top of a slender homemade waffle cone doesn’t look like a traditional ice cream cone, and that’s because it’s not.
Owner Mary Canales, a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, has found her niche in exploring flavors, such as pistachio sour cherry, nutmeg candied orange or cardamom rose. She also practices the same open kitchen as Chez Panisse and employees can be seen in the back, zesting lemons or preparing other local and fresh ingredients. With daily rotating flavors, the unexpected yet spot-on combinations never get old. Each scoop’s freshness stands apart from sugared-down ice creams, making it a just-right indulgence.
It’s a great place to bring friends, family, or a date, because the flavors are complex enough for the foodie, but chocolate and vanilla are always available. In fact, the line often leads out of the shop and past neighboring stores. But once the wait’s over, its location on College Avenue makes it the perfect place to stroll and enjoy a cone to the last chocolate-filled bite.
— A.J. Kiyoizumi
Best Burger: Bongo Burger
Best Breakfast: La Note
For any breakfast enthusiast, waiting in line and fumbling over the adamantly French dish names are only feeble deterrents from deliciousness. And the creme fraiche tastes even sweeter in the restaurant’s homey setting: wooden furniture, mini pitchers of water and heavy, porcelain plates rimmed with flowers or stripes. Opt for outside seating on a sunny day and you’ll discover a secret garden waiting in the back, complete with roses and a vine-covered terrace. Although the eatery is easy to miss, tucked between Durant and Channing on Shattuck, just follow the scent of lavender honey on toast, or just look for the line.