Across from campus, beneath the breezy canopy of Chinese Elm on Euclid Avenue, is a cool, slender Mediterranean cafe named Nefeli. Nefeli is outfitted with a rosy-brown tiled floor, granite countertops, pastel paintings, wood chairs and tables. The lunch crowds come here for well-crafted tapas, paninis and espresso and to enjoy them amid a temperate Greek atmosphere. En masse, followers of tech, divinity and journalism schools frequent Nefeli. According to one barista, Jose Abraham Rodriguez, most customers are regulars.
Put simply, the swift service, prices and quality keep everyone coming back.
At Nefeli on a Saturday, you might encounter a group of transcontinental mathematicians lunching over tensors and homemade tapas or UC Berkeley alums sitting around with their families. On a weekday afternoon, you might encounter grad students on study dates, poets relaxing midcareer, engineers spilling their workplace drama or theologians giving offhand advice. At night, in the hour before closing, you might encounter only a few people hanging out in the cool lamp-lit interior. To read the paper, to browse the mail, to get their vanilla latte fix in the mornings, the regulars come to get their usual orders, which Rodriguez has already memorized. Sometimes he starts making their orders as soon as they step through the doorway
At lunch, Rodriguez, or Naso, or Jesus, or Florencio, or Francisco, or Fernando or Nima will bring your food out within “five minutes tops” of ordering. Sometimes they bring it out before you can finish paying. Everyone on staff has worked at Nefeli for several years. Together they like act a big group of friends, and together they share a humble pride in their service and food.
Nefeli offers organic arugula salad, fresh salmon with capers, sugar-dusted croissants, red bell pepper sandwiches with eggplant and provolone. They make their own tapas dolmas, pizzas, torta Espanolas, filo-dough cigars, salmon on toast. As for drinks, they serve coffee and espresso and wine. The staff at Nefeli plays jazz, opera and classical music as well as Bob Marley, Argentine Tango and pastoral Mexican ballads for the guitar. In the future, Rodriguez, who has worked at Nefeli since 1994, imagines that Spanish flamenco dancers and acoustic musicians will perform at the cafe. With free Wi-Fi, a ceramic water jug, Panasonic speakers and a wall of windows facing the street, Nefeli provides somewhere on Northside to eat and drink all the time.
Midafternoon, after the lunch crowds die down, while the staff prepares food and serves the few customers who trickle in, the staff listens to the soccer game on the radio or watches it from a laptop tucked underneath the marble counter. During the day, they prop open their main front window and the door to the back. Within the long narrowed space, the air circulates. Along with the tempered Greek folk art, the feeling is as if you were somewhere coastal. Whether by yourself or with friends, Nefeli puts you in a good place.
Nefeli Cafe is located at 1854 Euclid Ave. in Berkeley. Open every day 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Specialties include homemade tapas, paninis, coffee, espresso, pastries and wine.