Best of Berkeley: Food 2021

Illustration of Durant Food Court
Jason Yen/Staff

Best coffee: Brewed Awakening

Photo of Brewed Awakening

Ryan Kendrick/Staff

Located on Euclid Avenue across from North Gate Hall, Brewed Awakening offers both excellent coffee and a cozy, eclectic cafe atmosphere. The coffee shop’s various espresso drinks, matcha lattes, scones and avocado toast are all wonderfully tasty — even the most caffeine-adverse can find something to satisfy themselves. 

But it’s not just about the menu: Brewed Awakening is also an amazing study spot. Prior to the pandemic, any trip to Brewed would be marked by the sound of clicking keyboards, and it’s no surprise why. The cafe has an aesthetic brick wall and cute decor, and its atmosphere is homey and welcoming, making it a perfect pseudo-library.

Next time you’re thinking of visiting one of the more crowded campus coffee shops, walk a little extra distance and grab your latte from Brewed Awakening!

— Grace Orriss


Best boba: Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea

Photo of Yi Fang sign

Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

With about 16 boba shops near campus, one might imagine the selectivity that goes into choosing Berkeley’s “top boba.” Yifang creates an inviting atmosphere the moment you walk in with its whimsical architecture of warm wooden beams and photo-worthy blue mosaic tiles. The teas offered are just as special as its architecture. Take Yifang Fruit Tea, an aromatic drink crystallized from a grandmother’s secret recipe; the Sugar Cane Mountain Tea; or Yifang’s “Mudflip,” which features a mesmerizing effect as warm syrup is slowly dragged down into cold fresh milk.

A go-to spot since its grand opening in fall 2018, Yifang offers its fragrant fruit teas and their magical milk counterparts to please all. Now that it’s spring, cool down with a Multi-Floral Honey Juice, and in the wintertime, warm up with a toasty Oolong Tea Latte. Whether to satisfy a craving or to try something new, this staple boba destination is a must-visit for your next fix.

— Angelina Yin


Best burger: Bongo Burger

Photo of Bongo Burger

Joe Sison/Staff

For more than 50 years, Bongo Burger has served the community by providing mouthwatering food and a comfortable atmosphere to hungry passersby. With all that experience and three locations in the Berkeley area, Bongo has got the classics down. Its bacon cheeseburger seems destined for the crispy crinkle-cut fries. Its buns pack the same flavor as your run-of-the-mill sesame seed with more structure and less grease. I’m not even going to try to capture what they smell like.

Bongo Burger isn’t afraid to experiment with form, though. Its endearingly advertised “off the menu” item, the Persian burger, is served on a long baguette. The falafel sandwich comes in a pita pocket. Both are noted customer favorites. And if you’re into calorie counting, the turkey burger or spicy chicken burger can help you hit those macros.

So, next time you can’t decide where to eat, take a pilgrimage to this Berkeley institution. (And before you ask, yes, it’s on Snackpass.)

— Luke Stiles


Best pizza: Sliver Pizzeria

Photo of Sliver Pizza

Jinsu Elhance/Staff

I was on a date the first time I went to Sliver Pizzeria. That’s right. Get ready for romance … between me, my date and our pizza. I was nervous — a freshman who didn’t know what to expect. Yet, eating this immaculate pizza together broke down all unease and first date anxiety. That is what Silver Pizza does: It brings people together.

Sliver Pizzeria is flat-out fire for your tastebuds. Serving up one type of pizza every day, Sliver dresses its incredible culinary creations with an assortment of cheeses and delicious vegetable toppings. It also makes vegan pizzas! Sliver’s delicious crust, needless to say, is ingrained in the hearts and souls of Berkeley students, residents and visitors alike. Its green sauce, a delectable blend of cilantro and peppers, could quite honestly be ordered by the gallon. Last but not least, this amazing pizza joint also offers up delicious salads, desserts and beverages. 

— Kristen Hull


Best bar: Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music

Photo of Cornerstone

Ethan Lejano/Staff

In a pre-pandemic world, Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music wasn’t always known as the go-to for weekend outings and weeknight debauchery. As Berkeley gets increasingly more vaccinated and the local household names stay closed, though, it seems as though the entrance line running down Shattuck Avenue for impatient Cornerstone-goers gets longer and longer.

As the world slowly reopens, experiences of the past are creeping back into normal life — step one foot into Cornerstone on a Friday night, and you’ll see for yourself. For those who are long past their last vaccine appointment and feeling adventurous, going out can feel like a big deal. Putting on the outfit, pregaming with your pod, stepping into a room full of tipsy people and flagging down a bartender is close to becoming a lost art. Whether you’re down for the tastefully busy DJ night hours (mask on) or just trying to slam a brew with the boys over Cornerstone’s dinner menu in its heated outdoor patio, there’s a little something for everyone’s current comfort level if going out is on your mind. Stay safe and be smart, but treat yourself to a cocktail every now and then. 

— Skylar De Paul


Best Thai food: Imm Thai Street Food

Photo Imm Thai Street Food

Leonie Leonida/Staff

Imm Thai Street Food undoubtedly sets the standard for top-tier Thai food. It boasts an immaculate experience, offering authenticity you can taste and priding itself on its original family recipes straight from the streets of Thailand. What truly makes Imm Thai so unique, decadent and addicting is the combined quality and freshness attributed to every item on its menu.

As a lover of favor and spice, I am a huge advocate for Imm Thai’s famous house chili sauce which enriches the flavor of every dish. What’s more, the sauce is both gluten-free and vegan-friendly! And, if you end up falling as hard for its chili sauce as I have, you can buy your own jar to take home and season any meal! Some personal favorite menu items that also pair perfectly with the sauce are the Pad See Ew and Kana Moo Krob. 

Imm Thai’s family-rooted recipes have the same effect of a good home-cooked meal: They bring people together in a shared, delectable experience. From first dates to birthday dinners, Imm Thai serves as an ideal eatery for any special occasion calling for a meal that feeds the soul.

— Imani Salazar-Nahle


Best Italian food: Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana

Photo of Gypsy's Trattoria Italiana

Daniela Cervantes/File

In the pantheon of Berkeley Italian food, Gypsy’s is unimpeachable. 

Located on Durant Avenue, Gypsy’s boasts a diverse, affordably priced menu suitable for students and visitors alike, with a variety of oven-fresh pizzas, calzones and creamy pastas at prices ranging from $8.49 to $11.99. There are also some delicious vegetarian options, including the Penne Gorgonzola and Gnocchi Primavera. Though Gypsy’s halted indoor dining during the pandemic, it remains open for takeout and delivery.

Nothing beats buying budget-friendly creamy pasta and greasy calzones late at night before walking back to your apartment or your dorm — it’s an essential part of the UC Berkeley experience. Gypsy’s offers delicious comfort food at the perfect price point for college students, making it an always-crowded fixture of the campus community and a required visit if you’re trying to curb your hunger.

— Grace Orriss


Best Mexican food: Tacos Sinaloa

Photo of Tacos Sinaloa

Ana Isabel Diaz/Staff

Yes, you guessed it — Tacos Sinaloa yet again won out as the best Mexican food in Berkeley for the fifth year in a row. But, we promise, it’s not without good reason. With all the changes that have happened over the last year, it’s comforting to know that some good things have stayed the same, such as the price of Tacos Sinaloa tacos — an incredible and budget-friendly $2.

Even as the pandemic continues, the restaurant has stayed busy making delicious food and maintaining the same level of quality service. Among the menu’s many options are its exceptional tacos, tortas and burritos, all of which can be made with an incredibly impressive array of meats, specialty and otherwise. Despite so many meat options, vegetarians and vegans need not fear — Tacos Sinaloa offers various alternatives for those with dietary restrictions. 

With so many pros to the restaurant, it’s hardly a wonder it stays packed. Next time you’re feeling the Zoom burnout, run down to Tacos Sinaloa’s storefront on Telegraph Avenue and grab yourself a study break snack. 

— Sebastian Cahill


Best Indian food: Vik’s Chaat

Photo of Vik's Chaat

Kavya Narendra Babu/Staff

Many of the Best of Berkeley winners are chosen by students for their convenience, their proximity to campus or to apartment buildings and residence halls on Southside. This is not the case for Vik’s Chaat. Getting here is anything but convenient; without a car, you’ll need to take the 51B to the end of the line and then walk half a mile. But the arduous trek is a small price to pay for a visit to one of Berkeley’s finest restaurants.

Though its welcoming cafeteria has been closed this past year, the transition to take-out only hasn’t detracted one bit from the simple, but incredibly flavorful dishes Vik’s has on offer. Its hot and cold chaat menus are perfect for a group looking to share a few smaller dishes, and its daily special plates provide solo patrons with an all-encompassing meal that changes slightly every day. Do yourself a favor and make the odyssey at least once before you graduate.

— Matthew DuMont


Best Korean food: Kimchi Garden

Photo of Kimchi Garden

Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

Squeezed in on Durant Avenue, Kimchi Garden is nearly hidden from plain view. However, this hasn’t stopped it from serving up good, affordable Korean food. Our love for Kimchi Garden was simply fer-ment to be.

Kimchi Garden is a cozy restaurant that was home to many delicious and easy get-togethers. Before the pandemic, you could expect to get your food at breakneck speed and savor the spices under the restaurant’s signature dim lighting. Part of its charm includes eating in near darkness while being serenaded with K-pop and K-R&B over the speakers. The restaurant’s floor plan seemed as expansive as its menu, but still overflows with warmth. Overall, it was an pleasantly odd attempt — mixing clubbing with comfort food to finish the assimilate to college kid culture assignment. 

Even during the pandemic, the restaurant hasn’t stopped making Korean cuisine the main star of the show. There’s classic tteokbokki remixed across an array of dishes, smoky kimchi Spam fried rice unafraid to bring the heat and the extra large and extra-filling bibimbap ready for your consumption. 

Kimchi Garden’s entire setup is unlike any other — a gastronomic head-scratcher that exists perfectly within UC Berkeley’s go-to good food ecosystem.

— Kelly Nguyen


Best vegan food: The Butcher’s Son

Photo of The Butcher's Son

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

An ongoing concern for vegans is that their righteous efforts to save the planet can come at the cost of delectable comfort foods. At The Butcher’s Son on University Avenue, however, vegans can have their cake and eat it too — literally (the restaurant is known for its delectable “cheese” cake).

From chicken parmesan to pastrami Reubens to chocolate cannoli, the restaurant’s vegan alternatives taste almost like the classics. With densely packed sandwiches that combine flavorful “aioli,” seasoned “deli meats” and rich “cheeses,” The Butcher’s Son satisfies cravings and fills stomachs. The Killer B.L.A.T. is especially delicious: Fried “chicken,” mayo, lettuce, tomato, “bacon,” pickled jalapeno and smashed avocado all manage to fit between two sourdough slices, offering a tasty take on the traditional BLT. 

The Butcher’s Son doesn’t have long hours: It’s open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. However, this exclusivity makes each Butcher’s Son meal feel like a special occasion. So next time you’re looking to celebrate sustainably, head on over to The Butcher’s Son — chow down and save the planet. 

Piper Samuels


Best Mediterranean food: D’Yar Mediterranean Cuisine

Photo of D'Yar Mediterranean Cusine

Theo Wyss-Flamm/Staff

For delicious, fresh Mediterranean food at reasonable prices, D’Yar Mediterranean Cuisine is Berkeley’s go-to option. This family-owned and operated restaurant has locations both on Northside and Southside, providing a source of tasty, authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes on either side of campus.

With D’Yar’s incredibly diverse yet consistently great menu, your order can’t go wrong. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is its chicken shawarma plate, spiced to perfection and served with a side of freshly baked pita bread and homemade hummus. On the vegetarian side of the menu, D’Yar serves mouthwatering falafels that, for those who enjoy spice, pair excellently with their house hot sauce.  

At D’Yar, not only is the food delightful and ideally priced, but the staff also makes sure you get your money’s worth. Portion sizes are more than generous — even the hungriest of college students will be satiated and may even have enough leftovers for a later snack.

Neil Haeems


Best Chinese food: Great China

Photo of Great China Food

Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

While typical Chinese takeout in Berkeley brings comfort and provides an economical meal, Great China can take you back to the incomparable feeling of home cooking. The restaurant’s bustling atmosphere is not only homey, but it also provides a polished dining experience.  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one could peer into the restaurant’s grandiose glass windows to find families and friends gathered in large groups sharing various dishes. Sitting on a street corner, clusters of people consistently hovered near the entrance — all waiting for a taste of Great China. 

Although the dining experience has changed and people may miss the friendly service and the ability to share dishes on a rotating tray, Great China continues to use quality ingredients for its authentic menu. 

Whether you choose to sit down in the modern-looking restaurant or get takeout, Great China’s speciality dishes always hit the spot, especially when shared with those you love.

— Thao Nguyen


Best Vietnamese food: Pho K & K

Photo of Pho K&K

Vivian Wan/Staff

When you walk into Pho K & K, the layers of flavor and intricate spice combinations that go into cooking up a fragrant broth easily greet you. Making Vietnamese food is sophisticated. The cuisine requires any chef to master each and every intricate detail and dynamic, with exact measurements guarded by an ancestor’s guidance. Pho K & K delivers tasty food, all while remaining entirely uncomplicated. The restaurant consistently has impeccable cleanliness, extraordinary employees and fresh food flying out the window. 

Near UC Berkeley, there aren’t many Vietnamese restaurants. For some, walking down Telegraph Avenue to Pho K & K is a chance to try new dishes. For others, it’s a unique chance not only to savor the kick of beef noodle dish bun bo hue, but to get a taste of home, too. Seeing, hearing and tasting these tiny, familiar bites at Pho K & K is almost as nourishing as a hearty bowl of pho. 

— Kelly Nguyen


Best Japanese food: Marugame Udon

Photo of Marugame Udon

Ryan Kendrick/Staff

Eating at Marugame is efficient from start to finish. If there’s no line (a rare occasion), you can step through the threshold and stagger away with a heaping tray of udon and tempura in less than five minutes. If there is a line, it affords you time to watch as fresh udon is made in mass quantities, the employees handling the heavy dough like pros.

You pick your udon base from a streamlined menu of about 10 items before collecting your noodles and broth (ask for chili oil) and moving your tray along plastic-sheathed baskets of freshly made tempura offerings. Pairing the udon with the dynamic dashi broth, complementary toppings of green onions, bits of fried tempura batter and katsu-esque sauce makes for a combination like no other. 

At a low price for a basic bowl of udon and a wide range of tempura toppings for an additional cost, students love the financial flexibility Marugame offers for a dinner out.

 — Francesca Hodges 


Best sandwiches: Ike’s Love & Sandwiches

Photo of Ike's Love & Sandwiches

Ethan Lejano/Staff

Shattuck Avenue offers a wide range of restaurants, but none of them possess quite the variety and flexibility of Ike’s Love & Sandwiches. With gluten friendly, halal and vegan options, this sandwich chain truly has something for everyone.

When you first walk in, you will be greeted by the aroma of Ike’s irresistible dutch crunch bread, slathered with its signature “Dirty Sauce” — a delectable garlic aioli. The menu is filled with a variety of fun sandwiches, ranging from “Tony Stark” to “Sometimes I’m a Vegetarian.” Some even pay homage to the city of Berkeley: The “Shattuck” and “Telegraph” both come with an exclusive “Golden Bear Sauce.” 

Whether you’re tired after a long day of studying or are just in the mood for a good bite, Ike’s Love & Sandwiches is a fast and worthwhile option for you. And if that isn’t convincing enough, each sandwich is served with love — and a lollipop!

— Lauren Harvey


Best drunk food: Taco Bell Cantina

Photo of Taco Bell on Durant

Isabella Ko/Staff

There I was, several White Claws in when I heard it: the rumble of the beast. I was getting hungry. Scared, I did what any reasonable person would: get to Taco Bell before I became a threat to national security.

The first item I sprung for was the Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes, a bowl filled with tantalizing taters, coated with nacho cheese and topped with a dollop of sour cream. As quickly as they had arrived, however, the potatoes were gone. I was not satisfied with merely a taste of this modern-day nectar and ambrosia. I scoured the menu for my next victim. Then, I saw it. 

I had heard whisperings that it had returned, but I never believed it. The Quesalupa was back! The deep-fried chalupa shell stuffed with cheese encasing the beef, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream was back, and it was better than I had remembered! Distance and time, as it turns out, actually do make the heart grow fonder. 

A wise chihuahua once said, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” I couldn’t agree more, but to quiero is not to comprendo. Overall, though, if you’re drunk, Taco Bell is the place to be.

— Kino Farr


Best brunch: La Note

Photo of La Note Restaurant

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

Tucked away in a cozy and charming Downtown Berkeley building, La Note is a Provençal restaurant praised for its authenticity. Considered to be one of the most popular local brunch spots, the restaurant is frequented by visitors and all sorts of members of the Berkeley community. 

With dining restrictions recently lifted, the familiar scene of friends, couples and families dining together at the rustic, restored 1875 building can be seen as you stroll down Shattuck Avenue in the mornings. 

The restaurant’s classic breakfast and lunch options, picturesque plating and warmth of food fulfills any cravings you may have. La Note’s menu also continues to offer a variety of pastries, pancakes, French toast and egg dishes, among others. 

In addition to the delicious food, the welcoming atmosphere of the dining area perfectly suits whatever mood you are in for, whether you are on a date, looking to take Sunday brunch photos or searching for comfort food.

— Thao Nguyen


Best frozen dessert: Yogurt Park

Photo of Yogurt Park icecream

Allen Zeng/Staff

A legen-dairy Berkeley landmark, Yogurt Park, nicknamed “YoPo” by its faithful customers, has been serving delicious frozen treats since 1977. 

With a glorious selection of mouthwatering flavors from the beloved Ghirardelli Chocolate and Vanilla Classic (I recommend the swirl!) to the deliciously innovative Salted Caramel Pretzel and Thin Mint Cookie, YoPo is so good that it honestly makes you want to become a better human being. Rain or shine, it is the perfect place to meet up with friends, take study breaks, celebrate your last midterm and more. We can’t forget the toppings, which are so sweet, decadent and decorative. Generous portions of Oreo crumbs, cookie dough, carob chips, Reeses Pieces, M & M’s rainbow sprinkles, Hershey’s Hot Fudge and more can be added upon request.

Wondering what to order? YoPo posts its daily selection of flavors, including sugar-free and low-fat options, on their Instagram and Facebook pages. Even if you’re just visiting Berkeley for the day, you can’t miss this sweet spot.

— Kristen Hull


Best nonfrozen dessert: Little Gem Belgian Waffles

Photo of Little Gem Belgian Waffles

Theo Wyss-Flamm/Staff

It’s no exaggeration to say that Little Gem Belgian Waffles turns heads: Every time you walk past the small shop on Telegraph Avenue, you’re obliged to linger and let the dessert venue’s heavenly smells wash over you for just a second longer.

Made to order inside the store, the waffles have a crisp outside and a decadent, warm inside that makes the dessert portion seem all too little. Patrons can make their own waffle, choosing from various toppings ranging from sweet to savory or opting in for one of the shop’s signature choices, such as the “Golden Bear,” a “churoffle” with cream and freshly-sliced bananas.

The new self-serve kiosk outside the store allows passerby to order while still on the street and have their delicious waffle in minutes, and Little Gem’s store hours make it easily accessible to night owls. On weekdays, the store is open from noon to 11 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays, the store closes at midnight. 

With options starting at $4, there’s something for everyone, even the UC Berkeley student seeking some cheap comfort food.

— Sebastian Cahill