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20 Destination-Worthy Restaurants in Berkeley

These days, the East Bay city is known for a lot more than just “California cuisine”

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It used to be that if you talked about Berkeley’s dining scene, the conversation would begin and end with a long list of purveyors of so-called California cuisine — the seasonal, local dining aesthetic pioneered by Alice Waters and her peers so many years ago. That style of cooking and eating is alive and well, but the truth is, Berkeley has always been about more than just Chez Panisse and its various descendants.

Berkeley continues to be home to one of the Bay Area’s most eclectic and internationally diverse collections of restaurants — with excellent pork schnitzel, pizzas, Peking duck, New York–style bagels to be found on any given street corner. We’re graduating a few stalwart Berkeley restaurants off the map to make way for some new favorites, but honorable mentions go to Chez Panisse, the Cheese Board Collective, and Great China for their contributions to the city’s dining scene. If you think you know Berkeley’s dining options, look again and you’ll discover something new. Here are 20 of Berkeley’s top dining destinations dishing out some of the region’s tastiest food.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Sichuan Style Restaurant

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In the East Bay, Sichuan Style sets the standard for classic, tongue-numbingly spicy Sichuan fare. Standard orders include the fragrant, chile-topped fish fillet soup; the wok-charred cabbage; and the water-boiled fish, which comes swimming in a pool of spicy bright red sauce. Whatever you do, make sure you order one of the big, puffy rounds of sesame bread and plenty of white rice.

A spread of dishes from Sichuan Style Luke Tsai

A pair of Chez Panisse alums opened a tiny lunch counter spot just around the corner from the mothership in Berkeley. Yes, the aesthetic is there; but so is the flavor. Dine on flatbread sandwiches filled with spicy chicken, herbs, cabbage, yogurt, and harissa; pints of soup; and beautiful salads made with the Bay Area’s best produce, perfectly arranged. There’s nowhere to sit, really, so this is best eaten as a picnic in a Berkeley park.

Trout salad from Fava Elazar Sontag

Funky Elephant

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This “new generation Thai” restaurant from former Hawker Fare chef Supasit Puttikaew has become a neighborhood comfort food staple in the Gilman Street corridor, serving up excellent (and quite spicy) pad Thai; “Thai-spicy” party wings; a legit version of khao mun gai (Thai-style poached chicken and rice); and some of the tastiest fried Brussels sprouts in town.

This sunny brunch and lunch spot stars an array of freshly baked breads ranging from za’atar sticks to fluffy manousheh. The weekday menu spans bowls crowned with jammy eggs, salads, and sandwiches, while weekends mean diners can crowd over vibrant mezze platters loaded with dips, pickled vegetables, and fresh-cut fruit.

A platter of food including hummus, baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, fruit salad, and fresh breads. Lauren Saria/Eater SF

Bartavelle Cafe

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Since 2012, this pint-sized cafe has served some of Berkeley’s best daytime dishes: bountiful avocado toast, deeply comforting savory porridge, tomato toast in the summer, and jammy eggs topped with good olive oil and Marash pepper. There are also some lovely little baguette sandwiches on the menu too, though you’ll have to show up early to snag one.

The Butcher’s Son

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As one the East Bay’s premier practitioners of the art of plant-based faux meat, the Butcher’s Son has built up a huge following for its lineup of “meaty” sandwiches — takes on everything from a classic all-American cheesesteak to a Reuben to chicken parm, all made with faux meat products developed and produced in-house. Expect the longest lines during weekend brunch, when the restaurant serves such specialties as hemp milk pancakes (with or without a vegan doughnut stuffed inside) and a tofu scramble breakfast sandwich that’s been dubbed the #Thisismyaddiction.

A table with three plates of sandwiches. The Butcher’s Son

Rose Pizzeria

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There is plenty of amazing pizza in Berkeley (many of whom are on this list) but Rose Pizzeria is serving up some great thin-crust pies at this University spot, both indoors and outside on their patio. The champione pizza is a favorite, which comes in a spring onion cream, roasted mushrooms, mozzarella, and green onions, and arrives tableside with a beautifully oven-blistered crust. And as with all great pizza-salad combos, don’t sleep on the spicy Caesar salad while you’re at it.

Rose Pizzeria in Berkeley
Dianne de Guzman

One of the most stylish, intimate Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, Ippuku is mostly known for serving the East Bay’s most delicious chicken skewers and izakaya-style dishes. The yakitori specialist, with its (shoes-off) tatami-style tables, also has one of the best Japanese beer and sake lists around.

眷湘 Easterly Berkeley

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Nearly everything on the Easterly menu, from the smoky stir-fries to their sticky rice, is deftly executed and oftentimes studded with numbing chiles. If you’re looking to step outside your comfort zone, look to adventurous options like griddled, meaty bullfrog, smoked whole bighead carp, and beer-braised duck.

Pollara Pizzeria

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Located at Berkeley’s stylish Fourth Street shopping district, Pollara is the only restaurant in the area specializing in Roman-style pizza al taglio — long trays of crisp-bottomed, rectangular pizza that might come topped with prosciutto, or with ’nduja, onions, and potatoes. Pre-order whole or half pizzas online and reheat them in your oven at home.

Slices of pizza at Pollara Nick Katkov

La Marcha Tapas Bar

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All of Spain’s classic tapas can be found at this lively restaurant on San Pablo, from patatas bravas to piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese. The paellas are the showstoppers, however, particularly the arroz negro that includes squid ink, clams, and fennel sausage, and is topped with uni aioli and smoked trout roe. It now boasts a lovely patio with heaters, too, ideal for sipping Spanish wine on a cool Berkeley evening.

Middle East Market

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Tucked in the back of this well-stocked Middle Eastern grocery store is one of Berkeley’s best-kept secrets: a kitchen that turns out perhaps the most delicious Persian food in the East Bay. The menu includes juicy, well-blackened kebabs; tender lamb shanks; and homey stews like the classic, green herb-packed ghormeh sabzi. Regulars know to snag a bag of Persian flatbread before they leave.

El Patio

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This perenially underrated half-Mexican, half-Venezuelan spot is still dishing out what might be the Bay Area’s best arepas, including the star of the menu, a classic reina pepiada (or “curvy queen”) that comes shockingly overstuffed with shredded chicken tossed in a mashed avocado dressing.

Gaumenkitzel

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Chef-owner Anja Voth’s mostly organic, health-conscious, “slow food” approach to German cuisine has earned Gaumenkitzel a devoted following in Berkeley — which isn’t to say that the crowd favorites like the buttery spaetzle and excellent crispy pork schnitzel are light or in any way lacking in flavor. Parents will appreciate the appealing, spaetzle-focused kids’ menu.

Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya

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This downtown Berkeley izakaya made a name for itself for its inventive, forward-thinking small plates: smoked mentaiko potato salad and fried black cod fish cakes that ooze with melted cheese curds. Settle into the stylish but modest dining room to enjoy sashimi, curry, and more.

The East Bay has many izakaya-style Japanese restaurants, but none that are as much rollicking fun as Kiraku, nor any that serve food that’s as consistently delightful and well executed. Must-order dishes include the corn tempura with green tea salt, the grilled whole squid, and the mini kaisen don or one of the other rice bowls to end the meal in the traditional Japanese way.

Viks Chaat

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On weekend mornings, in particular, Vik’s is an occasion unto itself: A bustling, cafeteria-like gathering place for loud, boisterous extended families and groups of friends. Almost every customer gets an order of cholle bhature (“the big puffy thing,” as the restaurant’s online menu describes it), but all of the chaat is solid to very good — from pani puri to assorted kathi rolls. The adjoining market is a good place to stock up on Indian pantry staples like rice, chutney, and canned mango purée.

BOICHIK BAGELS

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Bagel-maker-in-chief Emily Winston may be a self-taught bagel savant and as the often-long lines outside her Berkeley bakery can attest, she’s mastered the art of making New York–style bagels out on the West Coast. In addition to tightly rolled bagels, the menu also includes cream cheese spreads and slices of smoked Nova lox.

A spread of bagels, lox, and cream cheese spreads on a table from Boichik Bagels Lydia Daniller/Boichik Bagels

King of Kabab

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This little family-run restaurant is the area’s go-to spot for hearty kebab plates: gyro and chicken shawarma sliced, hot and crisp at the edges, from the restaurant’s two side-by-side vertical spits and served with zippy green hot sauce and a big scoop of impeccably seasoned rice.

Clear plastic takeout container, with hummus in one compartment, chicken shawarma in a green sauce in another, and a pita covering up the third Luke Tsai

This homey, family-run Ethiopian restaurant in South Berkeley is known for its tender, buttery kitfo (a traditional raw beef dish); its tangy, all-teff injera; and its flavorful veggie combo spread. It’s also one of a handful of Bay Area spots where customers could go to enjoy a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on the weekends.

Sichuan Style Restaurant

A spread of dishes from Sichuan Style Luke Tsai

In the East Bay, Sichuan Style sets the standard for classic, tongue-numbingly spicy Sichuan fare. Standard orders include the fragrant, chile-topped fish fillet soup; the wok-charred cabbage; and the water-boiled fish, which comes swimming in a pool of spicy bright red sauce. Whatever you do, make sure you order one of the big, puffy rounds of sesame bread and plenty of white rice.

A spread of dishes from Sichuan Style Luke Tsai

FAVA

Trout salad from Fava Elazar Sontag

A pair of Chez Panisse alums opened a tiny lunch counter spot just around the corner from the mothership in Berkeley. Yes, the aesthetic is there; but so is the flavor. Dine on flatbread sandwiches filled with spicy chicken, herbs, cabbage, yogurt, and harissa; pints of soup; and beautiful salads made with the Bay Area’s best produce, perfectly arranged. There’s nowhere to sit, really, so this is best eaten as a picnic in a Berkeley park.

Trout salad from Fava Elazar Sontag

Funky Elephant

This “new generation Thai” restaurant from former Hawker Fare chef Supasit Puttikaew has become a neighborhood comfort food staple in the Gilman Street corridor, serving up excellent (and quite spicy) pad Thai; “Thai-spicy” party wings; a legit version of khao mun gai (Thai-style poached chicken and rice); and some of the tastiest fried Brussels sprouts in town.

Lulu

A platter of food including hummus, baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, fruit salad, and fresh breads. Lauren Saria/Eater SF

This sunny brunch and lunch spot stars an array of freshly baked breads ranging from za’atar sticks to fluffy manousheh. The weekday menu spans bowls crowned with jammy eggs, salads, and sandwiches, while weekends mean diners can crowd over vibrant mezze platters loaded with dips, pickled vegetables, and fresh-cut fruit.

A platter of food including hummus, baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, fruit salad, and fresh breads. Lauren Saria/Eater SF

Bartavelle Cafe

Since 2012, this pint-sized cafe has served some of Berkeley’s best daytime dishes: bountiful avocado toast, deeply comforting savory porridge, tomato toast in the summer, and jammy eggs topped with good olive oil and Marash pepper. There are also some lovely little baguette sandwiches on the menu too, though you’ll have to show up early to snag one.

The Butcher’s Son

A table with three plates of sandwiches. The Butcher’s Son

As one the East Bay’s premier practitioners of the art of plant-based faux meat, the Butcher’s Son has built up a huge following for its lineup of “meaty” sandwiches — takes on everything from a classic all-American cheesesteak to a Reuben to chicken parm, all made with faux meat products developed and produced in-house. Expect the longest lines during weekend brunch, when the restaurant serves such specialties as hemp milk pancakes (with or without a vegan doughnut stuffed inside) and a tofu scramble breakfast sandwich that’s been dubbed the #Thisismyaddiction.

A table with three plates of sandwiches. The Butcher’s Son

Rose Pizzeria

Rose Pizzeria in Berkeley
Dianne de Guzman

There is plenty of amazing pizza in Berkeley (many of whom are on this list) but Rose Pizzeria is serving up some great thin-crust pies at this University spot, both indoors and outside on their patio. The champione pizza is a favorite, which comes in a spring onion cream, roasted mushrooms, mozzarella, and green onions, and arrives tableside with a beautifully oven-blistered crust. And as with all great pizza-salad combos, don’t sleep on the spicy Caesar salad while you’re at it.

Rose Pizzeria in Berkeley
Dianne de Guzman

Ippuku

One of the most stylish, intimate Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, Ippuku is mostly known for serving the East Bay’s most delicious chicken skewers and izakaya-style dishes. The yakitori specialist, with its (shoes-off) tatami-style tables, also has one of the best Japanese beer and sake lists around.

眷湘 Easterly Berkeley

Nearly everything on the Easterly menu, from the smoky stir-fries to their sticky rice, is deftly executed and oftentimes studded with numbing chiles. If you’re looking to step outside your comfort zone, look to adventurous options like griddled, meaty bullfrog, smoked whole bighead carp, and beer-braised duck.

Pollara Pizzeria

Slices of pizza at Pollara Nick Katkov

Located at Berkeley’s stylish Fourth Street shopping district, Pollara is the only restaurant in the area specializing in Roman-style pizza al taglio — long trays of crisp-bottomed, rectangular pizza that might come topped with prosciutto, or with ’nduja, onions, and potatoes. Pre-order whole or half pizzas online and reheat them in your oven at home.

Slices of pizza at Pollara Nick Katkov

La Marcha Tapas Bar

All of Spain’s classic tapas can be found at this lively restaurant on San Pablo, from patatas bravas to piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese. The paellas are the showstoppers, however, particularly the arroz negro that includes squid ink, clams, and fennel sausage, and is topped with uni aioli and smoked trout roe. It now boasts a lovely patio with heaters, too, ideal for sipping Spanish wine on a cool Berkeley evening.

Middle East Market

Tucked in the back of this well-stocked Middle Eastern grocery store is one of Berkeley’s best-kept secrets: a kitchen that turns out perhaps the most delicious Persian food in the East Bay. The menu includes juicy, well-blackened kebabs; tender lamb shanks; and homey stews like the classic, green herb-packed ghormeh sabzi. Regulars know to snag a bag of Persian flatbread before they leave.

El Patio

This perenially underrated half-Mexican, half-Venezuelan spot is still dishing out what might be the Bay Area’s best arepas, including the star of the menu, a classic reina pepiada (or “curvy queen”) that comes shockingly overstuffed with shredded chicken tossed in a mashed avocado dressing.

Gaumenkitzel

Chef-owner Anja Voth’s mostly organic, health-conscious, “slow food” approach to German cuisine has earned Gaumenkitzel a devoted following in Berkeley — which isn’t to say that the crowd favorites like the buttery spaetzle and excellent crispy pork schnitzel are light or in any way lacking in flavor. Parents will appreciate the appealing, spaetzle-focused kids’ menu.

Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya

This downtown Berkeley izakaya made a name for itself for its inventive, forward-thinking small plates: smoked mentaiko potato salad and fried black cod fish cakes that ooze with melted cheese curds. Settle into the stylish but modest dining room to enjoy sashimi, curry, and more.

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Kiraku

The East Bay has many izakaya-style Japanese restaurants, but none that are as much rollicking fun as Kiraku, nor any that serve food that’s as consistently delightful and well executed. Must-order dishes include the corn tempura with green tea salt, the grilled whole squid, and the mini kaisen don or one of the other rice bowls to end the meal in the traditional Japanese way.