Revealed: A Berkeley restaurant guide and labor of love

The cover design for the "Restaurants in the Berkeley Area" guide was designed by Harold Poskanzer

Over the past 34 years, Art and Lucille Poskanzer, who dine out at least once a week, have compiled what is probably the only dedicated restaurant guide to Berkeley and Oakland. However, unless you happen to work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, it’s unlikely you will have seen it.

That changes today, as Berkeleyside is honored to be able to introduce “Restaurants in the Berkeley Area”, which includes regularly updated reviews of 100 restaurants in Berkeley and 80 in Oakland, as well as maps and a recent news section.

The printed guide began life in 1978 as “Guide to Berkeley’s Restaurants and Hot Tubs”. It was conceived by Berkeley Lab physicist Art Poskanzer, who, that year, was tasked with hosting an international nuclear physics conference which drew in many out-of-town visitors.

“This was the days before Yelp,” Poskanzer says today. “We wanted to be able to provide a useful dining-out resource for visitors.”

At the time, Poskanzer explains, people also wanted to experience first-hand Berkeley’s reputation as a laid-back kind of place, hence the inclusion of hot tubs. The hot tubs were dropped a few years after the guide was introduced, the web version of the guide appeared in 1995, and, in 2003, when Berkeley Lab hosted a conference in downtown Oakland, the companion guide to Oakland was launched.

Lucille Poskanzer writes all the short reviews, after the couple has visited a restaurant together, while Art edits them and oversees the production side of the operation. It’s very much a family affair, as son Jef created the online maps, and son Harold designed the guide’s cover.

Lucille, a former pediatric genetic counselor at Oakland’s Children Hospital, describes herself as a foodie, but not hard-core. “It’s a personal, family project,” she says, “not a career”.

Corso: described as "wonderful" in the guide

Nevertheless the guide is compiled in a thoroughly professional manner. The couple visit restaurants incognito and don’t take notes while they are there. Rather Lucille keeps mental tabs, because, Art says, she has a fantastic memory, and they decide at the end of the meal whether the dining spot merits inclusion.

“And we always agree,” says Art. They swap observations and discuss the pros and cons of the restaurant, and obtain a menu. “Lucille has a fantastic memory,” adds Art.

The guide is updated every six month and includes news flashes in between. In January, for instance, note was made of the temporary closing of Great China following a fire at the Kittredge Street restaurant.

The Poskanzers are eclectic in their tastes but limit themselves to a maximum of 80-100 restaurants in each of the two cities they cover. That means there is at least as long a list of restaurants that the couple needs to exclude from the guide as the ones they include.

Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto: in original 1978 guide, and still there today

Of the restaurants in the original guide, the only ones still open, and in the current guide, are Chez Panisse, Spenger’s, Bay Wolf, Yoshi’s, and Bateau Ivre.

The couple won’t admit publicly to any favorites, for fear of appearing to show favoritism, but the reports themselves are revealing. Corso, in downtown, for instance, is described as “wonderful”. “It features a small menu of excellent rustic Italian food. Close to campus and popular, everything is delicious and well priced for the high quality. This should not be missed, so join the crowds,” writes Lucille. PIQ on Shattuck Square is an “authentic slice of Italy” with “beautifully crafted savory sandwiches on house baked bread”.

But the table to snag is clearly at “Chez Lucille” which is described as having “wonderful food available at all hours of the day and night emphasizing freshness, creativity, and the warmth of the chef.” No doubt to readers’ chagrin, however, the review concludes: “Unfortunately dining is only by personal invitation of the chef.”

Visit the “Restaurants in the Berkeley Area” guide. Berkeleyside is including a permanent link to the online guide from our homepage from today (see below, middle column).

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  • Andrew

    I had totally forgotten about this. Thanks! 

  • Chris Rooney

    The original 1978 guide begs the question “Why a guide on restaurants AND hot tubs?” and “Did Berkeley ever have a restaurant and hot tub spa under one roof?”

  • Stefan Lasiewski

    I work at LBL and I didn’t know about this. Thanks for the pointer!

  • Anonymous

    When will the movie “Dinner with Art & Lucille” come out?

    I’d love to join them on one of their cognito adventures.

  • lagartijito

    I wish their reviews would improve.  Describing food as “tasty” doesn’t really encourage me to want to try it.    Also, some of the restaurants are in Albany.

  • Valerie

    I have long relied upon and appreciated the Poskanzers’ reviews and am glad to thank them here. Glad their labor of love will be more widely available!

  • The intersection of scientific research and hot tubbing is well known to be time travel. Hang tight guys, we’re working on it.

  • Anonymous

    Venn can we expect results?

  • Tom

    I’ve been using this site for years.  The Poskanzer’s have done a great job keeping tabs on the local restaurant scene.  Thankfully, their taste matches mine, so I’ve been pleased to follow their lead.