Food, culture, campus: Downtown Berkeley’s best?

2012 Sunday Streets. Photo: Alan Tobey

Downtown Berkeley has become increasingly popular, due to new businesses, festivals such as Sunday Streets (above) and more. Photo: Alan Tobey

Downtown Berkeley has seen a major revival in recent years, with a profusion of new restaurants and extensive development planned. Not everyone is happy with the changes, and the future of downtown continues to be a controversial topic.

On a lark, Berkeleyside asked readers to share some of their favorite downtown spots on Facebook. And, given the penchant in this town to offer criticism or complaints as a means toward progress, it was a bit of a shock to see the immediate outpouring of excitement about places locals love downtown.

Within a few hours, we had nearly 50 comments. Ideas — totaling about 80 recommendations — continued to come in for days. By no means is this intended to be scientific or exhaustive, but our question certainly hit a nerve.

We’ve included all the suggestions, along with some highlights provided by readers, in the map below. Click the markers to learn more.

View downtown Berkeley favorites from Berkeleyside readers in a larger map, which includes an alphabetized list of marked locations. Light blue markers show restaurants, purple ones show books and cultural venues, and darker blue icons were assigned to everything else. Map: Jasper Burget and Emilie Raguso/Berkeleyside

Not everyone was a fan of the atmosphere and choices in the heart of Berkeley. One reader said, “I avoid downtown. Nothing good enough to overcome parking and street people issues. Just gross.” Another said he liked a couple spots, but added: “Parking and street people hassles make me avoid downtown.”

Some also noted that they were hankering for businesses that had shut their doors, such as Hink’s Department Store, Edy’s, Shattuck Down Low, ALKO office supplies and the UC Theatre (which has plans to reopen). But, of about 70 responses to the original call-out, critical voices were few and far between. And, in this town, that’s a pretty rare thing.

The most popular spots for Berkeleyside readers ran the gamut from the Berkeley Public Library, Jupiter, Comal and Freight & Salvage — which landed at the top of the heap — to many other eateries and bars, Ace Hardware, and the various movie theaters and performance spaces downtown.

One commenter said he loved “Jupiter for beer and pizza … and the Berkeley Public Library for my head and soul.” And those were the two downtown Berkeley institutions that garnered the highest number of votes. Comal (“for the world’s best margarita”) and Freight & Salvage weren’t far behind.

Readers also pointed out The Jazzschool (“I like to rent out their practice rooms and play piano on my lunch break”) and UC Berkeley’s eucalyptus grove, as a retreat on stressful days, as places to unwind.

Other locations receiving high marks included Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Games of Berkeley, Half Price Books, Cancun Taqueria (“The most amazing salsa bar”) and PIQ.

And numerous readers also gave a shout-out to Shattuck Cinemas (“My favorite Cineplex ever”), the UC Berkeley campus, the YMCA, Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, Razan’s Organic Kitchen (“The best split pea soup ever”), Asha Tea House (“Definitely seems like a unique space. Honestly, it felt like I was in New York or SF”), Triple Rock, Ippuku, Sliver Pizzeria, La Note for breakfast, and John’s $1 Ice Cream.

Berkeley’s relatively new Sunday Streets festival on Shattuck Avenue also got some love, as did the Saturday farmers market.

And one reader said she hopes all this activity is a sign of things to come: “With some more development, more stores, and safer streets, downtown Berkeley could actually be a destination.”

Read more about downtown Berkeley on Berkeleyside. Click the markers in the interactive map to reach past Berkeleyside coverage, as available, of each location. Have more tips about the businesses listed above, or did your favorite spots get skipped? Chime in below in the comments.

Would new green initiative kill 2 downtown high rises? (05.14.14)
Mayor to focus on downtown, Telegraph, more at State of the City address (04.28.14)
‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way (01.14.14)
Photos: Berkeley revels in car-free buzz of Sunday Streets (10.14.13)

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  • andrew johnson

    I remember when you asked for those comments. Good to see the story get published, thanks.

  • emraguso

    Yes, it was more delayed than I’d hoped but we finally made it happen.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Eureka! and PiQ are staples for me, but soon to be Botella Republic will be something to look forward to in Downtown Berkeley.

  • foo

    The only nerves that are hit seem to be those of the people that expect parking to be free. Let them stay in Walnut Creek.

  • Bill N

    Really looking forward to Botella Republic too. I met the owners one day and hey seemed very nice too.

  • Cherilyn Parsons

    Downtown is great and getting better! A favorite restaurant is Arabica: fantastic bread and olive oil/seeds dip, and a salmon salad that’s so good that it seems everyone in my party always orders it (though I’m told the rest of the menu is great too). The pharmacists at Walgreens are super friendly. Jazz Cafe has yummy stews and quiches. Groove Yoga on Oxford has very skilled teachers and good music, and Yoga to the People on Shattuck is perfect for a quick, predictable yoga hour. As for parking: I almost hesitate to share the secret, but a great deal is the economy parking (for 4 hours, no less!) near City Hall.

  • Guest

    Great map! I’d also add plugs for Jayakarta and Anh Hong on University, and Cinnaholic on Oxford.

  • AnthonySanchez

    They’re awesome, aren’t they? Makes for all-around great place to frequent once they open.

  • ’16

    Berkeley High’s down there too! #represennnt