The New York-style, thin-crust pizza at Gioia dominated our survey of the best pizza in Berkeley back in 2011, garnering nearly twice as many votes as the second-place winner. It gets high marks from us for seasonal specialties — asparagus and ricotta in the spring; butternut squash and blue cheese in the fall. Readers’ picks include garlic and arugula, anchovy, and pepperoni. Wrote one: “When Gioia makes their asparagus pizza, I do a little happy pizza dance.” It’s still packed today, and worth stopping in for a slice or three next time you’re searching for a parking space at Monterey Market. Gioia Pizzeria is at 1586 Hopkins St. (at Monterey Avenue), Berkeley. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
A true West Berkeley gem, this former Taco Bell serves up some of the best mole you can find in the East Bay, plus excellent burritos jam-packed with juicy chile Colorado pork or chile verde chicken. La Mission’s beer-battered fried fish tacos are monstrous, as are the vegetarian grande tacos, making this University Avenue taqueria very veggie- and pescetarian-friendly. Even better — it’s one of the only Berkeley restaurants serving food until midnight, so if you don’t make it in for lunch, we recommend stopping in for a late-night snack. La Mission is at 1255 University Ave. (at Chestnut Street), Berkeley. Wheelchair accessible.
For a simple green salad, you can’t do much better than the garden lettuce salad at Standard Fare in West Berkeley. Chef Kelsie Kerr’s simple red wine vinaigrette somehow makes the tender lettuces from Blue Heron Farms taste more like themselves, and a light hand with that dressing keeps the salad bright, crisp and fresh. Order the salad alongside a half sandwich — there are both vegetarian and meat-filled options — for a satisfying lunch. Those who can’t say know to a small bite of dessert to a few bites of the extra-chocolatey TCHO chocolate pudding topped with the perfect amount of lightly whipped cream. Standard Fare is at 2701 8th Street #118 (at Carleton Street), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.
Berkeley is not known for its sandwiches, but there is one saving grace for those of us looking for a substantial meal layered inside a gloriously gluten-filled baguette — Star Grocery’s meat counter. Walk to the back of the store during lunchtime and you’ll find Star Meats bustling. There are a few vegetarian sandwiches for the meat-averse, but we recommend going all-in if your diet permits. Our favorite sandwich is the Brian Allen — a magical synthesis of turkey, cheddar, hot coppa, arugula, tomato and chipotle mayonnaise. Several of the meats are cured in-house, and each sandwich comes piled high on a La Farine baguette. Take your lunch to-go and journey to Redwood Regional or Tilden Park for the best al fresco meal in the East Bay. Star Meats is at 3068 Claremont Ave. (between Prince and Woolsey streets), Berkeley. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the butcher shop on Facebook.
Summer Kitchen & Bakeshop
As soon as husband-and-wife team Charlene Reis (a former Chez Panisse pastry chef) and Paul Arenstam (Hotel Vitale and Americano in San Francisco) opened this bright, white-tiled Elmwood spot in 2009, it was a hit. While the seasonal menu changes little, the fare — salads, sandwiches and thin-crust pizzas from the real-fire oven — is of consistently excellent standard. Favorites include the apple-smoked bacon, avocado, Piquillo pepper, wild arugula and mustard-mayo sandwich;the kale caesar salad with acme sourdough croutons and Grana Padano cheese — be sure to add the kitchen’s famous crispy chicken for an extra $2 — and, from the dinner menu, the Bailey and Long braised pork shoulder with creamy polenta, chimichurri and herb salad. And don’t leave without trying a pastry — the lemon meringue cupcake perhaps? Bonus: Summer Kitchen fans include Steve Kerr on game days.Summer Kitchen & Bakeshop is at 2944 College Ave. (at Ashby), Berkeley. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Berkeley’s Sweetgreen has meal-sized salads in spades, many of which are winners, but our favorite is the chain’s signature OMG Omega. The “omega” in question comes from roasted steelhead trout, which sits upon a bed of arugula, baby spinach, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes. Creamy avocado pieces complement the trout, as does a savory miso-sesame-ginger dressing (get it dressed “medium”) and a dusting of salty, umami-laced nori furikake. Other seasonal salad and grain bowl specials are also all worth a taste. Wash it all down with the house-made chai iced tea. Sweetgreen is at 1890 Shattuck Ave. (at Hearst Street), Berkeley. Connect with Sweetgreen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Butcher’s Son
You know when that craving strikes for a meatball sandwich? The kind that is slathered in tomato sauce with sautéed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, topped with a generous hunk of mozzarella? A sandwich that requires multiple napkins to catch all the juice that dribbles down your chin? The next time that very craving strikes, try something different and head to The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley. Not only will you enjoy the hell out of that sandwich, but you can feel virtuous about the fact that an animal didn’t have to die for it, nor did your sandwich contribute to the emission of greenhouse gasses. Yep, everything on the menu at The Butcher’s Son is vegan. That meatball sandwich is our favorite on the deli’s sprawling menu, with surprisingly stringy cheese (made from cashews) and hearty seitan-mushroom”meat”balls. But there are other gems there as well — remarkably bacon-y bacon, vegan croissants and cannoli-donuts, to name a few. The deli now serves brunch on the weekends as well, complete with animal-free eggs, fried “chicken” and waffles. The Butcher’s Son is at 1941-A University Ave. (at Bonita Avenue), Berkeley. Connect with the deli on Facebook.
Tucked down near the bay at Fourth and Channing, this vibrant and always-bustling cafeteria and market is the best place in West Berkeley to snag a quick lunch. Vik’s Chaat specializes in Indian snack food like puri (small fried breads) topped with chutneys and chickpeas, pakora (fritters) and cholle bhature (the “large puffy thing”), but they also serve specials like dosas, biryani and rotating varieties of curries throughout the week. Don’t miss the lovely, just-spicy-enough Kerala fish curry on Fridays. The only trick? Learning how to listen for your order to be called through the microphone into the cacophonous room. Vik’s Chaat and Market is at 2390 Fourth St. (at Channing Way), Berkeley. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
For those days when you definitely want a beer with your lunch (or need a serious bite late at night), Analog is one of the best deals in town. The bar/sandwich shop is, yes, analog-themed but that’s not why we love it. Its massive, foccacia-based sandwiches are expertly built, always verging on too-salty but never quite crossing that line. Analog boasts a killer line-up of vegan sandwiches that may even be better than its meat-filled options. Try the “Hail Seitan” or “The Rachel.” Trust us. Analog is at 414 14th St. (between Broadway and Franklin), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
The popularity of modern, fresh Middle Eastern food in the Bay Area is only growing; Piedmont Avenue’s Ba-Bite is a prime example. The restaurant specializes in delicious, colorful salads; rich, creamy hummus; and hearty, well-seasoned hot dishes like chicken tagines and majadera (lentils and rice with fried onions). We’ve been consistently impressed with Ba-Bite’s silky smooth hummus — it comes with a choice of six different toppings like chickpeas, falafel or lamb, but is worthy of adoration all on its own. The falafel are likewise perfectly seasoned, with a surprising depth of flavor from a blend of dried chickpeas and fava beans. Ba-Bite is at 3905 Piedmont Ave. (at Montell Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
Banh Mi Ba Le
For the best lunch value, it’s hard to argue with a banh mi sandwich. Loaded down with pȃté, various cured Vietnamese meats, pickles, chiles and plenty of mayonnaise (always include the mayonnaise), a well-crafted banh mi will satisfy for less than $5. At Nosh, we’re partial to the banh mis at Ba Le in East Oakland — the restaurant was renovated to include indoor seating (bonus!) and even more packaged sweets and candies to tempt us as we wait in line for our #2 ham combo sandwich. The bread is always crisp and the fillings fresh and expertly proportioned for a perfect balance of richness, salt and spice. Pro-tip: There’s a second Banh Mi Ba Le location in El Cerrito, but it is never quite as good. Banh Mi Ba Le is 1909 International Blvd. (at 19th Avenue), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible.
While it would be easy to scoff at the prices for tacos ($4-5) at Old Oakland’s Cosecha, you’d be remiss not to swallow your pride and dive into a (small) plate of them. Friday’s special shrimp tacos are a prime example. Two shatteringly crisp fried wild shrimp combine with stately pile of cabbage slaw with a drizzle of brilliantly orange chipotle crema and a sliver of jalapeño balancing on top. The single warm, slightly sweet house-made tortilla underneath is thick enough to support the fillings without coming close to ripping. If the taco prices are still too high for comfort, take solace in a bowl of pozole. A mildly spicy rendition of the classic Mexican stew, Cosecha’s pozole holds in balance bright lime juice, earthy hominy and grassy green chiles with tender shredded chicken. Cosecha is at 907 Washington St. (at 9th Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
El Novillo and Tacos Guadalajara Trucks
It is a well-known non-secret that some of the best tacos in the Bay Area can be found in East Oakland’s Fruitvale district. While there is close to a truck every block, there are some that are better than others. Our picks? Two trucks owned by Guadalajara Restaurant: El Novillo and Tacos Guadalajara. For offal cuts, go to Novillo in the Guadalajara parking lot. The tripas, frizzled and fried pork intestines, exhibit that wondrous crunchy-chewy tug-of-war characteristic of the best calamari, all laced with rich porkiness. The cabeza tacos are also a fine choice. Soft and buttery, they are coated in enough rendered fat to be supple, but still go down surprisingly easy. Our top choice at Tacos Guadalajara, which is parked down the street, is the carnitas, the best we’ve had from any Fruitvale truck. They’re served sans sauce, so there’s nothing to distract from the tender, citrusy shreds of pork mixed with sweet, caramelized crisp bits. El Novillo is at 1001 Fruitvale Blvd. (at 12th Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Tacos Guadalajara is at the corner of 44th Avenue and International Boulevard, Oakland.
This highly anticipated burger-focused restaurant from Chris Kronner opened on Piedmont Avenue in 2015 to much fanfare (and protest over the removal of a certain historic mural). KronnerBurger’s namesakes are served rare and fire-kissed on a house-made bun with a game-changing cheddar mayonnaise and optional bone marrow. But even though Kronner’s burger gets most of the love, his sides and salads are just as good, if not better. A recent highlight was a daily special of uni toast — thick-cut, citrusy butter-slicked bread, padron peppers and a generous portion of salty, rich urchin roe. Strong, creative cocktails are also on point. Try the Big Fun (bourbon, rum, honey, oloroso sherry, bitters) if you indeed want to make a big, fun day of it. KronnerBurger is at 4063 Piedmont Ave. (at 41st Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It was a good day for sandwich lovers when we learned that Jeff Mason was moving his famed sandwich shop, Pal’s Takeaway, from San Francisco’s Mission district to the Firebrand bakery inside of Uptown Oakland’s Hive complex, but the relationship was short-lived and ended after about six months. Luckily, the sandwich emporium has reopened in the new kitchen incubator, Forage Kitchen, just a few blocks away. Pal’s specializes in creative tweaks on classic deli sandwiches where even the strangest sounding combinations come away winners — Mason has a deft hand and an astute eye for balance. Recent favorites include a Lao sausage sandwich with cucumber-cilantro relish, house-made mayonnaise and greens; an American Kobe roast beef sandwich with spicy slaw, cheddar spread, mayonnaise and heirloom lettuce; and a dill-miso roasted salmon sandwich with haricot vert, fennel slaw, avocado, mayonnaise and heirloom lettuce. Pal’s Takeaway is at Forage Kitchen, 478 25th St. (between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue), Oakland. Connect with the sandwich shop on Twitter.
Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Say you want a good sausage and a beer for lunch. (It’s your day off.) Say you want to enjoy said sausage and beer at a picnic table in picturesque Old Oakland. Say you want to stop by the best weekday farmers market afterwards. Rosamunde is your place. The San Fransisco transplant now has two Oakland locations, the (superior, in this writer’s opinion) Swan’s Marketplace joint and a newer, shinier spot in Temescal. Both Rosamunde locations boast an extensive menu of sausages, both meaty and vegan, plus several local beers on draft. Try a lamb or wild boar sausage with grilled onions, with a humongous pickle and a bowl of the surprisingly delicious potato salad on the side. Bonus: the happy hour (from 2-6 p.m.) almost always includes $3 IPAs. Rosamunde is at 911 Washington St. (at 9th Street), Oakland and 4659 Telegraph Ave. (between 46th and 47th Streets), Oakland. Both restaurants are wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
Tamales la Oaxaqueña
Other neighborhoods in Oakland may be better destinations for burritos and tacos, but West Oakland is home to the finest tamales. At Tamales la Oaxaqueña, chef Rosa Oliva crafts artful banana-leaf-wrapped tamales filled with rich, earthy, chile-filled moles. There’s a dark mole negro made smoky with charred tortillas and chiles, and a cinnamon-spiced mole rogo, sweetened with plantains and raisins. While the moles are served with pork or chicken, it doesn’t mean vegetarians are totally out of luck — Oliva also makes tamales with corn and zucchini or roasted poblano and jack cheese. Tamales la Oaxaqueña is at 2608 Market St. (at 26th Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
When we want a quick, burger-centric meal, we always turn to TrueBurger — its two locations, in Uptown and on Broadway, serve up thin, fast-food patties alongside fries, milkshakes, and not much else. TrueBurger took home the trophy in our reader poll for best the East Bay burger, and we tend to agree. Its fare is fast, affordable and deeply satisfying without inducing (too much) of a greasy fast-food stomach ache. Double down with a Shake Shack-esque mushroom and cheeseburger mash-up and a vanilla milkshake for the most “true” TrueBurger experience. TrueBurger is at 146 Grand Ave. (at Valdez Street) and 4101 Broadway (at 41st Street), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Zella’s Soulful Kitchen
Zella’s Soulful Kitchen is one of many successful businesses to come out of the La Cocina culinary incubator in San Francisco. Owner Dionne Knox’s soul food-inflected cuisine has a healthy bent, with plenty of salads and poultry on the menu. Still, the size of the slabs of macaroni and cheese is impressive — Zella’s is clearly here to comfort as much as nourish. Case in point: the short rib and melted cheese sandwich. The short rib meat is shredded and crisped on the flat-top with sweet caramelized onions. An unspecified yet creamy melted cheese (Provolone? Mild cheddar?) does its job of holding the sandwich together, but the real hero is the tender, rich beef. Knox’s barbecue chicken drumsticks and fried chicken are also both winners. They’re sold by the pound to be re-heated at home, but are just as good — maybe even better — eaten cold. Zella’s Soulful Kitchen is at is at 1430 7th St., (at Mandela Parkway), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Can’t beat Cheese Board for pizza. Great cheeses and [the] veg toppings are innovative.” — Nosh reader
Our Readers’ Picks listing is compiled from our reader survey conducted in early 2016. We’ve listed the top five reader choices in Berkeley, Oakland and Beyond for each meal.