We know that there’s more to East Bay dining than Temescal, Rockridge and the Gourmet Ghetto. NOSH’s neighborhood guides explore the best of the rest. This month, we explore the south side of Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue, a.k.a. the West Berkeley Design Loop.
West Berkeley’s dining scene has been on fire the last few years. With the opening of the Gilman Whole Foods came a slew of restaurants on the city’s northwest corner. Yet the southern end of West Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue has long been a destination for barbecue and dive bars. Today, the neighborhood advertises itself as a design and antiques mecca — furniture stores, salvage yards and antique shops are everywhere — but there many great restaurants and bars, both new and old, to visit after shopping. Below are our picks for the best in the area, and we’ve included a handy map so you know precisely where they are.
We’ll start our tour at the corner of University and San Pablo Avenue at the 17-year-old Lanesplitter Pizza. Its pizzas are nothing fancy — anyone expecting a wood-fired Neapolitan pie should look elsewhere. Instead, you can find extravagant pizzas like the popular “Heartstopper,” decked out with bacon, gorgonzola, roasted garlic and spinach, or the “Garbage Pie,” an even more elaborate combination of pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, onion, olive, spinach, artichoke hearts and fresh tomato. Lanesplitter has long catered to the vegan crowd; their signature “Notta Ricotta” elicits Yelp praise along the likes of “HOLY MOLY DELICIOUS,” “perfect” and “fresh.” Even better, the pizzeria’s beer list is always full of local microbrews. Take one out to the outdoor picnic tables with a slice or two for the ultimate Lanesplitter’s experience. Lanesplitter Pizza is at 2033 San Pablo Ave. (at University), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Highwire Coffee Roasters
A couple doors down from Lanesplitter is the former Local 123 café, now owned by Highwire Coffee Roasters. Local 123 was bought by the Oakland coffee company in February, but much of the café has remained the same. Today, you’ll find Highwire coffees and teas (excellent, says this reporter) alongside Local’s original food menu of simple sandwiches, salads, soups and baked goods. The café has long been a second office for work-at-home types; on weekdays, the tables are mostly filled with laptops. Like Lanesplitter, Highwire has a great outdoor seating area, perfect for sipping on that cappuccino or munching on house-baked cookie. Highwire Coffee is at 2049 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley. Connect with the café on Facebook and Twitter.
Three foodie markets: Middle East Market, Mi Tierra Foods, Country Cheese
Within spitting distance of Highwire are three markets offering everything from freshly made chorizo to Persian dried limes. Fans of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks should flock to Middle East Market for its impressive dried-goods selection. The shop carries everything from those dried limes to barberries to bulk cardamom pods at good prices. Middle East Market does have a prepared foods selection, but this is not where it shines. Down the block is the Mexican grocery store Mi Tierra Foods, home of weekend carnitas, fresh masa for tortillas and the largest selection of Bob’s Red Mill products anywhere in the East Bay. Mi Tierra also boasts a decent produce selection; excellent dried spices, beans, and chiles; and a pretty killer bakery. Across the street is the quirky Country Cheese market. In addition to its large but poorly displayed cheese selection, the market is well-stocked in dried goods, chocolate and tea. In the back, you’ll find a deli counter ready with sandwich fixings. Middle East Market is at 2054 San Pablo Ave. (at University Avenue), Berkeley. Mi Tierra Foods is at 2082 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley. Country Cheese is at 2101 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley.
Acme Bar and Company
Before Longbranch opened (see below), Acme Bar had the only whiskey list worth mentioning in West Berkeley. With around 130 bottles, it is still a very impressive array. But what Acme has that Longbranch doesn’t is an extensive selection of other booze, like mescal. Acme Bar is a solid spot for happy hour, as well as a relatively quiet destination to learn about whiskey. The bar is celebrating its 13th anniversary on May 9 with drink specials, snacks and a raffle. Acme Bar and Company is at 2115 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley. Connect with the bar on Facebook.
Further down San Pablo is one of the only German restaurants in the East Bay, Gaumenkitzel. The restaurant and bakery serves northern German cuisine, which is (slightly) lighter on the pork and heavier on the seafood than the sausage-rich southern part of the country. We explored the restaurant when it first opened in 2011, and it has only gained in popularity over the past few years. Diners particularly love the German beer selection, schnitzel and spätzle. Gaumenkitzel is at 2121 San Pablo Ave (at Cowper Street), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Twitter.
Quince Café and Grill
Not to be confused with the high-end restaurant in San Francisco, Berkeley’s Quince is a quaint breakfast and brunch spot south of Gaumenkitzel. Quince offers a Mediterranean-inflected menu of breakfast and lunch staples like a “Jordanian omelette” and salad topped with dolmas, hummus and tabouli. Many of the dishes are given a healthy twist — chicken and turkey play prominently on the menu — but there are still a few indulgences, like thinly shredded hash browns and a half pound burger, for those who care to indulge. Quince Café and Grill is at 2228 San Pablo Ave. (between Allston and Bancroft Way), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
San Pablo Avenue is known for its barbecue, one of the newest of which is Smoke Berkeley. Chef Tina Ferguson-Riffe makes everything but the Acme buns in house, including family recipes for coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans. All the barbecue is smoked, Texas-style, with a choice of mild, medium or hot sauce. Besides typical barbecue offerings like pulled pork and brisket, Smoke serves two unique dishes — smoked lamb and tea-smoked salmon. The salmon, in particular, is a crowd favorite. Desserts, like the chocolate pecan pie, have a Southern touch. Smoke Berkeley is at 2434 San Pablo Ave. (between Channing and Dwight Way), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Caffe Trieste is a fixture of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, and is known as the first espresso house in the country. It opened its West Berkeley location in 2004, officially becoming a small Bay Area chain. Along with its other shops, the West Berkeley Trieste has a live music component, with concerts almost every night of the week. There’s food too, all with a solid Italian-American theme (read: paninis and spaghetti and meatballs), and a low-key happy hour. Caffe Trieste is at 2500 San Pablo Ave. (at Dwight Way). Connect with the café on Facebook.
Longbranch is the newest restaurant on San Pablo; it opened up in the former Sea Salt space last fall. The self-proclaimed saloon boasts a English-inflected menu — think bangers and mash, potted pork trotter, and a goat cheese and leek tart — plus meat-y staples like bone-in ribeye, a burger, and lamb loin chops. Its biggest draw, however, is its bar. Longbranch stocks around 150 different whiskeys, many of which can be sampled in a whiskey flight or a whiskey cocktail. For those who don’t care for the brown stuff, there is, of course, wine and craft beer aplenty. Longbranch Saloon is at 2512 San Pablo Ave. (at Dwight Way), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
We’d be remiss not to include the dive bar and hip hangout, Missouri Lounge. Open from noon until very late, it transforms over the course of the day from a townie bar to a happy-hour meet-up to a nightclub. Regardless of the time of day, Missouri Lounge serves the best drink special in town: a cheap beer and a shot of whiskey for $5. The outdoor seating area is a respite from the dark interior of the bar, and it seems to be perpetually crowded. Also outdoors is the grill area, which churns out decent burgers, hot dogs and nachos. The best nights to come are Wednesdays, when neighborhood residents step up to the microphone and perform for a small crowd of friends. Or stay late on a Friday or Saturday for a DJ set and dance party. Missouri Lounge is at 2600 San Pablo Ave. (at Parker Street), Berkeley. Connect with the bar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Don’t see your favorite restaurant on our list? Let us know in the comments.
Check out our West Oakland Nosh Neighborhood Guide.