Our top picks for Berkeley Restaurant Week 2020, Jan. 21-31

Sea bream houjicha ochazuke, with seared sea bream, roasted tea, home-made broth, rice, seaweed, japanese herbs and rice crackers.
Seabream chazuke will be one of the third-course options at Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya during Berkeley Restaurant Week. Photo: Fish & Bird

The eighth annual Berkeley Restaurant Week takes place Jan. 21-31, featuring about 40 restaurants offering prix-fixe meals at three price points: $25, $30 or $40. Several restaurants are repeat BRW participants that made my picks last year, but one spot is brand new — Fish & Bird Souzaku Izakaya, which takes over the restaurant space last occupied by Saha.

Here are my top 10 picks, organized by price point. Some of my recommended spots are offering deals at other price points, and there are many others participating, so be sure to go to the Berkeley Restaurant Week website to see all the offers. Note that prices do not include tax and gratuity; reservations, when possible, are recommended.

$25 prix-fixe lunch, dinner

AKEMI I chose to feature the prix-fixe lunch ($25) over the prix-fixe dinner ($30) at this Berkeley Hills Japanese restaurant because it offers more choices of Akemi’s most popular items: sushi rolls and ramen. The three-course lunch deal comes with a starter (little gem salad or gyoza), main item (veggie, tonkotosu or spicy miso ramen or Salmon Lover Roll, Evil Roll or Veggie King Roll) and green tea ice cream for dessert. Akemi, 1695 Solano Ave. (between Tulare and Ventura avenues), Berkeley

Smoked salmon open faced sandwich at Baker & Commons.
Smoked salmon open faced sandwich at Baker & Commons. Photo: Baker & Commons

BAKER & COMMONS I’ve always enjoyed the sandwiches, salads and baked goods at this Elmwood neighborhood café, so I’ve got my eyes on the BRW $25 lunch deal, which comes with the soup of the day and organic green salad, sandwich (smoked salmon, lemon and garlic hummus or curried chicken) and cookie (fleur de sel chocolate chunk or chewy chocolate pecan). Baker & Commons, 2900 College Ave. (at Russell Street), Berkeley 


POLLARA This Fourth Street restaurant specializes in Roman-style pizza al taglio, which is less common in these parts. The rectangular slab pizzas feature a crusty, airy, yet soft dough topped with ingredients, like cheeses, cured fishes, salumi and fresh fruits and herbs. Pollara serves up 10 different pizzas a day; slices are cut to order, then reheated and priced by weight. The ordering process can be a bit daunting for first-time visitors (how big is a single serving? how much will it cost?), but for Berkeley Restaurant Week, Pollara simplifies ordering by offering an all-day special that takes out the guess work. For $25 the deal feeds two people, with two slices of pizza, two half salads and two non-alcoholic drink (or pay $10 more to upgrade your sips to house red, white or rose). Pollara, 1788 Fourth St. (at Delaware Street), Berkeley

$30 prix-fixe dinner

Vermicelli with citrus at Funky Elephant in Berkeley.
Vegan vermicelli salad is one of the choices on Funky Elephant’s Berkeley Restaurant Week menu. Photo: Funky Elephant

FUNKY ELEPHANT I’m a big fan of this funky little Thai spot in North Berkeley, located just behind the REI strip mall and next door to Philz Coffee. At Funky Elephant, the owners are friendly and the food is always fresh and flavorful. Almost everything — from sauces, curry pastes, sausages and desserts  — are made in-house, and the restaurant sources high-quality meat, seafood and produce. The $30 prix-fixe dinner comes with a starter, entree and a beverage. To start, order wok-tossed PEI mussels in housemade chile jam or a vegan vermicelli salad with marinated tofu. For the entree, try garlic pepper pork ribs or a vegan red curry with market vegetables — both served with jasmine rice. Beverage options include Singha beer, Beerlao or Singha seltzer. Funky Elephant, 1313 Ninth St. (at Gilman Street), Berkeley

LUCIA’S Omnivores, vegan and gluten-free diners will find something to like at this downtown Berkeley Italian restaurant offering a $30 prix-fixe BRW dinner. Choose a starter (kale salad, bis di montanarine or fried calamari), pizza or pasta (several options, including a vegan pizza featuring Miyoko’s cashew mozzerella), and dessert (Double 8 buffalo milk soft serve gelato, chocolate mousse or sorbet from Berkeley’s Al Mare Gelato). Lucia’s, 2016 Shattuck Ave. (near University Avenue), Berkeley

PYEONG CHANG TOFU The Berkeley location of the popular Temescal Korean restaurant offers two prix-fixe dinner sets, but I’m leaning towards the $30 set, which includes two of Pyeong Chang’s reliably good specialties: the kimchi pancake and soondubu, or soft tofu. The meal comes with rice, a spread of banchan and choice of one small beer, small hot sake, or two cans of soda. Pyeong Chang Tofu House, 1269 University Ave. (near Chestnut Street), Berkeley

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$40 prix-fixe meals

CREEKWOOD RESTAURANT This South Berkeley Cal-Italian spot is a favorite for many in the neighborhood for its seasonal menu of salads, appetizers, pizzas and entrees. During Berkeley Restaurant Week, the $40 prix-fixe dinner includes appetizer (baby kale salad or calamari with fingerling potatoes, greens and toasted olive aioli); entree (vegan garlic-parsley pappardelle with porcini, cauliflower and walnuts or parsley risotto with braised Duroc pork short rib) and a scoop of gelato to cap the meal. Creekwood, 3121 Sacramento St. (at Woolsey Street), Berkeley

FISH & BIRD SOUSAKU IZAKAYA The much-anticipated Japanese restaurant from former AS B-Dama and Utzutzu chefs will open Tuesday, just in time for Berkeley Restaurant Week. The $40 four-course dinner includes a choice of first course (smoked mentaiko potato salad or padron peppers); second course (Japanese fried chicken or vegetable tempura); third course (Berkshire pork hotpot, seabream chazuke or a vegetarian porridge with vegetables and egg); homemade ice cream for dessert and a beverage (house cocktail, red or white wine, house sake, Asahi draft beer, mocktail, soda or tea). Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya, 2451 Shattuck Ave. (at Haste Street), Berkeley

Patatas Bravas with spicy Mojo Picón at La Marcha in Berkeley.
Patatas Bravas with spicy Mojo Picón is one of the vegan tapas offered at La Marcha during Berkeley Restaurant Week. Photo: La Marcha

LA MARCHA The San Pablo Avenue Spanish tapas restaurant makes my Berkeley Restaurant Week list once again. For $40 a person, the five-course dinner temps with several options (including a vegan one) for each course. Choose from different salads, fried croquettes, crispy potato bites and other tapas, and a paella. La Marcha, 2026 San Pablo Ave. (near University Avenue), Berkeley

RIVA CUCINA This West Berkeley Italian restaurant is a bit of a hidden gem — it’s tucked away on Heinz Avenue, just on the other side of Seventh Street from Berkeley Bowl West. If you’ve haven’t been yet, the $40 restaurant week prix-fixe dinner might be an incentive to give Riva Cucina a try. The meal includes choice of appetizer (orange and beet salad or grilled shrimp skewer over red and green cabbage slaw); main entree (parsley pappardelle with braised pork shoulder; spinach fettuccine with mixed mushrooms or squid ink tagliolini with sautéed smoked salmon) and dessert (bread pudding with sautéed apples, cranberries and cinnamon, caramel; panna cotta with chocolate shavings or seasonal fruit). Riva Cucina suggests pairing the meal with the 2016 Rontana Sangiovese DOC from Emilia-Romagna ($10 per glass or $38 a bottle). Riva Cucina, 800 Heinz Ave, (at Seventh Street), Berkeley

Sarah Han is Nosh editor at Berkeleyside. Email: sarah@berkeleyside.com.