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), Berkeley.
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), Berkeley.
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), Berkeley.
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), Berkeley.
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.
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), Berkeley.
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 1954 University Ave. (at Bonita), Berkeley.
The Flying Falafel
Flying Falafel opened its second location in Berkeley (the first is in San Francisco), but chef-owner Assaf Pashut actually got the idea for the business while he was a Cal student, when he started making falafel for his friends. Flying Falafel is pretty much standing-room only (there is one table inside, but it’s not super comfortable to sit there; the tables outside are a better choice) and the falafel balls are fried-to-order for maximum crispiness, so expect a little bit of a wait. Still, we can attest that Pashut’s falafel pocket sandwiches — loaded with fresh vegetables and “secret sauce” — are worth the wait. Flying Falafel, 2114 Shattuck Ave. (at Addison), Berkeley
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.
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), Oakland.
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), Oakland.
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 mi 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, 1909 International Blvd. (at 19th), Oakland
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 Ninth), Oakland.
Da Nang Quan
At Da Nang Quan, the way to order your noodles is smothered in baby clams, aka a dish called bun hen. The perfectly cooked, briny clams get an even greater dose of funk from a shrimp paste sauce, plus fried shallots, herbs and peanuts, making for a deliciously heady combination. Take a few sips of soup in between bites for balance. You also won’t go wrong ordering the bun beo, steamed rice cakes topped with a mixture of ground pork and shrimp, or the extra-lemongrassy bun bo hue, or the mi quang, a less-soupy but very turmeric-y noodle dish topped with an assortment of meats, peanuts and herbs. Da Nang Quan, 615 East 12th St. (at 6th), Oakland
With a name like Degrees Plato, one could be forgiven for thinking that the taproom and bottle shop in Oakland’s Laurel district is all about the beer. It does have close to 50 taps of predominantly California craft brews, with a few international ones thrown in for good measure. And it also has an extremely-well-curated selection of bottles for sale, too. But the food here is special in its own right. The chef at Degrees Plato, Flor Crisotomo, is from Oaxaca. She has worked in some of Oakland’s more upscale Mexican restaurants (Calavera, Nido), and here, she is turning out beautiful plates of food, but at Laurel district prices. We enjoyed the taco plate, the taquitos filled with cheese and potatoes and their meaty tortas. Nothing on the menu is more than $11, and these prices include a 15% tip for the staff. The beer prices are also a bit lower than what you’ll find in other places around town. Degrees Plato, 4251 MacArthur Blvd. (at High), Oakland
If you’re the kind of eater who actively follows taco trucks around town or spends days sussing out your next taqueria crawl and you haven’t yet been to El Paisa@.com (not a typo), you’d better make your way to 46th and International, stat. This curiously named taqueria serves the best tacos you’ll find in the Bay, no matter the filling. El Paisa does specialize in offal cuts — cabeza (head meat), lengua (tongue), tripa (beef tripe) — but you won’t go wrong ordering suadero (muscle meat similar to carne asada) or carnitas. Chile heads should know to ask for the extra hot salsa kept behind the counter, and for those who want a little more than onions and cilantro on their tacos — you can ask for grilled cipollini onions and nopales (cactus) as well. Whatever you do, though, stick to the tacos. The meat is truly where the restaurant shines; no need to cover it up with a burrito’s extra rice and beans. El Paisa@.com, 4610 International Blvd. (at 46th), Oakland
Lucky Three Seven
After opening in spring 2013, Lucky Three Seven has become a popular neighborhood joint serving up flavorful Filipino comfort fare. The family-owned business cooks up a rotating menu of daily specials — check Facebook before you go unless you like surprises. We enjoyed the beef mechado (a tomato-based stew), sisig (tangy and spicy pork that has been braised and crisped) and coconut chicken adobo. Other favorite dishes include “G fire wings” and extra-large fried lumpia rolls made with either pork or chicken. Lucky Three Seven, 2868 Fruitvale Ave. (at Brookdale), Oakland
Pho Ao Sen
The restaurant opened a couple of decades ago in a modest, scrappy location on International before moving into a larger space in 2011 and then opening a second location in Albany in 2015. Cleary it has its fans. Pho Ao Sen offers a fairly typical pho assortment but, unlike many others, it truly packs in the meat. Beef lovers would be wise to order the Special Combo — it has everything you want in a beef soup and you can order the thin sliced rare beef on the side so it doesn’t overcook. The bun bo hue is also a solid choice, as is the Hai Nam chicken and rice. Pho Ao Sen, 1139 East 12th (at 11th), Oakland
Noodle soups are king in this part of Oakland, especially at this long-running Vietnamese restaurant at 7th and International. Pho King specializes in bun bo hue, pho‘s spicy, lemongrass-laden cousin. At Pho King, the bun bo hue is served in the traditional manner, with beef, pork blood, and pork cake floating amongst the vermicelli noodles in a beef-rich and chile oil-slicked broth. If you’re not down with the spice (or blood), the restaurant’s beef combo pho is also solid, and its miniature fried egg rolls draw plenty of fans. Pro-tip: The restaurant is small and parking is a challenge, so come with patience in mind. Pho King, 638 International Blvd. (at 7th), Oakland
Reem’s got its start as a farmers market vendor, but owner Reem Assil opened her first brick-and-mortar restaurant right near Fruitvale BART. The operation specializes in man’oushe — traditional flatbread that are cooked to order on a special rounded griddle, filled with toppings and rolled into a wrap-style sandwich. Man’oushehave all the Middle Eastern flavor and heat you’d expect from your local falafel shop, but with more variation and subtlety in ingredients. There’s also flatbread pizzas, poached-egg shakshuka, fattoush salad, fried potatoes and mezze shared plates comprised of savory dips and fresh-baked pita. Reem’s,3301 E. 12th St., Ste. 133 (at 33rd), Oakland
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 Francisco transplant is at the Swan’s Marketplace, boasting 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
Based in a trailer in the El Charro Super Mercado parking lot is Tamales Acapulco, where Teresa Mondragon offers some of the neighborhood’s most coveted tamales. Mondragon sets up as early as 7 a.m. and her tamales can be sold out by 11 a.m. Mondragon offers Guatemalan-style tamales made with chicken and wrapped in banana leaf, but her Mexican tamales are the most popular. Her pork tamales includes red mole, the labor-intensive sauce that blends several types of toasted chiles, seeds, nuts and chocolate. The masa, the corn dough that is too often the demise of a lesser tamal, comes apart with a prod of a plastic fork. It’s never too soft or dry, and the ratio to tender hunks of meat is perfect. She mixes mole in the masa before filling the corn husks, an unusual step that allows the dough to subtly soak in the sweet and nutty mole flavors. She also serves a vegetarian version with poblano pepper strips and jack cheese, and a chicken with tomatillo salsa. Don’t miss the champurrado, a creamy Mexican hot chocolate drink, laced with cinnamon. Tamales Acapulco, 1680 Fruitvale Ave. (at E 17th), Oakland
Less than a block from the Rockridge BART station sits The Hideaway, which became the neighborhood’s newest burger joint in early 2018. The menu boasts 18 burger choices, ranging from classic hamburgers to lamb burgers, with the promise that all patties are made in-house. All burgers come with your choice of fries (or salad). The menu also offers appetizers and sides such as onion rings, mac n’ cheese and buffalo wings. The Hideaway has a full bar, offering wine, beer and cocktails, including creamy milkshakes with your choice of added liquor (there are also non-alcoholic versions, too). The Hideaway, 5634 College Ave. (between Keith & Ocean View), Oakland
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), Oakland and 4101 Broadway (at 41st), Oakland.
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.
“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.