The 13 Most Exciting Restaurants in Berkeley Right Now
From Palestinian-Californian cuisine to the Bay’s first “spizzicheria.”
Berkeley, more affectionately known as “Bezerkeley” or “Berserkeley,” definitely has its own thing going on. From deliciously affordable international eats for students at UC Berkeley to pioneering California institutions like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, Berkeley’s food scene stands out on its own. It also incorporates a robust hippie legacy with a notably stronger plant-based culture than SF’s. For almost every eatery that has shut down these past couple of years (RIP Albatross Pub and Rivoli), there has been something new or renewed in its place. As a hub of intellectual and creative innovation, restaurant openings and evolutions continuously run at a rapid pace. Get your reusable bamboo cutlery ready to dig into some of our new favorite eats in Berkeley.
Fans of chef Mona Leena are delighted to follow her career from fine dining chef to pandemic pop-up The Mana’eesh Lady to her stunning Palestinian-inspired California cuisine breakfast/lunch spot, Lulu, which just opened in August. Weekends (including Friday!) are when the food concept really shines, with an impressive mezze brunch spread that includes Leena’s famous house-made breads, deviled eggs with labneh-whipped yolks, and a butternut-miso mutabal (a play on the traditional tahini-smoked eggplant spread). Would it be OK to guess that the Californian Palestinian cuisine Chef Leena is creating might be called Cal-Pal one day?
How to order: Walk in Tuesday through Thursday, make reservations on Resy for Friday through Sunday, call 510-529-4300 for pickup Tuesday through Thursday only.
Fish & Bird Izakaya, with its modern takes on Japanese small plates like sea bean and corn tempura and various katsu burgers on Acme buns, only officially opened last year. Yet the space doesn’t rest on its laurels, and also hosts a non-traditional omakase pop-up spot twice a week called Sushi Salon. Chef Joji Nonaka uses some unusual fish, such as mejina (green fish) and kamasu (barracuda). He also utilizes a special technique to preserve each fish’s freshness, and the pop-up boasts the highest quality vinegar and soy sauce—all with a focus on environmental stewardship. Sushi Salon may find its own permanent location down the road, but thus far has been going strong since February, when it initially offered takeout omakase only. With sit-down dining now available, dinner tickets sell quickly each month, so check the site often.
How to order: Reserve tickets online.
Advertised as the Bay Area’s first and only neighborhood “spizzicheria,” Casa Barotti presents itself as a place to socialize, drink, and nibble on Northern Italian snacks. Offering casual counter service, the restaurant specializes in slices of traditional Genovese focaccia and a signature pizza al trancio, a dough that’s a cross between focaccia and Northern Italian pizza crust. Toppings range from anchovy-laden puttanesca to spicy soppressata. There’s also a vegan farinata, a Ligurian chickpea pancake of sorts. Those who dine in can enjoy a true Italian apertivo with free pizza and focaccia bites with each glass of wine or beer.
How to order: Walk in. Order pickup online and delivery via UberEats, DoorDash, and Slice.
The first Berkeley location of the South Bay vegan comfort food joint opened in April. Favorites include deep-fried cauliflower covered in a buffalo-style sauce called Kraken, jackfruit carnitas burritos, and reuben sandwiches with house-made seitan. Some of the sandos come with pretzel buns, which are rare finds in Bay Area restaurants.
How to order: Walk in. Order pickup online.
Owners and brothers Pedro and Jesus Madrigal were longtime Celia’s employees, and in March, turned this location of the local chain into their own venture as El Talpense.
New items include a birria quesadilla and surf ’n’ turf Mar y Tierra burger. A lot more vegan items are available now, too, like vegan al pastor tacos, ceviche, and Aztec soup, which is tomato-based and topped with vegan cheese, avocado, and tortilla chips. A generous happy hour from 4 pm to 7 pm lets you sip (or chug) a tamarind margarita or mangonada swirled with strawberry puree.
How to order: Walk in or order delivery online.
Having moved to Berkeley from Oakland last year, the elegant Japanese-inflected international cuisine pop-up continues to provide patrons with artful dining experiences. The seasonal menu, currently conceptualized as “Hyperesthesia” by chefs and artists Duncan Kwitkor and Andrew Greene, bends diners’ concepts of visual presentation and taste. Spiced squash “cappuccino” is a savory bisque accented with purple potato powder and a rosemary cookie. A persimmon is stuffed with spiced octopus and wrapped in coppa. Still in an outdoor patio setting housed in Cafenated Coffee Company, seatings are available Thursday through Saturday.
How to order: Reserve tickets online via Tock.
The Bay Area experienced a boom of local Hawaiʻi plate lunch places, then poke, several years back. But considering the close relationship between the Bay Area and the Aloha State, there are still surprisingly few island-style restaurants in the Bay. Ono Bakehouse looks to remedy that, and it fulfills its mission well, with a butter mochi that is more elegantly cake-like compared to the jiggly school fundraiser kind. Aside from classics like chocolate haupia pie, Ono also innovates with a savory onion roll made with roasted garlic paste, and offers it in a breakfast sandwich filled with egg and Spam (because you can’t spell Hawaiʻi without Spam).
How to order: Walk in, order pickup online, or delivery via Locale.
Sesame Tiny Bakery
With a different menu week to week, pastry chef Kate McGoldrick cranks out a lot at Sesame, which really is a tiny bakery. Think ginger cake layered with poached pears and brandy pastry cream, and a Hachiya persimmon pudding. Sesame occupies about 100-square-feet inside The Kebabery, which just shut its Oakland location and reopened on Shattuck Avenue. The two businesses previously worked together in Oakland due to their ties to the shuttered Camino. Sesame mostly operates as a takeout window, though there are a few seats. Customers can also eat in The Kebabery, and Sesame’s cakes are on The Kebabery’s menu at night.
How to order: Walk in or order online for pickup/delivery.
Noble Cow Creamery
The Bay was so sad when Three Twins announced its official closure in April 2020. Luckily, the owner of the Berkeley location converted his storefront into the independent ice cream shop, Noble Cow Creamery, in June of last year. There are always ten small-batch flavors on offer, rotating among 16 flavors total, like orange blossom honey and lemon cookie. We all scream for Straus organic base ice cream, as well as the free handmade mini waffle cone that comes atop a single scoop.
How to order: Walk in.
Opened in August, Belmo Cafe has quickly gathered a cult following for its French and Algerian pastries. Drool over the artfully and delicately decorated fruit tarts, eclairs coated with dark chocolate, and mini cheesecakes. Pay special attention to the Algerian sweets such as zlabia, a North African yeasted deep-fried funnel cake covered in syrup that is especially popular around Ramadan. Or go for the date-filled semolina cookies scented with rosewater.
How to order: Walk in.
If you’re on a local food tour or just plain indecisive, eat at every food stall in Alley Kitchens. Owner Roy Lam was inspired by the street food stalls in urban Japanese alleyways (yokocho) that specialize in one type of food. There are currently three stalls, offering ramen, chirashi and donburi, and matcha drinks—with most mains hovering around $12–$15.
How to order: Walk in. Order pickup online and delivery online.
States Coffee X Bread
The first Berkeley outpost of the East Bay coffee shop and bread bakery debuted in October. The coffee and pastries are certainly nothing to sneeze at, with Subrosa natural process coffee and vegan donuts from Oakland’s Donut Farm. But the wild fermented bread itself has a separate following, Instagram account and all. The country bread and baguettes are most popular, with each loaf taking two days to mix, ferment, and bake. Daily specials are an extra perk, with Sundays offering a gruyere, rosemary, and black pepper loaf.
How to order: Walk in.
The first Berkeley location of the beloved Albany restaurant opened in July from owners and married couple Krishna and Subhash Arora. Though instead of a leisurely dine-in experience, this location has a budget-friendly, to-go street food vibe—which makes sense considering its proximity to campus. The emphasis is on local, sustainable ingredients that make up an ever-changing menu of regional cuisines from all over India. The meat is halal, though there are a ton of veggie options here, too, like the Northern Indian palak kofta (fried spinach dumplings in a tomato-and-onion gravy) and pumpkin tikka masala cooked in coconut milk.
How to order: Walk in or select a location and order pickup online.