This food-oriented neighborhood nicknamed the Gourmet Ghetto is rich in culinary history, and at the center of it all is Alice Water’s Chez Panisse, which helped create the California sustainable food movement. Within a few blocks radius on and around Shattuck Ave, are a dizzying number of restaurants, cafes and bakeries that are worth exploring. North Berkeley is an easy 16-minute walk from downtown. Here’s a list of noteworthy Gourmet Ghetto restaurants that should be on your list.
This revolutionary restaurant is known for its fix-priced menu, serving unbelievably fresh, local food including flavorful seafood, meat and veggie dishes. The menu changes with the seasons, and it can feel like a whole new dinning experience every time you go. There is the main restaurant, as well as a cafe upstairs that is equally as memorable. If you want to experience the cuisine without the heifty price tag, the cafe has a set menu of three courses for $30 that is available Monday through Thursday for lunch. Make reservations way in advance for both, especially the restaurant which is booked months in advance.
Cheese Board Collective
This bakery/cheese counter has everything you need for an impromtu picnic and then some. The addictive baked goods in the back are both sweet and savory, whether you’re craving a pecan roll or an onion bialy, there something for everyone. Just make sure to get there on the early side, since their baked goods tend to sell out fast. The cheese counter can be overwhelming and a bit chaotic, but just do as the locals do and take a number. There are seemingly hundreds of cheeses from all over the globe, where you can sample to your heart’s content before making a commitment.
Cheese Board Pizza
Every day they make one flavor of vegetarian pizza and you can either get it by the slice or a whole pie. Daily pies include flavors like wild mushroom, organic butternut squash, and a crushed tomatoes. There are also daily salads as well to balance out all the carbs. Vegan and gluten free options are available. There is limited indoor seating (which comes with a live band), as well as a few outdoor seats. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a long line down the block, but don’t worry it moves pretty quickly since there’s only one option on the menu.
This gourmet food court has a handful of spots that offer a diverse range of cuisines from take-out sushi at Kirala to sit-down Northern Chinese at the Imperial Food Court. Other options include Soop for hearty soups and delicous bahn mi sandwiches and Guacamole 61 for street tacos. For dessert, make sure to stop by Lush, that serves addictive gelato, including fresh fruit sorbet (my mouth is still watering thinking about the peach I had a few years ago). Enjoy your meal in the outdoor space out back that has plenty of patio seating and a peaceful Japanese-inspired garden in the background.
Juice Bar Collective
Two words: banana shake. I’m continually impressed with the flavor that comes out of this beverage that consists of only bananas, soymilk and a sprinkle of nutmeg. This tiny spot that has been around since 1976, and churns out an impressive amount of fresh juices, smoothies, sandwiches, salads and hot dishes like spinach lasagna. This is the ultimate Berkeley comfort food spot, with ingredients that are mostly organic and all-vegan. There’s very limited seating, but you can head around the corner to the Epicurious food court as an alternative.
This is one of my favorite restaurants in the area hands down. Japanese food usually feels heavy for me, with all the rice and fried foods. This restaurant feels the opposite, where there are lighter options and I don’t feel so sluggish afterward. Do not let the all-vegetarian menu fool you, this restaurant will make you forget about meat entirely. Some personal favorites are the kinoko miso soup (a flavorful mushroom medley) and the garden sushi roll which comes with an assortment of green veggies including asparagus, spinach, avocado cucumber, and broccoli. Their curries are also highly recommended. Cash only.
This French take-out spot has excellent lunch choices, including their signature potato puffs that locals are known to cross the city for. Their decedent sandwiches are definitely worth the food coma afterward, including their addictive buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with spicy cole slaw. All of their sandwiches are available in salad form, making most of the items gluten-free. Dinner is a fancier affair with options like dri rubbed grilled beef tri tip with chipotle BBQ sauce and baked ricotta stuffed eggplant rolls with basil tomato sauce. There is limited outside seating, but you can always head to the reliable Epicurious food court if there’s no room.
This longtime Jewish deli is known for its comfort food like latkes topped with apple sauce and sour cream, and classic pastrami on rye sandwiches. Breakfast options include the hearty deli hash with pastrami, corn beef, and the savory challah French Toast. Whatever you do make sure to get the pickle plate, or a side of their creamy potato salad and wash it all down with one of their homemade sodas. There’s a take-out counter if you want to get some items to go. Make sure to save room for a hamantashen or linzers from the deli on your way out.
What are your favorite Gourmet Ghetto restaurants?
Photo source: Saul’s