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Aug 30, 2006 05:37 PM

Berkeley Cheap-ish Eats Near Campus - One Local's Ratings

I lived near Berkeley campus for the last few years. Over the years I've gotten countless tips from chowhounds, both about Berkeley area restaurants and restaurants in San Francisco and throughout the rest of bay area. Yet I rarely contributed back to the community. Hence, when I moved away from Berkeley I decided to digitize all my notes and memories of meals, good and bad, and condense them into short reviews.

I ended up writing 83 (!) reviews covering nearly all places I ate at near the Berkeley campus. Despite 83 reviews, there are still countless places I walked by during my years in Berkeley that I never tried.

The highlights are listed below. The list may look long but that's because I ate at so many places. Less than 25% of the places I visited got more than three stars (out of five). Most of these restaurants are inexpensive/cheap, as there is so much price competition near campus.

5 stars:
Brazil Fresh Squeeze Cafe - tri tip sandwich, mango smoothie
Cafe Durant - breakfast
Cheeseboard - baked goods and cheese shop
Ib's Hoagies - cheesesteaks
La Note - French cafe
Lucky House - Thai
Ryowa - Ramen
Sketch - Ice Cream (a bit of a hike from campus)
Taste of the Himalayas - Indian/Nepalese
The Mediterranean - Greek/Mediterranean

4 stars:
Cafe Gratitude - vegetarian raw foods
Cafe Intermezzo - salads
Chaat Cafe - Indian-inspired
Cheeseboard Pizza - pizza
Gomnaru Restaurant - Korean BBQ
Gregiore - French
Le Petit Cheval - Vietnamese
Thai Basil - Thai
Thai Noodles - Thai
The Stuffed Inn - sandwiches
Vik's Chaat House - South Indian (a bit of a hike from campus)
Zachary's Chicago Pizza - pizza (a bit of a hike from campus)

Hopefully these lists will help fellow chowhounds (especially students) that live in the area to find new places they may not know about.

If you want to read the reviews, I posted them to yelp:
I tried to give tips in my reviews recommending favorite dishes.

A thanks to all chowhounds that have heavily contributed to Berkeley discussions in the past, especially rworange, Morton the Mousse, and Robert Lauriston.

Other good threads from the last year that cover the area near campus:

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  1. That's very kind of you, Mark ... but wow ... is this a super-useful post. I've bookmarked it for future reference ... and to read through with more attention.

    I've wondered about so many of those places that don't get menioned often and many never.

    Even 99% of three star or lower restaurants have something worthwhile and interesting. That area seems like a treasure chest that has barely been cracked open. It is surprising how good the places that I've walked by and finally checked out were.

    I was just wondering about IB cheesesteaks as I was passing by the other day. So are they better than The Cheesesteak Shop?

    I'll probably have a few more questions after reading through this.

    So, did you move out of the Bay Area? Wherever you are, hope the new software encourages you to post on Chowhound more ... great stuff.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I agree Berkeley is "a treasure chest that has barely been cracked open" and that even most of the places I rated less than four stars have something good. Many of my meals in Berkeley were at joints I gave three stars. Perfectly fine meals. I may be a little weird -- I suppose I could simply cycle among my favorite restaurants and the occasional new joint, but somehow that would make very good food less special. Instead, I end up saving my favorites for special times and eat at reasonable but not terrific places most of the time.

      As for The Cheesesteak Shop, I never tried it; I rarely made it that far down University.

      I moved to San Mateo, partially because it and Berkeley have similarly astounding number of restaurants in walkable downtowns. I'm looking forward to becoming as familiar with them as I am Berkeley ones. (I spent the last weekend culling reviews from this board and have an almost intimidatingly large list of places to try.)

      1. re: rworange

        I prefer IB's to Cheesesteak, but remember that both are franchises: it really depends where you are. In the downtown Oakland area, the IB's on 21st is quite good, and the one on 16th is pretty vile. Having not eaten at the Cheesesteak Berkeley location, I can't judge that...

        1. re: rworange

          IBs used to be good maybe 6 years ago. The times I've been since then, it's just not the same. The meat was not grilled enough so that it's more soggy than seared.

          The Cheese Steak Shop is much much better, though it really depends on who's behind the counter.

        2. Nice work! Thanks for sharing.

          1. Hell yes Sketch, Vik's, and Zachary's are a bit of a hike--they're two miles away! Sketch and Vik's are worth the schlep. Zachary's, not so much.

            Cheese Board and Gregoire are not that far but that's still a long walk for lunch.

            The best pizza near campus is Pie in the Sky.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              CB & Gregoire are only a hike if you live on South Side. Many students move to Downtown or North Side after their first year. North Side is closer to the Gourmet Ghetto than Telegraph, Downtown is about equidistant.

              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                Cheese Board, Caffe Venezia, and the Telegraph Andronico's are all about half a mile walk from the edge of the UC campus.

            2. Great chronicle of the Berkeley restaurants! I lived in Berkeley for 12 years. My short list of faves includes: Vik's, Cheeseboard, Zachary's, Chaat Cafe, Panini, Cafe Intermezzo, Le Petit Cheval. and Arinell. I notice we have a lot of overlap.

              After living in Berkeley I moved to Millbrae and ate in Burlingame and San Mateo often. While there isn't the same assortment of good cheap food in this area of the Peninsula, some to try include: Speederia (San Carlos - great pizza by the slice), Bonne Sante (Burlingame - best burger... ever!), and Rolling Pin Donuts (San Bruno - hot doughnuts at 10:30 or so).

              Maybe one day you'll give us an exhaustive account of Peninsula restaurants?

              2 Replies
              1. re: katya

                Arinell's been thoroughly eclipsed by Pie in the Sky around the corner.

              2. I used to like Gomnaru, but I think it's gone way downhill.

                I would add a few more tips. Hummingbird Cafe makes a good eggplant pesto sandwich. My favorite sandwich near campus is the roasted chicken thigh sandwich (I add avocado and have it on Dutch crunch) at 7 Palms (which is recently under new ownership, but the same charming sandwich ladies are there); 7 Palms also makes some nice prepped salads, especially the pasta salad with ham and peas. For something a little nicer, the food at the BAM on Telegraph is good, but in the somewhat overbearing in the typical Berkeley organic ingredients, farming as spirituality way, and they have a nice outdoor patio. A lot of my colleagues like Smart Alec's, but I can't figure out why. To go sit down somewhere, we used to walk to the Phoenix, but alas... and now we go to Adagia. Also, since Adagia opened, the faculty club, which used to be straight inedible, has gotten a lot better, maybe a response to Adagia's competition?

                And I love Top Dog.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Hungry Hippo

                  The old Phoenix Cafe is set to become an "Italian Small Plates" restaurant named Misto. I loved Phoenix, but I hope its replacement will have something good to offer as well.