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Lunch in Berkeley near Sharffen Berger

I'm hoping to take a tour at Sharffen Berger in Berkeley when I came to CA next month. Are there any restaurants around the factory that you would suggest for lunch? I know there is a Cafe at the factory, but I've been reading bad reviews of their food. My husband and I will be very casual clothes (what we wore on the airplane), and casual is what we want- casual and GOOD. I also posted about In-N-Out Burger earlier; we're just now investigating this other option.

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  1. 900 Grayson is just two blocks away, and is talked about often on this board. I have had very good meals at Cafe Cacao (at the factory), but there can certainly be imperfections there. A new restaurant, Riva Cucina, is just one block from the factory. I think you'd have a great casual lunch at any of those three spots.

    1. 900 Grayson is a block away. Casual, very good food. (do a search). Only open for breakfast and lunch, not open on Sunday.

      1. Riva Cucina is wonderful and you can eat outside--the young couple who own it couldn't be more accomodating and the food is VERY tasty Northern Italian. Full menu and panini for lunch. On the other hand, my husband had very mediocre seafood stew at Cafe Cacao, but the waitstaff was super nice.

        1 Reply
        1. re: lintygmom

          I just did a Google search to investigate. Here's for everyone else so they can click:


          Anyone had the hazelnut ice cream + cake dessert? ("SEMIFREDDO ALLA NOCCIOLA")? I might have to visit just for that.

        2. 900 Grayson is casual and delicious. Been there more times than I can count, and it is always great. Just don't order the pastrami sandwich. It's probably my favorite lunch spot in Berkeley.


          2 Replies
          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            What's wrong with the pastrami sandwich?

            1. re: chemchef

              The pastrami they use just isn't that great. I can think of five friends off the top of my head who love Grayson, love pastrami, but didn't like Grayson's pastrami sandwich.

          2. Like the others mentioned already, 900 Grayson and Riva Cucina are the obvious choices. Only thing though is that both are closed on Sundays and you may end up at Cafe Cacao by default. Couple of other choices which are not walking distance though probably 5-10 minutes drive away - Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley and Cucina Poblana in Emeryville, also maybe Sea Salt.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jhinky

              just do not go to Cafe Cocoa, which is at Scharfenberger

              1. re: brioche

                Do they still suck? They closed and then reopened with new staff a while back. And SB is now owned by a Huge Impersonal Multinational Corporation. Which could have improved things. It certainly couldn't have hurt.

            2. I'm not sure that there's a place in Berkeley where you couldn't wear your clothes from the plane, unless you're planning on wearing short shorts and a bikini top on the plane (and even then...maybe). 900 Grayson is a good suggestion, and Sea Salt, which isn't far away, also has a great lunch (with a slightly higher price point).

              1. Spengers has been in Berkeley for years, new owners have spruced the menu up and they do have other food items besides seafood or fish.

                20 Replies
                1. re: chef chicklet

                  In the past couple of years I've eaten at Spenger's for lunch and it was perfectly fine for a business lunch. The food wasn't mind blowing but it was good and not a distraction. Reasonably priced as well. I think w/ a ice tea got out of there for $11-12. I doubt I'd go there for dinner except with a large group and conservative eaters. The big thing - zero wait and validated parking across the street. Conversely you can spend 15 minutes getting a spot in the 4th St lot and 20 waiting at somewhere like Bette's.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    They have always handled large groups pretty well in the past. I have not been since this time last year though. We always enjoy our time and meal at Spengers, but then it has great memories for me... They have a great bars too!

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      I've always liked Spenger's and it's gotten back to where it was before the big decline (although the communal restro bar has risen). It's a little slow and old fashion but in a good way. My Dad use to go in college and so did I...so maybe I'll take pops there for father's day. Actually that might be fun...and you're right about the bar. I had an Arnold Palmer there and remember thinking that was perfectly mixed.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Yes I was there right after the corp took over and changed the menu. I know they got complaints, and I'm willing to bet that they got a huge amount of pressure to keep it the way it's been for umpteen million years or fail. But I had faith, they did pull it together, and I would not hesitate to go there again. No longer on the menu was my favorite, the shrimp curry (unless they put it back) I would drive for miles to have it. And they also do a really good corned beef and hash on Sunday mornings. The fish is always good, and so are some of the newer additions like their spicy chicken pasta dish....
                        Oh just a little side note. When I was pregnant with middle son, and ordered on bed rest for the remainder of my preganancy (alta bates hosp rocks!)
                        and would drive to Berkeley, eat a quart of chowder in the parking lot, and one to go for later.

                  2. re: chef chicklet

                    I find it ineresting to see these posts that are nostalgic for the old days at Spengers. I worked near there for a while in the 70's and thought it was one of the worst restaurants on the planet for fish/seafood and atmosphere (blaring PA system calling names). I tried it a couple of times later and had the same opinion. Has it really changed for the better or just chnaged back to what it used to be?

                    In any event, I wouldn't consider it to be near Scharffen Berger.

                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                      What's 1.4 miles when Ms. Sarah has come all the way from North Carolina?
                      Anyway one block further north there is Eccolo and Betty's Ocean View Diner.

                      1. re: Mick Ruthven

                        Yes, I have also always felt that Spengers was in the running for the worst restaurants in Berkeley, though I haven't been for a few years now. Between Eccolo, O Chame, Bettes, Cafe Rouge, Vik's, Grayson, Sea Salt and Riva Cucina I've just never had a reason to go to Spengers.

                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          When you factor in the prices they charge at Spengers, maybe it's in the running for worst in the whole Bay Area. I had "fresh" dungeness crab there two weeks into the last season and it was over $30 for half of an over-cooked, hot, gloppy mess of a crab.

                          1. re: sgwood415

                            In defense of Spenger's, or based on experience, I never order anything complicated or with premium ingredients (crab, lobster). Like all seafood places you're unsure of, I only order simple things/prep (no sauces, no expensive ingredients) and things usually turn out reasonable.

                            In the past couple of years I've eaten lunch there 3-4 times. If I remember, I had rainbow trout, mahi mahi and some other white fish -- all simple prep. Average bill - about $12 bucks with drink (but not counting tip and tax). People I've gone with had salads, fried oyster sandwich, etc. Overall good, but not special, and a very nice change of pace for lunch (not burgers, sandwiches, the usual) and totally reasonable considering how much you can spend elsewhere. For twice as much for dinner...no.

                            I would never call Spenger's mind-blowing or a good deal (except lunch) but it's hardly the worst restro in the Bay Area. You simply need to know what to order, who to take and when to go to avoid the bad. I still like the place for a few reasons but I never confused it with greatness.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              "I never order anything complicated or with premium ingredients (crab, lobster)."

                              A seafood place in the San Francisco Bay Area where you wouldn't recommend ordering the crab? And to be clear, I'm talking about steamed crab, the most simple way to prepare it. If they can't get that right... If you want a change of pace for lunch from burgers and sandwiches, head over to Vik's.

                              1. re: sgwood415

                                To be frank, no. I wouldn't automatically order or recommend crab from any seafood restro in SF unless I had reasonable assurance it would be good or worth it...and I count Aqua and Farallon as places I wouldn't necessarily order crab.

                                As you mention, it's a simple prep so I usually only order crab (and lobster to some degree) from a Chinese or Vietnamese restro or somewhere high end like Chez Panisse that could do something different.

                                To me, crab or lobster is a value proposition, i.e., is it going to worth it. For $15 in a Chinese restro, sure. For $30 at Aqua...not necessily. For me it's either value or the skill to pull off something better -- once had an excellent lobster tail fire roasted in grape leaves from CP. Or I'll just steam it myself.

                                Vik's is great but sometimes you want something light, have a group and need to be able to talk...and Vik's isn't any of those.

                        2. re: Mick Ruthven

                          Totally agree. My experience w/ the old Spengers was that the only safe option was Crab Louis. Sauces were absolutely terrifying. Despite this, I have a perverse soft spot in my heart for it (and it was a good place to take a small child for fried unidentified seafood objects). Of course, I found the new Spengers to be even nastier. Interesting to read that it may have improved of late--I've only experienced its group business lunches in the past few years, and I found them to be much like typical hotel food.

                          1. re: lexdevil

                            I have to admit that I liked breakfast in the cork room but had to stop going because my daughter objected to the smells. I can only be sure she will not bring home a fisherman.
                            "His name is Mister Snow
                            And an upstandin' man is he... he can't seem to lose the smell of fish"

                            1. re: lexdevil

                              My suggestion for Saragraci and her lunch plans came about as an offer to see a bit of Berkeley's history and a restaurant that is and has been loved for years by many.

                              I am so perplexed by your comments coming from those that have not been there in "a couple of years".

                              An established business, part of Berkely's colorful history and in business for 110 years is so terrible it's not worth recommending to someone from out of town to see and experience?
                              Are they not touring the Scharffen Factory? I thought I read in her post that she had asked about the In-N-Out burger, that is why I suggested it. Coming from the airport, a hassle free setting lots of interesting and quirky things to look at, Casual dress, good food for the dollar.

                              I never said it was "Haute Cuisine". If you ever give it a second chance, they do make some fine dishes along with a great Crab Louis which they actually put real crab on. And by the way, they serve real fish, what gives with the "unidentified seafood objects" comment? Your comments are untrue and not kind. Saying you had a bad experience would of covered it.

                              They also offer a great little fresh fish market so one can make their own, if that helps you.

                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                >a restaurant that is and has been loved for years by many<

                                A friend and I used to say that the world could be divided into those who loved Spengers and those who hated it.

                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                  wonder where that leaves me? I used to go there as a kid, so have fond memories of family dinners there (this would be in the sixties, not the seventies)....so I can't say I hate it, but OTOH, I haven't been there recently enough that I can say I love it either......

                                2. re: chef chicklet

                                  I called them unidentified seafood objects because they were breaded and deep fried, just the way most children like them. More breading than seafood, as I recall, though this is not uncommon, and possibly a reason they were such a hit with the pre-school crowd. The funny thing about your getting so cheesed off with me is that I intended this part of my post as a positive, though humorous, comment on the Spengers of the past.

                                  Also, if you were referring to me when you wrote about those who have not been to Spengers in a couple of years, I thought I made it clear that I have been to Spengers in the past couple of years, but always for group business lunches with a set menu. And I don't think I said they were terrible--I said the food was like typical hotel food (which may be a step up from some of the goo that Spengers dished up in the old days). In the past couple of years I've had fried catfish and pretty dull hotel-esque chicken breasts at Spengers. They were not offensive, but there was nothing special about them either.

                                  Yes, the OP wants casual, but she wrote "casual and GOOD." In my book, Spengers is the former, but not the latter. Which is not the same thing as saying that it's bad. It's just nothing special.

                                  My post is not about a bad experience. It is a summary of 40 plus years of eating at Spengers. I do have a soft spot in my heart for it, but I found the post M&S improvements not really to be improvements...I actually preferred it before--bad sauces and all. They cleaned it up a bit too much, and it seemed to lose some of its soul. I wrote that it is interesting that you think it has improved in the past few years, as my only experience of late has been with group lunches that didn't allow me to see much improvement (perfunctory baby green salad and baked chicken breast don't give a kitchen much opportunity to show off...and I don't think this kitchen took advantage of the limited opportunity it was given). When I say it is interesting that you think it has improved of late, I mean exactly that. It is interesting and I am interested in seeing if it really has moved from the passable column to the good column. At the same time, until I see that for myself, I wouldn't recommend Spengers for a GOOD meal, casual or otherwise.

                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    Have you been to either 900 Grayson or Sea Salt? I'm curious about how you feel Spengers compares to other restaurants in the area that are in the same price point.

                                    I've always felt that Spengers has an old-school vibe that may have a nostalgic value to some, but does not reflect the culinary trends in the city of Berkeley. The food at Spengers can be had at seafood restaurants all over the country, whereas some of the other restaurants mentioned are entirely unique to the Bay Area. If I were to have one lunch in Berkeley, I would want it to be at a casual place that served fresh, local, seasonal food whereas Spengers is serving Atlantic (farmed) salmon at the height of Pacific salmon season.

                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      The restaurants you mention are not in comparison with Spengers at all.

                                      The restaurants mentioned are a whole different syle than Spengers. Spengers is a good place to eat for your dollar, and it has a bit of interesting Berekeley history to someone that is from out of town and wants to try a crab sandwich or a good shrimp salad.

                                      To answer your question, no I haven't and after looking at the menu, I would probably eat at Sea Salt, but not the 900 Grayson, and I will ttry it the next trip to Berkeley.

                                      The op posted also mentioned that they posted about In-N-Out first.
                                      I agree we don't agree.

                                    2. re: chef chicklet

                                      I have been there recently. My wife was attracted by the exterior, which hints at the "colorful history." And indeed you feel that on the inside too. But the food was horrible, especially for the prices they charge. I'd put the quality of the food on par with average banquet hall food.

                              2. Khana Peena (has tasty Indian food, yet a casual atmosphere) is about 3-4 miles away from Scharffen Berger. Not sure if this is too far for you.

                                Also, if you like chocolate...there is another place that's good nearby (The Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland about 5-6 miles away). They don't offer tours since they aren't a manufacturer, but they have a nice selection of different chocolates & chocolate inspired treats. Also if you make it into The City (San Francisco) you need to try Recchuiti chocolates in the Ferry Building! There is also a gelato place there that sells Scharffen Berger flavored gelato.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: socalqtpi

                                  It occurred to me that "casual" is a subjective term. If you are looking for an In N Out type establishment, then Khana Peena may not be for you. My apologies in advance.

                                  1. re: socalqtpi

                                    Even closer is the Vik's Chaat house on 5th St. (north of the Bayer facility). It is SO good! I lived around the corner from it for a few months and went frequently. It's very cheap and casual (it's actually in a warehouse so there's not much ambiance, but the food more than makes up for it). They take cash and credit

                                    Also, Grayson is usually a good bet as well, though it gets overly crowded during the weekday lunch hours...

                                    1. re: socalqtpi

                                      If Vik's is too casual and Khana Peena is too fancy (and KP is not on the tasty level of the others, in my opinion), you could try Breads of India. Yum.

                                  2. Cafe Rouge on 4th. Their roasted chicken and burgers are great. Plus, you'll get to hang out in a nice little area with lots of cute shops.

                                    1. While we're talking about places all over West Berkeley why not throw in T Rex? I also agree that 900 Grayson and Sea Salt (same owners as T Rex) are great. Haven't been to Spengers in years but I can't imagine it compares favorably to any of the above places. Betty's, of course, is great too but there is no telling how long the wait will be and you can't make reservations. Never been to Riva Cucina but am looking forward to trying it out.

                                      And by the way, if you're looking for chocolate, there's another factory, Charles Chocolates, just down the street!


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: davers5

                                        I get the feeling that the OP is interested in the tour, from the bean to the bar, not just looking at or tasting. Part of the fun of Bette's might be the wait with a chance to explore and mingle. Sarahgraci, help me out here.

                                        1. re: pinotnoir

                                          Yes, I am interested in the entire process of chocolate making. And we are also going to San Francisco, so will experience some chocolate there as well. We aren't sure exactly what we want for lunch in Berkeley- casual can range from In-N-Out to a place where we sit down and are served, but not fancy food in a fancy atmosphere. Both are options for that day. I'll check out Bette's as an option. Thanks!

                                          1. re: Sarahgraci

                                            Jhinky up there ^ suggests Vik's Chaat House. It is close by Schaffenberger and a wonderful experience in Indian food. Check the posts. Parking is tough but worth it.It is order at register and find somewhere to eat. I have done it in the parking lot once I found a place to sit. It is inexpensive, very tasty and as JasmineG mentioned: "I'm not sure that there's a place in Berkeley where you couldn't wear your clothes from the plane, unless you're planning on wearing short shorts and a bikini top on the plane (and even then...maybe) ".

                                            1. re: Sarahgraci

                                              Wherever you go for lunch, Berekeley is a great city, we always go there to eat, to have a great day just checking things out. Have a really good time!

                                        2. One more plug for Riva Cucina - it just goes from strength to strength - the pasta with sardines was mind-blowing!