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Jul 14, 2007 04:59 PM

SOS in El Cerrito

I've been living in El Cerrito for 7 years and am frustrated with restaurant choices in this town. I drive to Solano Ave and North Berkeley for more interesting choices. What is it going to take to get some here, too? Let me whine for a moment.

We need a bakery! I get my goods at Cheeseboard, sometimes La Farine.

I love the offerings at Juice Collection in Walnut Square. They are fresh and, this is important, not loaded with sugar, sodium, and sauces. Where do we get that here?

For tasty Mediterranean items, I eat at Sophies, and Barneys for fresh salads and tofu burgers.

And Ajanta and Viks for wonderful fresh and healthy Indian food.

Then Cha-Ya for vegetarian japanese food - or any sushi place. I do buy sashmi at Yaoya-San, but wish they open a sit-down place to eat. I just remembered there is such a place on the Plaza, but I don't enjoy eating there because it I feel like I am in the middle of a huge parking area. It's enough to kill my appetite. I tolerate it enough to shop at Traders Joe.

For brunches, I go to Betty Oceanview or Sunnyside on Solano.

For coffee, I go to my local Peets, but miss the interaction with the community that occurs outside their stores on Solano and Walnut Square. So, I cheat sometimes. The sidewalk outside the El Cerrito Peets is yearning for the same. What's holding up the plan to put chairs and tables outside?

I want to eat and pay for good and interesting food in my hometown. I cannot afford to live in Berkeley, and El Cerrito is as close to Berkeley I can get. Are there others like me, just a few more? Hundreds more?

If there is anyone out there waiting for an opportunity in El Cerrito to set up a local eatery (read not a national chain) that serves fresh and healthy (read not packaged) food, there is no better time than NOW. Please pipe up if you're with me. If there is a good reason not to do business in El Cerrito, please enlighten me. I'm sure the Economic Development Director at the City Hall will want to know, too.

Ok, thanks for listening.

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  1. As an El Cerrito native who now occasionally visits and needs to eat before attending the theatre, I feel your pain. I'd love to know of any places in El Cerrito that provide reliably good and interesting food. On our last visit, we wound up exploring Solano Avenue but it seemed to be 90% Asian food, which didn't appeal to us at the time. What's up?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Marsha

      I've noticed that, too. I wonder about that, too. Even with all the choices, I still go to China Village. I hope for all our sake that the same thing doesn't happen in El Cerrito....

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Don't get me wrong, and I mean no disrespect to Fat Apple - they are clearly popular with many. But whenever I look at their baked goods, I quickly lose interest. I am not sure what it is. For all I know they use the same ingredients at Cheeseboard, but they offer more variety and healthier choices, like Wolverines and oat scones. And I love being able to buy cheese, too.

        10 years ago I lived a couple blocks from the Berkeley Fat Apple and we ate there often. But, since then my tastes changed.

        1. re: arowork

          I work across the street and the baked goods are the best things you'll find there. Good burgers, decent breakfasts (Sunnyside used to be better, but I have been completely disappointed on my last two visits... I guess that's what happens when a place gets "discovered"..), and I do order their salads occasionally although I think their dressings are better than their actual salads.

          1. re: adrienne156

            I like Fat Apple's too. I love their lamburger, and the tomatillo salsa on their chicken sandwiches is a nice touch. I once asked the waitress what kind of chocolate sauce they use (on ice cream) because it stood out as the best I'd ever had (Guittard's). The service is low-key and friendly, although I have to admit I'm sometimes mystified by the number of people milling about behind the counter. It's an unpretentious place that I don't get tired of.

          2. re: arowork

            I go to Fatapple's for their egg breakfast (choice of danish) maybe once a year on Mother's Day. I live two blocks away and am not attracted to their lunch or dinner options. I head directly to the Cheeseboard too. After a divorce the original Fatapple's belongs to the husband. The El Cerrito branch is run by the other half who probably plays a part in the high turnover of servers. I stand corrected if this is old news.

        2. I used to feel your pain. I lived in El Sobrante for about 12 years, and found myself frequently coming down to where I live now (Berkeley/Albany) to eat. I think the best food in El Cerrito is a $2.25 bahn mi. Second is probably a grease bomb variety from Chef's next to TJs. I even found Yaoya-San fish not to be fresh enough on my few visits there. Good luck! I'll even venture a block or two north of Central if you find us a keeper!

          1. It's so on the border that I always think of it as El Cerrito, but what about the Pacific East Mall. There are a few bakeries and mostly better Asian food than you'll find on Solano.

            I haven't been there since they opened and remodeled, but have you been to Central Perk across the street from Nation's.

            There is Well Grounded Tea and Coffee for a sense of community

            I'm kind of no longer recommending Maggies since they no longer seem to be carrying Lola's baked goods. They do have some nice sweet tea though

            It's not in the same class as Betty's but there's some decent food at Rafael's Shutter Cafe

            I like FatApple's. Their cheese puffs are better than Betty's and they have some of the best pies in the area. The Dutch Baby pancakes are excellent. They have this German thng going on. So you will see some season German baked good like this ... oh yeah, their cupcakes are every bit as good as La Farine, IMO.

            Just up the street though in Kennsington, is Semi-Freddi bakery. Also IMO, Kennsington Bistro is a better breakfast place than Betty's or Sunnyside. There are not the hoards, there is tons of parking, the house-baked English muffin bread and scones are fabulous.

            Back to El Cerrito, sure it ain't fancy, but there are some nice beers at The Junket, they even do the raspberry and green wheat beers.

            There is something new coming to El Cerrito Plaza called Dream Dinners ... probably some sort of dinner-to-go place

            I haven't been to the El Cerrito theatre yet, but there's supposed to be a cafe there that you don't have to see a movie to use.

            Yaoya-San is a market but has some nice-looking take out bento boxes and sushi

            For steak gumbo and a different type of community there's Little Ange's

            10 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              Funny you should mention Dream Dinners -- last week I noticed a Dream Dinners in a little strip mall near my house, but just driving by, I couldn't figure out what exactly it was. Since it came up again, I googled it. Since it's a franchise, I'll move the discussion to the chains board -- suffice it to say, it's not a dinner-to-go place.

              I found an earlier discussion of Dream Dinners on the chains board:

              Here's their website:

              1. re: rworange

                Thanks for this list. I realize everyone has their own preferences and there are chowhounds who are satisfied with what El Cerrito has to offer. Which is just fine with me.

                I am just whining that there aren't enough choices to eat. There's room for more. We need more places that serve dishes that are fresh, not high in sodium, sugar, and fat.

                I didn't mention those places you list partly because they aren't places where you could go for dinner or a relaxed meal.

                For instance, I love Well Grounded Tea and Coffee and get my coffee/lunch there sometimes. But, its not open for dinner or have an extensive menu.

                If only Semi-Freddi would open an outlet in El Cerrito, so I can walk there.

                There is no lack of great places to eat but they are always in another town. We're bigger than Albany yet that's where I go to eat. Here are our demographics (year 2000):

                El Cerrito population 23,171 median income (household) $57k (family) $69k
                Albany population 16,444 median income (household) $55k (family) $64k
                (source: Wikipedia)

                Based on that info we have more $$ than Albany residents....hell, we got two BART stations!

                1. re: arowork

                  I live in El Cerrito. I walk all over El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany and Berkeley. Do you realize that Semi-Freddi is only about 100 feet from the El Cerrito border? I think I am missing something here. I don't eat out much so I really don''t know how the food is at Kensington Bistro but it is only another short distance from the El Cerrito border. I had to go out and look for the border, by the way.

                2. re: rworange

                  Re the Pacific East Mall. That's actually in Richmond.

                  1. re: arowork

                    Yeah, I know, but it is so on the border ... much closer than Albany. Part of the Albany thing is that most people just think of the Solano part as an extention of Berkeley and it gets all that traffic.

                    The local politicians sold out El Cerrito with that mall. It was supposed to be much better than the chain wonderland it is. Also, while incomes are about the same the people who make up the community are different. El Cerrito is moving toward gentrification so maybe there will be changes ... though that new Quiznos really ticked me off and doesn't give me much hope.

                    Albany can pick up the Berkely traffic, but the Berkeley people are hardly going to drive up the road to El Cerrito to eat when they have so many great places.

                    That leaves El Cerrito depending on local Richmond / San Pablo business ... good luck there. It is part of the reason Maggie's stopped carrying Lola's baked goods ... the demand wasn't there. The customers choice was the cheaper pre-fab cake from Costco. Locals didn't get it ... or want it.

                    I worry about that great new coffee company in Richmond up near Pup Hut on San Pablo. The place is the equal of any joint in Berkeley ... but if you build it in Richmond ... will they come?

                    1. re: rworange

                      I don't know El Cerrito well but it seems that development and urban planning-wise, it's not laid out to accommodate the small neighborhood places. You know, there's no old downtown/smaller commerce streets like Solano Ave, Clement St, College Ave, etc. Also it seems to be post-WWII development, i.e., in the 50's/60s and downtowns were decaying/being phased out and there was a push for cars and malls.

                      Historically, just wondering, did El Cerrito Plaza replace an old downtown establishments? Any's all relative and could be worse.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        No, El Cerrito Plaza was always a mall. It had an old Sears store. When they decided to redevelop it there was supposed to be more of a community feel to it with some park areas, IIRC. $$$ reigned. The story is out there somewhere on the web. I don't remember all the old stores there. I know The Junket is a hold over from the old mall. Sees was always there.

                        In some ways it is nicer looking, but the original plan was so much better.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Sears?? There was a Capwells, David's Hofbrau, Kirby's Coffee Shop, Chevys and a few other things

                          1. re: kc72

                            And the Melodee, with the same folks still sitting at the same barstools (most likely).

                          2. re: rworange

                            If you go way, way back the space was a dog track. El Cerrito was also known for its jazz clubs and bars. There still are a few old bars left. Food scene is pretty bleak though.

                  2. Well, I suppose I can sympathize a tiny bit...since I live in Richmond, and it takes me even longer to go to those same restaurants you mention.

                    But really, what is the problem, other than you can't afford to live in Berkeley? How far is El Cerrito from Berkeley? And you kvetch about Albany vs. El Cerrito in another post below...but if Albany didn't have Solano Avenue continuing down from Berkeley, it also would be a wasteland.

                    Frankly, I'm just happy I don't live in Des Moines.