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Feb 24, 2009 12:37 PM

Berkeley cafes - are any of them chow-worthy?

It's well known that there are a lot of cafes surrounding UC-Berkeley, most of which exist not to provide good food but rather (1) the supply of caffeine that keeps most of the university going, and (2) study space for the thousands of Berkeley students who need it (or who like studying in cafes, which I don't get, but anyway...)

But even though food isn't their #1 priority, does anyone have any Berkeley cafe picks from a food perspective?

I always liked Village Grounds on Shattuck, and Nefeli Cafe on the northside for sandwiches and salads.

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  1. Cafe Milano on Bancroft does a good job with salads. Not killer good gourmet but a very good job with value considered. My guess is other stuff would be similar but can't verify.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ML8000

      I used to like their aram sandwiches. It's been a few years, though.

    2. Poached eggs on toast at Cole, possibly it's in Oakland though inches across the border
      on College Ave.

      I've had a thing or two at Guerrilla Cafe across-ish from Village Grounds on Shattuck but
      I can't remember what, though what memories I have are pleasant. I do recall right after
      they opened I got an espresso there and thought it was possibly the best I'd ever had.
      Subsequent visits have not risen to that level.

      In the morning the Trieste on San Pablo has a hefty cheese danish thing that's at least
      2/3 sweet cheese goop and is fantastic. At least, if you're like me and a big fan of
      sweet cheese goop.

      Lately Crixa has had something they're calling German Onion Bread which is a thick
      square of somewhat sicilian-pizzalike-shaped wholewheat bread topped with onions, sour cream, cheese, and poppyseeds. It's my new favorite thing.

      1. Does the Brazil Cafe on Shattuck do a good tri-tip sandwich and mango smoothie like the mother shack on University?

        6 Replies
        1. re: wolfe

          Brazil Cafe is on University at Shattuck (well, more like between Shattuck and Oxford). I don't think there are two locations, unless I'm remembering wrong.

          It's also been years for me since I last went. I found it to be superb, though a little salty for my taste.

          1. re: meloncollie

            There is the snack shop in the parking lot on University and a brick and mortar sit down inside cafe on Shattuck around the next corner, at least the last time I looked.

            1. re: wolfe


              Brazil Fresh Squeeze Cafe
              2161 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

              Brazil Café
              1983 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

              1. re: wolfe

                It's still there in the Ace Hardware parking lot. Even though the café has been open for a couple of years now, I still go to the shack.

            2. re: wolfe

              As someone who works around the corner, I prefer the food from the "hut." But the restaurant is acceptable on a rainy day.

              1. re: wolfe

                Yes. Brazil Cafe on Shattuck has everything the shack on University has plus a few more dishes. They usually have a Brazilian dish of the day. The dishes that are the same at both locations taste the same, IMO. It is just if the funky appeal of the shack is more to your taste.

              2. I don't know if La Note counts, but that's by far my favorite eatery in Berkeley for brunch/lunch. It's on Shattuck Ave. and is absolutely phenomenal. While I usually get breakfast there, I've had the ratatouille and a couple of their sandwiches. Their drinks are also great. The mocha is a nice, dark chocolate drink with espresso. Can't tell you exactly how they make it, but trust me--'tis good.

                Here's the menu:

                As far as strict coffee houses go, I used to study at Royal Grounds. Wouldn't recommend it for coffee. If memory serves me correctly, I found Caffe Strada to taste better than Milano if you're going to be hanging out on the Bancroft/south side of Berkeley.

                La Note Restaurant Provencal
                2377 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                Royal Ground Coffee House
                2409 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                Caffe Strada
                2300 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                10 Replies
                1. re: meloncollie

                  Spring is coming. Time for a lunch at La Note. Salade d'epinards with ctron presse and house coffee at one of their patio tables in the back yard. Yeah. I like that.

                  1. re: meloncollie

                    Even if it were picked up and flown to a land where cafes had table service, as opposed to here where cafe almost universally means counter service, La Note would still be unmistakably a restaurant.

                    Is there -anything- to eat at Royal? Other than the Worst Blueberry Muffin I've Ever Had?

                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                      The only thing good about Royal is the availability of seats. They even charge for wifi.

                      1. re: adrienne156

                        I used to live near Royal and have had quite a few lousy baked goods from there. I never tried any of their fancy-looking desserts, figuring they can't have been much better.

                        I probably shouldn't have used the word "cafe" in my original post when I meant "coffeehouses" (and near the University). Of course there will be good food options if you include all of Berkeley and any place with the word "cafe" in its name. My bad.

                        1. re: Agent 510

                          Haha, sorry, I had suspected that that's what you meant, but on a very slight technicality (La Note serving sandwiches and coffee! Good coffee, too), I decided to include it ... you know, just in case :)

                          Yes, the only good thing about Royal Grounds was the availability of seating for the studious. I remember getting a couple of their pastries and not being too impressed with them, if at all.

                          I'm curious to see how this thread grows. I'd be interested to know of a great coffee house in Berkeley as well.

                          1. re: meloncollie

                            Yeah, what I was trying to get at was whether there might be any food gems hidden among all these places that are seemingly all about coffee and WiFi.

                            I'm no restaurant biz expert but I wonder if that could be a good business model for a new Berkeley coffeehouse...offer good sandwiches and pastries, not just "good enough", and distinguish yourself from the masses. If someone did that, they might actually pick up some take-out business, which can't be that common at most of these places - you walk in, and if all the good spots are taken, you walk back out.

                            Anyone been to the new Sonoma Coffee Cafe on Durant and Fulton?

                            1. re: Agent 510

                              You should check out Blakes (yes, I said Blakes). I don't know if they've changed over yet, but they are overhauling the whole restaurant to be exactly the model you describe above with a counter where you will order and be given numbers and food runners will deliver the food. I believe there will be free wi-fi as well.

                              ETA: I'm 99% positive they are putting in an espresso bar as well.

                              1. re: adrienne156

                                Further ETA: I forgot to mention that they are also changing the sourcing for a lot of their ingredients to include local, sustainable, organic, etc. and the kitchen (staff and all) is getting a facelift as well.

                              2. re: Agent 510

                                Well, if that's your question ---

                                If you hang out in these cafes for a few hours around lunch, you'll find that some specialize in lunch. In the telegraph area, there's one right on bancroft that starts with an M that gets quite a bit of takeout business - they have a full sandwich board and, I think, some Moroccan specialties. It seems that plenty of adults and grad students (not undergrads) walk in from their offices.

                                But the university has been putting in decent food in the buildings, such as the Jimmy Bean's in Haas business school.

                                In the particular area of Telegraph/southside berkeley, the competition point revolves around students, which are a particular market on the price/performance scale.

                                If you look farther afield, like Milano on College, you'll find plenty of cafes that do a decent food business. In my area we have much beloved Cafe Barrone in Menlo Park, where we often go for casual dinner. But prices there would be considered steep southside berkeley - $40 for two. 2 thick sandwiches, the tomato salad which we split, a pint of beer, and a mexican chocolate.

                      2. re: meloncollie

                        Caffe Strada strikes out on the food score. Nothing but pastries, bagels, snacks. Great place to hang out, but not for a meal.

                      3. Second Guerrilla Cafe, even though the definition of "guerrilla" on their signage is inaccurate.

                        Way down Telegraph, Mokka liberally sprinkles words like "organic" and "Niman" over their menu. I've had good salads there, but the single-estate coffees are the draws. Not particularly close to campus.

                        I've had fairly good soups and sandwiches in the past at ultimate people-watching spot Yali's on Oxford, but not having been there for a while, I don't know if their expansion on to campus has diluted the quality.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bradluen

                          I was going to mention Mokka, as well. Their panini are quite good, and they make good espresso drinks. I suppose it depends on your definition of close, but it's about a 15-minute walk to campus, unhurried.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Adding a link.

                            3075 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705