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Feb 25, 2010 10:46 AM

Thinking of Leaving SF for Berkeley or Oakland. Crazy?

I'm thinking of moving from SF to Berkeley or Oakland, but wonder if all my favorites here have comparable or better spots over the bridge. (Really, I am ignorant on the topic; I have no intent to anger those who think the Berkeley and Oakland have far superior options!) Some of my favorites: Rainbow (particularly its bulk section, including Rancho Gordo beans), Bi-Rite (great selection of grass-fed meats and pastured poultry, super knowledgeable staff), Claravale milk, Saturday market at the Ferry Building, Tartine bread and sweets, Blue Bottle and Four Barrels, Prather Ranch Meat Co., Ports Seafood. I'm not worried about restaurant selection, just about provisions for day-to-day eating. Please advise!

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  1. Well, I guess you should be applauded for admitting your ignorance and at least considering the East Bay. But seriously, haven't you heard of Berkeley Bowl and the Cheeseboard? They're both pretty well-known. People even come from SF to shop there. Berkeley and Oakland both have multiple farmers markets, and you can always BART over for Saturday at the Ferry Building.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      The Monterey Market, on Hopkins, is a neighborhood grocery store in North Berkeley that is compact but still has an amazing selection of produce, split between local/organic and from/wherever. A great spot that boasts a great, imo, Berkeley vibe.

      About half a block away is Magnani Poultry, which is a full butcher shop, not just poultry. They carefully source their meats and place good information for you to know what you are buying, where it came from. I don't buy a lot of meat but if I do, I buy it here.

      Fish. You can buy fish at most of the local markets. Also meat and poultry. Plus there are fishmongers, shops that specialize in fish.

      I hardly ever buy food at grocery stores anymore. I buy at the local farmers markets. This way, I know it is local (at least here in Berkeley) and seasonal. I keep my carbon footprint low.

      One happy discovery, after moving to Berkeley, for me, has been Asian spice shops. . . and all the great Indian restaurants like Vik's Chatt House. I need a lifetime to discovery them all.

      Erin. . . Berkeley is home to the localvore food movement, right? And home to the Gourmet Ghetto. It seems a tiny bit naive of you to imagine that the foodies in Berkeley (home to Alice Waters!!!) don't have easy access to good food.

      Come on over and discover the mysteries of the East Bay for yourself. I almost never go over to the city. I only go for cultural events.

      One limitation in Berkeley is a complaint I hear from a new neighbor who just moved to Berkeley from SF. He says Berkeley shuts down much earlier than the city. He says he can't stand it when he can't go out to eat at 10 p.m. His complaint has foundation. There aren't many places to eat after 10 p.m. and Berkeley goes to sleep, at least its restaurants, early.

      I guess bars might stay open later, considering the student population?

      I am newish to Berkeley, having been here less than two years. I find the local food scene a tad too precious. But you can get anything you would want or need in terms of great food in Berkeley. And you can always go to Oakland. . . which has plenty of awesome amenities. I have nothing against Oakland. I just rarely leave Berkeley anymore. I can get whatever I want here.

      Magnani Poultry
      1576 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA

      1. re: tizzielish

        Great suggestions tizzielish. One thing about Oakland is that restaurants stay open much later. I was at Ozumo Oakland until midnight last Saturday - fun crowd and great food.

        Definitely come and check out the East Bay between Monterrey Market, Berkeley Bowl, and all the ethnic markets you are sure to satisfy all of your cravings. Personally I enjoy shopping at those markets more than Rainbow and the like in the city because they seem to be less crowded and more accessible.

    2. I don't know Rainbow, but I don't think there's a supermarket in the country that Berkeley Bowl loses to, whether you're talking about the original location or the newer, more parking- and shopping cart-friendly (and less crunchy) one. Like, it's a place I'll bring out-of-town guests to, just so I can rub it in.

      The East Bay has an embarrassing wealth of ethnic markets as well.

      As far as bakeries, Acme Bread is in the East Bay and is second to none, as far as I'm concerned, but I do think that SF proper is stronger as far as French pastries are concerned. But then again, we have Crixa Cakes, which makes the best Eastern European treats I've ever had (and awesome pies too). And Bakesale Betty for solid all-American type cookies and coffee cake and pies and such.

      The various farmers markets in Oakland and Berkeley aren't quite as spectacular as the Ferry Building Saturday market, but are still amazing and are MUCH, MUCH more affordable for day-to-day groceries. Between Oakland and Berkeley alone, there's a different one almost every day of the week (except Mondays and Wednesdays, I believe). You can get Prather Ranch meat at the Grand Lake market.

      Coffee, well, we have Blue Bottle and Ritual (at Remedy in Oakland) and Four Barrel (at Subrosa) -- plus Local 123 (which sells Flying Goat and, in my opinion, tops them all).

      Plus the Cheeseboard for its amazing selection of cheeses and olives.

      In short, I like visiting SF, but from a day-to-day food perspective, I really think the East Bay loses to no one.

      61 Replies
      1. re: abstractpoet

        I recently moved from SF to the East Bay. The Temescal farmers' market is better than ever, with several fabulous new vendors for the new season. No need for the Ferry Plaza anymore.

        I have been most unhappy about the meat and fish counters at Berkeley Bowl West, which is blocks from my house. It is filthy and the people who work there don't know much about the products they're selling. I often see juices from what's previously been weighed on the scale. Yes, they have Marin Sun Farms and Becker Lane pork, but I don't trust the cleanliness of the operation. (I recently contracted Listeria--after I moved to Berkeley, mind you--so I am overly paranoid about this stuff.) Same goes with the seafood, also it's a paltry selection.

        For everyday meat and seafood shopping, I go to Whole Foods. It's clean and the folks that work there are educated enough to answer any of your questions. Sorry, but I don't get the Berkeley Bowl is fabulous cult.

        Yes, there is a wide variety of produce, but almost none of it is local. The produce buyers need to leave the 1990s. This is 2010 in Northern California. Half the product at Berkeley Bowl should be local.

        1. re: janesuperstar

          Some of the folks at the meat and fish counters at Berkeley Bowl West are more knowledgeable than others, but I would never in a million years describe it as a "filthy" operation. Seems perfectly clean and sanitary to me, and while the selection isn't as good as a full-service butcher shop, it's more than fine for the day to day. And usually if the person who's taking my order can't answer my question, they'll just ask someone else who can (usually the slightly older Asian gentleman, at the meat counter anyway).

          To me, the whole point of the produce section at BB is that I can get reasonably high quality produce -- just about anything I can think of -- all year round, even at off-peak times, and at astonishingly great value. For seasonal and local, I'll hit the farmers markets. (Though, incidently, I think it's an exaggeration to say that "almost none" of the produce at Berkeley Bowl is local.)

          So, no, I haven't found any reason to waste my money at "Whole Paycheck".

          1. re: abstractpoet

            Locally produced agricultural products can be very limiting. I'm too jaded by 30 years of world travel to settle for limited local fare. I want my mangos, my pineapple, my salicks, my papayas and all of the other great tropical fruits the world has to offer. Alice Waters is very provincially minded. Her concept of food is very white bread and it's simplicity is dated. She is becoming like meat and potatoes. And by the way, The world is getting smaller and our concept of edible foods is becoming broader.
            Thank God that Berkeley Bowl brings the world of produce to us !
            I am a 30 year Berkeley / Oakland resident

            Berkeley Bowl
            2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

            1. re: nasigoreng

              Chez Panisse serves tropical fruit, particularly at times of year when there's not much local fruit to be had. The CP Fruit cookbook has chapters on bananas, mangoes, papayas, and passion fruit.

              There are lots of restaurants around here that don't focus on local ingredients or seasonality, but for that style of food San Francisco is probably at a disadvantage compared with Las Vegas and New York. We have better produce; they have more big spenders.

              Chez Panisse
              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

          2. re: janesuperstar

            I'm with Jane about the local thing. After all the amazing things I'd heard about BB, I was very surprised the first time I went and saw how little of the produce section was local.

            1. re: Fig Newton

              I think there's a fallacy in judging BB by percent local. It is the superstore of produce and sells exotics and out of season goods, and I'm glad it does when I need them. The question should be, does BB stock goods that we know to be available in wholesale quantities from local growers. I was there on Friday on the hunt for greens because I knew I'd be able to buy everything in one stop. I drove over from SF.

              I'm looking at my receipt now. Of the 20 produce items, 11 were from within 200 miles. Collards came from Riverdog and dandelions from Route one.

              Two items,organic green & lacinato kale were from el centro; I could have bought conventional, local from the Central Valley. Yellow onions from Nevada. Sm celery for 25 cents was unmarked for origin which is unusual here. Conventional green onions and bell pepper were from Mexico, but they were fresher and cheaper than Calif grown. Tarragon and chervil were not marked but might be Calif, and my Ginger was from Hawaii.

              1. re: Fig Newton

                When was the first time you went?

                BB has evolved over the years. The organics have gotten better and there are lots of local items. As Melanie mentioned Riverdog sells lots of stuff there including tomatoes. There's that potato farm up near petaluma ... Johnny boy ... or something like that.The strawberries have mostly always been from the south Bay. Gizdich had some great apples. They were one of the first to carry apple a day juice from Sebastopol ... finanly went to the farm this year ... forgot to report ... kind of a different place.

                I've seen people complain about the produce not being as good as the farmers markets. Well, no. But you won't get the variety at the local farmers market. Didn't have time for my apple report this year where I tried 37 types of apples from Berkely Bowl. Yes most were out of the area ... lots from New England and NY State, some from Australia.

                1. re: rworange

                  Also, BB (and MM) have Arkansas Black apples when they're in season (for about 25 minutes a year ;+)

                  These are the finest apples on earth and so I appreciate not having to drive 30 miles north to find them.

                    1. re: walker

                      I think they are the best out-of-hand eating apples around.

                      1. re: The Dive

                        Arkansas Black are very very hard. Not for everyone, for sure. I had some for the first time last fall. Bought a bag from an orchard in Illinois. I prefer the tartness and juiciness of Pink Lady myself.

                        1. re: sfchris

                          I really wish this was a separate or different post that wasn't over 200 posts long.

              2. re: janesuperstar

                I could almost get the BB v. WF comments...except for price and strong suits. I simply won't pay WF prices when you can get things on average 30% less...often much, much less for produce and a way better selection at BB and produce is one of the prime reasons to BB along with overall convenience (great bread selection, decent butcher and okay deli).

                There's also the matter of going to a locally owned place v. a large corporation. I'd rather buy from a small local place that puts money back into the local economy.

                WF does have a very good meat department but I don't think BB is anything like you describe as filthy and WF is grossly over-priced but competitive on key items as lost leaders. I've never seen anything weird at BB meat counter.

                In my view, WF brings uniformity and consistency in marketing and image (and that's part of the crazy mark up) and if that makes people more comfortable, good for them. I'm not buying it however.

                1. re: ML8000

                  I don't know if WF prices have gone down, or if people just have a preconceived notion about them, but there are quite a few things at Whole Foods that are the same price as Berkeley Bowl, and some things that are cheaper (Fage yogurt is cheaper at WF, for instance). I'm a Berkeley Bowl fan, but I go to both stores and like both for different reasons.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    Whole Foods haa it's little moments where you get a single item for some amazing price ... but overall you will get gouged. I don't go out of my way to shop at WF, but stop by occasionally. I just don't get paying those sticker-shock prices with so much better and cheaper is elsewhere

                    1. re: rworange

                      Honestly, I've done price comparisons of the things that I most often buy, and Whole Foods is generally no more than a little bit more than Berkeley Bowl or Trader Joe's, and sometimes it's cheaper. I shop there because it's open until 10 every night, and Berkeley Bowl often closes too early for my schedule (and I don't like the produce or meat from Trader Joe's). And their house brand is pretty good quality for some everyday staples. The only sticker shock prices that I've seen from Whole Foods are from some of the more processed items that they have in organic brands (I was looking for marshmallows around the holidays and they were at an astronomical price there), but for normal produce, meat, dairy and bulk items, they're comparable to the others.

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        I guess it depends on what you buy. i' mostly into produce and dairy and everytime i walk into WF, all I think is "Are you kidding". except for the special, almost everything is $1 more and usually double farmers market prices which are a lot more than most Berkeley Bowl items.

                        Even at the Napa WF which is localer-than-though in terms of produce. While the designer farm names were calling to me, I think I've only bought at most 5 items there.

                        But, IMO, produce has never been Whole Foods thing. Even when I was shopping there regularily when living in SF, I was rarely tempted by the produce. My main goal there was the deli, but I've since outgrown them in terms of my own taste.

                        Their cheese dept is way too inconsistant with periods of cheese abuse.The good staff at the cheese counter doesn't seem to stay long.

                        It's funny that even after all of this I have a generally favorable impression of WF, but analyzing it, I don't see why.

                        1. re: rworange

                          good post. you've articulated stuff I just felt and never really thought through.

                          1. re: rworange

                            I agree about WF. We shop, in an emergency, at the one near Lake Merritt and the produce is a lot more than $1 more than Berk. Bowl. I saw raspberries for some ungodly sum like $4.95 a basket and strawbs were similar. I can get strawbs of all kinds at BB for much less than that. I got some good ones (well, as good as they can be this early) for just under $2 for a good sized carton.

                            I really can't stand the place most of the time...except for one fantastic sandwich they have which I must get about once every couple of's the roast beef with gorganzola and pickled onions. I shop at a market owned by people who beat their employees with whips and loud Lawrence Welk music on the speakers if I could get that sandwich.

                  2. re: janesuperstar

                    For both fish and meat, I prefer the vendors in Rockridge Market Hall, Ver Brugge, or, actually Andronico's (the Telegraph Ave. one is our local fav). I know someone else who has a problem with the fish and meat at BB West, though I think the old BB is more reliable.

                    1. re: janesuperstar

                      Jane, have you had a chance to check out Tokyo Fish market yet?

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I haven't been to Tokyo Fish yet. Obviously, I haven't explored enough yet. Do you recommend it? Also, which meat market do you recommend? I have issues, ahem, with Berkeley Bowl.

                        Also, I have compared prices at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl and WF is lower on some of my staples, like Rao's arrabiata sauce (more than $1 cheaper). WF has lowered its prices on staples like yogurt, rice, etc., during the past few years.

                        Thanks for any and all recommendations. And no offense to the lovers of Berkeley Bowl, but it's not my favorite. (Though I do shop there several times weekly due to convenience.)

                        1. re: janesuperstar

                          I haven't been to Tokyo Fish since it moved/expanded so others are more current on it than me.

                          On the west side you should check out Cafe Rouge's butchery. Beautiful pork and beef in particular, and you can shop at the Pasta Shop next door for cheese etc. In the same trip.

                          1. re: janesuperstar

                            I guess the meat and fish departents have improved so much over the years that I just don't think of them as having problems. Many moves ago, in the first Shattuck store, they had these green grass-like separators that would gross me out as I could never imagine them really getting cleaned.

                            Which Whole Foods do you go to? I can't imagine eating the fish at the Oakland store. Besides always looking tired, it is overpriced. the fillets are usually dull colored and the eyes of whole fish look not so fresh.

                            As someone else mentioned, I think Andronicos is way better than WF for meat and fish. Tho Tokyo fish and Monterrey Fish are my go-to fish vendors.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Re: Tokyo Fish. Must-go for fish items. It is a smaller, but well-curated, counter, about 75% fresh/frozen fish and 25% sushi-grade (including other sea items like uni, ikura, roe, etc.). I just had some citron tobiko (small container for about $2) that was amazing. Prices are comparable or better than BB, but the staff here really knows what they're talking about, so the overall experience is way better IMO.

                              * For those who have not been since the remodel, the expanded rear building which now houses the market is twice as big as the original front building, and the seafood counter is divided into a large fish section and a smaller other sea items section (including oysters, tarako, squid, various wakame and seaweed salads). There is a nice packaged sweets section that includes Osaka-Ya and Benkyodo mochi and manju. It is also much easier to navigate and you don't feel like things are spilling out of the tiny aisles anymore. The expansion has definitely allowed them to improve on the selection in general. *

                              TF has a small produce section, in which you can sometimes score deals in the must-sell section (very ripe fruits/vegs at half off or more). I found giant daikon for .99/lb. There is a good selection of Japanese produce that you may have a hard time finding in other places (for example, myoga), but I often find better deals on the same things at Koreana Plaza in Oakland (one small (~ 6 leaves) bunch of shiso/perilla = .99 at TF, 2 giant bunches (~10 leaves ea) of shiso = .69 at KP). Prices on some other goods, like umeboshi, are also much better at TF especially if you are looking for ones without food coloring or MSG.

                              Last, the sake selection is much bigger than BB and better-priced. I got a nice bottle of Nihonjin no Wasuremono for $12 last week (normal retail about $16). Also, if you like Hitachi no Nest beers, they are about a dollar cheaper than at Whole Foods (I forget if they have them at BB, probably do).

                              1. re: pockyjunkie

                                Well, I have to admit I'm a recent convert. Nothing against Berkeley Bowl (since I'm as big a BB apologist as anyone), but I'm now buying just about all my seafood at Tokyo Fish Market. As noted, TF's prices are on par with the Bowl, but the quality and the selection are both quite a bit better. I love that I can pick from four different types of clams, and that they'll give me an honest answer when I ask which are freshest that day.

                                It's the service that's been bringing me back -- everyone I've dealt with there has been really knowledgeable and so darned nice. And I like the little touches, like the fact that they'll always offer to put my order on ice, without me having to ask.

                                I've got a nice little shopping loop now that includes Berkeley Bowl, Acme Bread, Tokyo Fish, and La Bedaine (for pastries, sausages, smoked salmon). Sometimes hit the Middle East Market (for flatbread) or Berkeley Bagels, too, if I'm in the mood. Maybe finish up at the Berkeley farmers market on my way back to Oakland if it's a Tuesday or Saturday.

                                Good times.

                                Acme Bread
                                1601 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                Tokyo Fish Market
                                1220 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                Berkeley Bagel
                                1281 Gilman St, Albany, CA

                                La Bedaine
                                1585 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94706

                                1. re: abstractpoet

                                  Could you comment on the types of seafood you've been purchasing at Tokyo Fish Market, please? "pockyjunkie" mentioned kinds that are popular for Japanese cooking, how wide is the variety?

                                  Tokyo Fish Market
                                  1220 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    In the past few weeks I've bought two different types of clams (I believe the first time they were butter clams from BC--tiny, sweet, and delicious--and some larger Manilas the second time (very fresh)). As mentioned, I've seen at least four different types being sold, include some small, local Point Reyes Manilas. All priced b/w $4.99 and $5.99 a pound.

                                    I bought some pacific snapper fillets for making fish tacos. Also excellent (though I didn't know until I brought them home that the fillets still had the pin bones in--not sure if that's typical, but I'd probably ask if they could remove them for me next time).

                                    I bought some medium-large shrimp that had been previously frozen, but were quite good -- I think better than the shrimp I usually get at the Bowl. They had five or six different kinds of shrimp in all -- some frozen and some not, some wild and some farmed.

                                    And just the other day I bought some cooked Dungeness crab meat, which was good and fresh, with some nice big chunks. It was marked at $24.95 a pound, the same price I saw at BB the same day, but the stuff at Tokyo Fish definitely looked better. They also had some live crabs in a tank. Those looked pretty lively.

                                    I think that's all I've bought so far. I always go in with something specific in mind that I want, and none of the things I've been looking for have been particularly obscure. So I can't give too much detail about the breadth of their offerings. But my overall sense is that there is a lot more variety than at, say, Berkeley Bowl. But I'm not sure how Tokyo Fish Market would compare to other specialized fishmongers in the area.

                                    Tokyo Fish Market
                                    1220 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                              2. re: rworange

                                I like Andronico's butcher department as well. A step above the big chains, on staff butchers most of the day who will answer questions. They're a tab bit high on prices but competitive and nothing unreasonable. It's also a local family-run chain. The other thing about Andronico's is the stores are compact and fast to get around. I've never had a problem with BB however.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Thanks to everyone for tips on meat and fish markets. As a newbie in the hood, I greatly appreciate it.

                                  I did stop by the Berkeley Bowl on Shattuck to buy some whole chicken legs and just check it out in general (since I usually go to Berkeley Bowl West). Two chicken legs were sitting at the edge of the case (nearest the customer) partially submerged in a huge pool of chicken juice. That to me is not optimum storage. So I bought all non-meat items I needed at BB and then went to WF (Berkeley).

                                  1. re: janesuperstar

                                    I have not been to the new Berkeley Bowl. I don't own a car and I'd have to transfer buses to get to it and I won't grocery shop at a store that I can't get to on one bus hop.

                                    But I hate the Berkeley Bowl on Shattuck, too, so maybe that is why I can't drag myself to the new one.

                                    What do I hate about the Berkeley Bowl? IMO, it's prices are very comparable to WF. I don't like their vaunted produce department. Lots of their produce seems like it is aging in the store. And I feel dirty, furtive, when I have an impulse to taste a strawberry. One thing I like about WF is I can taste a strawberry -- just like at any farmers market -- without running the risk of getting banned for my lifetime. I really hate the way BB bans people for a lifetime for tasting food samples.

                                    And I hate the crowds. I don't mind the hectic crowdedness --- I hate the smug self-satisfaction of the crowds, like everyone is there to be seen at, ooh, aah, the great BB.

                                    I like the little WF on Telegraph & Ashby -- although I don't buy much there. I really do most of my shopping at farmers markets. There are three a week here in Berkeley . . .

                                    I have noticed that BB tends to have lower prices on their fish . .. than WF . . but I know there is a wide range of quality to fish. For some reason, I just don't feel good ordering fish at BB. And I think BB meat and poultry are priced sky high. If I am going to pay those prices, I might as well pay the sky high prices for fish, poultry, eggs, yogurt, tortillas, EVERYTHING at the farmers markets.

                                    Have folks in chowhound noticed that the prices at the farmers markets in Berkeley tend to be higher than the prices at WF or BB?

                                    Andronico's, I agree, can have decent butchers and fishmongers. I never go to Andronico's . . . unless I am walking home from Cheeseboard.

                                    lots of great food sold in Berkeley, Erin (the person who started this thread) . . come on over

                                    Berkeley Bowl
                                    2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                                    1. re: tizzielish

                                      I prefer the old store, somehow like the layout, and produce, better. If I ever want to try something, I just ask one of the workers for a taste and they are always happy to comply. Sometimes, if there are a lot of varieties of nectarines, for example, I ask a worker what his favorite is. They've tasted them all and they are generous with opinions.

                                      1. re: tizzielish

                                        Funny. I have always tried before buying fruit and binned goods at both BBs. The ban-for-life thing is either a total myth or it's aimed at people who come in to eat and not buy food. In fact, the produce guys at BB are FANTASTIC when it comes to trying stuff and to recommending things. They are more than happy to slice off a piece of orange or apple, to give an opinion and to go out of their way to answer questions.

                                        And I'm tired of people generalizing about "smugness" (or, many people say, the "entitlement") of an entire group of shoppers. It's ridiculous. I love how friendly many, many people are at BB. But, then, I go out of my way to engage in conversation, to enjoy the experience and to be polite, so I suppose I'm biased.

                                        1. re: MollyGee

                                          No you are not biased. I shop at BBW frequently and don't recall running into the legendary "tude". I think it's something the complainers bring with them.

                                          1. re: MollyGee

                                            When I moved to Berkeley from SF I was struck by the peculiar and sometimes rude behavior of some remarkably self-absorbed people, but after 13 years I'm so used to it that I rarely notice.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Rude and self-absorbed (in a Berkeleyish kind of way), occasionally.

                                              Like the other day at Acme Bread, when the aging, bearded hippie in line in front of me (sorry to stereotype, but well...) insisted that they give him a new loaf of bread (that he thought looked bigger) even after he'd been assured that they were all weighed out to be the same -- and after they'd already put the loaf into a bag he'd brought himself. So after they'd basically told him that they'd have to just throw the other loaf away if he didn't buy it, he kind of just feigned ignorance until he got what he wanted...

                                              But I notice that kind of behavior more in restaurants and cafes than I do at Berkeley Bowl per se. And, come to think of it, I don't know that it's all that unique to Berkeley either.


                                            2. re: MollyGee

                                              I go to Berkeley Bowl to buy my groceries, definitely not to socialize, but I too find the idea that it's a place where self-satisfied people go to "be seen" to be more than a little bit absurd.

                                              Before the new branch opened, I braved the crowds at the old location every week, sometimes planning my entire weekend around my strategy of trying to arrive at the store 10 minutes before opening. (Thank goodness that's a thing of the past, at least at BBW.) But for me -- and for most others, I'd bet -- the willingness to endure that inconvenience was entirely a function of the store's unrivaled diversity of offerings and value, especially as far as produce is concerned.

                                              Who has time to people watch when you're frantically trying to maneuver/locate your shopping cart? =) But it was, and is, totally worth it.

                                              Berkeley Bowl
                                              2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                                              1. re: abstractpoet

                                                I agree totally. But then, I work in downtown San Francisco, which is brimming with self-absorbed people with a sense of entitlement and all their accoutrements (latte in one hand, iPhone in the other) so I've become oblivious.

                                                1. re: abstractpoet

                                                  aging, bearded hippie...kind of just feigned ignorance
                                                  Just like the oldsters who mistakenly always get in the X items or fewer line at TJ's and get taken because they are "confused' every time. Gosh as an aged unbearded exhippie I should try that.

                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                    I dont really see this arrogance. Well, on occasion i do, but not enough for me to feel like I cant shop there. for me, a grocery store acts solely as a place for me to acquire goods. BB offers me a variety of goods at relatively low prices year round. does it get over-hyped up a bit, by locals and on the internet? perhaps. do people with certain attitudes of entitlement shop there? probably. but, as long as those things dont negatively affect the basic purpose of this store, i could care less. thick skin is important in life. if some fool in the produce section is smug, so be it. as long as he's not directly impeding me from selecting my bananas, i just ignore him and move on. the parking doesnt bother me because i bike. i've been there enough times to know when its not too overcrowded. there are things at BB that ive bought that have been less than stellar or is higher priced compared to another market. i jot it down, learn and not buy it from there.

                                                    1. re: wolfe

                                                      Hah! This oldster spiel reminded me of the Seinfeld where Jerry's uncle steals books from Brentanos, and, when caught, he starts mumbling about "I'm old! I didn't know what I was doing! I get confused!"

                                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                                        hah! how many times have I dashed into the store for just a coupla things and stashed something under my arm when I end up with too much to carry--then forget to put it on the checkout belt. "...yuh, ma'am, did you want to purchase that?"

                                                2. re: tizzielish

                                                  The crowds at Berkeley Bowl East have really diminished since BBW opened.
                                                  The fish at BB is much better than at Whole Foods on Telegraph.

                                                  Berkeley Bowl
                                                  2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                                      2. re: janesuperstar

                                        I'm confused. Is "half the product" at Whole Foods local? If not, why the double standard where Berkeley Bowl is concerned?

                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                          I didn't mean to imply that the produce at WF is superior to BB. I just meant to say that I wished that BB had more local produce. By local I mean from farms such as Riverdog, etc. (as mentioned by Melanie and rworange).

                                          Like the OP, I lived in SF and shopped at Rainbow and Bi-Rite (when not at farmers' markets) and both those stores carry a lot of local farmers.

                                          At Berkeley Bowl, I haven't noticed where it says which farms the produce is from. I have seen Kaki berries, but besides that, I haven't noticed anything. I am obviously missing something. Do I need to look closely at any stickers or ties to see a farm label?

                                          1. re: janesuperstar

                                            The organic murcott tangerines I bought were the only item where the farm was indicated on the shelf sign when I think about it. I looked at the tags to find the farm source. Oh, and the chervil I bought was from organic Jacobs Farm in pescadero. I didn't notice the tag the first time I broke off a couple stems from the bag. It was in the conventional section with the other bagged herbs.

                                            The total produce section at Rainbow and Bi-Rite combined are completely dwarfed by the shelf space devoted to produce at BB. I suspect that BB has more local produce than the two of them in total but just happens to carry a lot of other things. I wouldn't want BB to stop stocking 14 kinds of pineapple and the vast range of imported produce that people of color want to eat in order to adhere to a mostly local mantra. Likewise, we need more farms and current farms to expand their crop offerings beyond the euro-centric (e.g., ALBA organic farmers new growing quelites, Hmong cilantro, milpero, chilacayote) so that we have the option of buying local and sustainable for other niches.

                                            This time of year there's not much local produce to go around. There's a reason that even in our area, most farmers markets only operate 6 to 8 month a year. I think you'll see a lot more in a month or two. That said, I think that we should continue to give feedback to BB about what we want to see in stock. Consumer pressure on WF helped create change there. Independent outlets like BB and Monterey Market with local buyers and such strong retail following can be good distribution partners for small farmers. Farmers markets serve only a tiny part of the population and improving retail distribution is key to reforming our food system.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              You're so right, we should definitely give feedback to BB about what we want. I, for one, would like to see more Northern California produce from small farms. I do not want BB to sacrifice even 1 of the 15 pineapples (one variety of which is sitting on my kitchen counter), but I would appreciate more produce from N. Cal small farms. For me, I prefer not to buy from bigger farms such as Cal Organic or even Jacobs Farm (which gets much of its product from Mexico, via its Del Cabo brand), if I can get it from a farm that sells to supermarkets. (And I say this having purchased Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo oregano just today.) I also want to note that Rainbow is full of Cal Organic items, especially at this time of year -- but it's clearly labeled. BB could improve on the labeling of its produce.

                                              What can I say ... I guess I am a spoiled food lover who wants it all -- and within walking distance from my house at a good price.

                                              PS. Sorry for the delayed replies to posts, I am obsessing. I appreciate hearing the expertise of Chowhounds on these matters.

                                              1. re: janesuperstar

                                                Berkeley Bowl's owner Glenn Yasuda has been buying the market's produce since 1977. I doubt he's going to change his style much. What the stores stock reflects what the wholesalers he buys from carry.

                                                1. re: janesuperstar

                                                  Jane, your replies are appreciated. In truth, I'm instinctively defensive of Berkeley Bowl because I have a ton of nostalgia for the place. I was really more surprised that Whole Foods has such a large selection of local produce.

                                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  >>improving retail distribution is key to reforming our food system.<<

                                                  This probably deserves to be a separate topic, but since Walmart is an East Bay only thing, it sort of firts.... This article from the Atlantic Monthly makes some interesting points about Walmart's efforts to leverage their distribution prowess to expand their offerings of local, organic food. As one activist is quoted in the article, "its getting harder and harder to hate Walmart." Check it out:

                                                  The Great Grocery Smackdown
                                                  Will Walmart, not Whole Foods, save the small farm and make America healthy?

                                                  1. re: BernalKC

                                                    There's a topic about that on Not About Food. As someone pointed out, what happens when Wal-Mart decides to go in a different direction? Remember Wal-Mart's "Made in America" campaign? Their business model has always been to drive away all the alternatives and competitors, which then gives them complete control. What happens when local farmers start to depend on Wal-Mart contracts and Wal-Mart starts driving their prices down?

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      I don't think many Berkeley farmers market shoppers and CSA subscribers are going to drive to Walmart instead. Traffic between here and there is often pretty heavy.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        The Berkeley's farmers market shoppers aren't even a blip on the Wal-Mart radar.

                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Finally found the other thread on Food Media and News board:

                                                      3. re: BernalKC

                                                        Walmart can have some good produce. The American Canyon had some really good free-range cage-free eggs. That location also has a bakery where they have Challah on friday and make their own pita.

                                                        Target in richmond is adding a produce department. Wonder how that will be. I haven't been to a Target that has produce yet.

                                                    2. re: janesuperstar

                                                      I guess they aren't consistant in signage. All of the farms I mentioned had the name of the farm on the sign.

                                                      1. re: janesuperstar

                                                        I think that BB only says what farm the produce comes from when it does come from a local farm -- I saw a lot of signage about that in the summer, but much less this time of year.

                                                        1. re: JasmineG

                                                          The Riverdog and Route One Farm items I bought weren't id'd other than on the tags on the bunch wraps. Maybe the signs specify if the vegetables aren't otherwise identified. I'll add that I do appreciate the geographic origins indicated on the signs at BB, whether local or not. And, I put more trust that they're accurate, unlike some other stores that never change the labels when the sourcing shifts.

                                                        2. re: janesuperstar

                                                          The three Berkeley farmers markets operate year round. If markets in other towns don't, I presume that's because the locals aren't as hardcore about their food shopping.

                                                          Berkeley Bowl's signs occasionally indicate the farm they came from (e.g. the Odoriko tomatoes) and some produce has stickers indicating the farm, but that's not really their thing.

                                                          Berkeley Bowl stocks only low-acid "gold" hybrid pineapples, which as far as I'm concerned is only one kind.

                                                      2. re: janesuperstar

                                                        Coudn't agree more about the disgusting fish counter at both BB (i'm not a meat eater- and I wouldn't purchase it there in any case.) Enough of the cornucopia of produce is local enough for me. Yes I would call those fish meat counters filthy and smelly and fly ridden! Sadly.

                                                        1. re: 510jeff

                                                          I haven't noticed flies or bad smells at either Bowl. Most of their seafood doesn't appeal to me, but what does is always in excellent condition.

                                                          The fish counter at Whole Foods on Telegraph used to smell so bad I didn't even like to go near that corner of the store, but I think they cleaned up their act.

                                                    3. I moved from SF to Berkeley and then Oakland about 5 years ago. Biggest difference is the sheer volume of restaurants. That's one of the big things I miss...having 2-3 go-to places in every neighborhood plus a bunch of 2nd and 3rd options.

                                                      For the day to day, depends on your neighborhood and commute route. Some 'hoods will be better then SF, some worse. I personally think if you have a car, the East Bay is better on a daily basis, easier parking, less crowded. When I first moved, I was 2 blocks from Berkeley Bowl and Ashby BART...that made all the difference and didn't look back.

                                                      As already mentioned, Berkeley Bowl rocks...Rainbow is nice but one visit to BB and you know it'll all be okay or better. There's also Monterey Market and as mentioned Acme and other places. Berkeley's farmers market isn't the Ferry Building but I think 95% of the country would kill for it. Also a few halal markets and some Middle Eastern markets. The other odd ball foodie toss-in is Grocery find all kinds of great stuff there and its cheap.

                                                      Bottomline...the restaurants are fewer but you'll find it all...just might need to drive, i.e., a lifestyle adjustment but you're still in the Bay Area. The www (Chowhound and other sites) helped greatly in sorting through things.

                                                      1. I used to live near the North Berkeley BART station close to San Pablo, and I loved all the food choices I had! There's an Acme bakery, which was closed when I went to work, the smells from this place were awesome! Plus Kermit Lynch for yummy affordable french wines. The Monterey Market, which I still go to on occasion, a great Japanese fish market, and now there's another Berkeley Bowl.

                                                        Basically I loved this area because it was easy to get to work, and there was plenty of great food to eat and I didn't have to drive to get it! Fourth street is close by too. And there are quite a few restaurants too (Everette and Jones #2 is superior in my mind to the one in Oakland).

                                                        The area is also fairly flat, so bike riding is a great option.

                                                        Really it's a matter of choosing the right neighborhood to fit your needs. The area I lived in (below San Pablo and near N. Berkeley BART) was awesome for me because of the ease of getting to SF, and not needing a car, with great food options all around me.

                                                        1. Bulk spice selection is larger at Rainbow than Berkeley Bowl but there is the Food Mill.

                                                          11 Replies
                                                          1. re: wolfe

                                                            And Country Cheese is good for bulk spices, nuts, dried fruit, etc.

                                                              1. re: wolfe

                                                                wolfe: Are you saying that the Food Mill has a place in Berkeley on San Pablo????

                                                                Food Mill
                                                                3033 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94602

                                                            1. re: wolfe

                                                              Vik's and the other Indian stores west of San Pablo Ave have good spice selections and prices as well.

                                                              1. re: chefj

                                                                Vik's spice selection is limited compared with Milan's.

                                                                  1. re: chefj

                                                                    Right. Milan's is on University around 9th, I think.

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      Then there's those two great spice stores in Berkeley ... something that starts with an "L"

                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                        Lhasa Karnak. The Telegraph store is bigger.

                                                                        Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
                                                                        1938 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                                                        Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
                                                                        2482 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Milan's is my favorite place to get staples for Indian cooking. Plus, where else could you get curry leaves, McVittie's Ginger Nuts cookies and rent a video all in the same place!?