Kitchen at Chez Panisse (also used as Feature Photo): xmatt

Every city has its own character, but some have a lot, and Berkeley, California is one. The free-spirited independence that shaped its reputation in the 1960s is still going strong.

With events like the annual “How Berkeley Can You Be” parade, it’s no wonder the name of this university town is used as an adjective.

Here are 10 of the city’s best, and very Berkeley, places to eat:


This is fast-food with a healthy conscience. Offering a range of freshly prepared burgers and veggie options, Smart Alec’s is also famous for its irresistible trademark garlic fries.

It’s popular with students, and if you bring in a paper or a test marked with an “A”, you get some of those delicious fries for free. Fast and healthy, Smart Alec’s lives up to its name.

2355 Telegraph Avenue
(510) 704-4000

Blondie’s

Call Me for Some Overtime: m.gifford

Sometimes it’s just all about a big slice of hot, greasy pizza. Located on famous Telegraph Avenue, Blondie’s satisfies. Their massive pizza slices drip with cheesy goodness and make it a popular late-night destination for the ever-hungry student population.

Not really fussed with the hippy insistence on veggies and healthy options, the pizza here is just a straight up guilty-pleasure.

2340 Telegraph Avenue
(510) 548-1129

This old-fashioned family-operated Italian gastronomical shop has several locations in the Bay Area, each of them top-notch. They have a range of deli sandwiches, savory salads, and intriguing Italian dishes on offer that you can taste before buying.

A favorite meal choice is often simply a freshly-baked bread stick, an aromatic hunk of cheese, and a glass of house wine. Not too expensive, A. G. Ferrari’s makes Italy’s best artisanal cheeses and wines seem at home in Berkeley.

1843 Solano Avenue
(510) 559-6860

Naan ‘n’ Curry

Naan at Naan ‘n’ Curry: takaokun

Berkeley prides itself on multicultural diversity, so ethnic foods are definitely in. Although Naan ‘n’ Curry is technically a chain (there are five locations), it’s still got the charm of a local treasure and the authentic flavors of Pakistan and India to back it up.

The proximity to the university campus makes it an ideal student hangout, but it really caters to everyone. For those who like their food spicy, Naan ‘n’ Curry can pack a punch.

For those who prefer to keep it mild, perhaps try some of the cheesy Paneer Tikka Masala with garlic naan. This is Indian-Pakistani food with a laid-back California twist.

2366 Telegraph Avenue
(510) 841-6226

A Dish at Chez Panisse: xmatt

It’s not just hippy venues and student hangouts that define Berkeley. Arguably one of the most famous restaurants in the world is Chez Panisse.

Started by Alice Waters (herself a Berkeley alum), the restaurant is famed for pioneering what is known as “California cuisine”—food that focuses on being locally farmed, in season, sustainably grown, and of course, healthy.

The price of dinner is fairly expensive and the clientèle is well-to-do (Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles dined there during their tour of Berkeley).

However for the average person wanting to try a taste, lunch is offered at an egalitarian and affordable price. This is Berkeley at its supreme best.

1517 Shattuck Avenue
(510) 548-5049

A Vegetarian Option, too?: bryangatebt

Top Dog is a much-loved local institution. Open late (3 AM on Fridays and Saturdays), it offers sizzling hot dogs in a range of unusual flavors.

Of course it wouldn’t be Berkeley without a veggie option and Top Dog does this right. The veggie sausage is packed with wheat protein, aubergine, garlic, and fennel, and is definitely worth a try whether you’re vegetarian or not.

2534 Durant Avenue
(510) 843-7250

Jupiter

Go to Jupiter: Genista

Jupiter has that perfect combination of warm ambience and great food. The character-rich venue is a converted brick-built Victorian stable and features live music, an inviting multi-tiered beer garden, and a selection of locally brewed beers (their honey wheat ale is a personal fave).

With a menu of gourmet wood-fired pizzas, a range of house brews, and a stylish old-world atmosphere, Jupiter pretty much gets everything right.

2181 Shattuck Avenue
(510) 843-8277

You might think that French cuisine and take-away would be antithetical, but Gregoire’s begs to differ.

Combining local, organic ingredients and French culinary craft, this small venue in Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto” manages a lunch menu entirely under $10.

You can leave your preconceptions about take-away behind: Gregoire’s does something different, and does it well.

2109 Cedar Street
(510) 883-1893

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe

Like the Sign Says…: savemejebus

Although it’s actually located in the bordering city of Emeryville, Can’t Fail Cafe gets honorary Berkeley status.

This diner has a strong punk vibe. Besides being named after a Clash song, it’s owned in part by the bassist from Green Day.
Staff wear edgy black t-shirts that say “Serving E-ville since 1984”.

A big draw is that the cafe is open at 1 AM and offers breakfast all day. Make sure to try some of the more unusual menu choices, like their Guinness milkshakes.

4081 Hollis Street, Emeryville
(510) 594-1221

This place is guaranteed to impress. Operated in conjunction with the nearby cooperative Cheese Board, this pizzaria has only one pizza option per day, always vegetarian.

Don’t let the lack of choice fool you—there’s cult-like following for the Cheese Board’s pizza. Always served piping-hot from the oven and topped with things like artichokes, Asiago cheese, olives, and pine nuts, it’s to die for.

The venue has a nice old piano and the streetfront is open-air, making it feel just about as friendly and inviting as Berkeley can be. (For the full experience, get some pizza and eat it picnic-style on the grassy median opposite the shop.)

1512 Shattuck Avenue
(510) 549-3183

Community Connection

From where to eat to where to hike, trip ideas, volunteer opportunities, and news, MatadorTravel’s Focus Page on California puts it all in one place.

If you’re going to be in the Bay Area, you’ll probably want to know What Not to Do in San Francisco.