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Best Berkeley Lunch Spots

Downtown Berkeley & Gourmet Ghetto (North)

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Berkeley has a diverse and casual sensibility. Even in the more pricey and elegant spots, the vibe tends to be laid back, eclectic, academic. Although it's impossible to narrow down Berkeley's restaurant choices to just a few, these are some of my favorite spots for lunch -- in the downtown and Gourmet Ghetto area (not including West Berkeley and Fourth Street -- a separate world of culinary gems).

1. Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen

It used to be that I could slink into Angeline's anytime after a morning hike in Tilden, and enjoy my Voo Doo Shrimp and Swampwater (iced tea & lemonade).

Then Check Please Bay Area found her out, giving the place an extra buzz and influx of customers. Which is great for Angeline's. Especially since it's one of the few restaurants in the Bay Area where you can find authentic Louisiana cuisine -- with friendly service and often a personal visit from the owner.

In Downtown Berkeley at:
2261 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel: (510) 548-6900

2. Cafe Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude food is organic, sustainable and vegetarian/vegan. This is one place where vegetarians won't be relegated to side dishes on the menu. Cafe Gratitude offers fruit juices and elixirs, dairy-free pizzas and nachos with cashew mozzarella, as well as nut, grain and soy based entrees.

You can get organic cocktails with a selection of organic beers and wines, too. And Cafe Gratitude is known for its dairy-free desserts like the Coconut Cream Pie.

In North Berkeley at:
1730 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA
Tel: (415) 824-4652 (for catering or parties larger than 6)

Cafe Gratitude has two restaurants in San Francisco and a venue in San Rafael (Marin). See their website for details on other locations.

3. Cheeseboard Pizza

The Cheeseboard is a North Berkeley institution, celebrating more than 40 years in Berkeley and offering some of the best pizza in the East Bay -- along with a huge selection of international cheeses and baked goods in the shop next door.

Cheeseboard Pizza is not Chicago deep dish (for any Zachary's fans). It's thin, without tomato sauce, and topped with a variety of ingredients, different each day. There is usually a long but fast-moving line for Cheeseboard Pizza -- and the restaurant recently expanded to include more indoor seating.

In North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto at:
1512 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA
Tel: (510) 549-3055

4. Chez Panisse Cafe

Chez Panisse, for any Bay Area newcomers, is Berkeley's resident celebrity restaurant. Started by Alice Waters in 1971, Chez Panisse and its many alumni, working in restaurants throughout the Bay Area, have represented the local, seasonal and organic sensibilities that tend to identify Bay Area cuisine.

Chez Panisse requires some advance planning. Be sure to call and check about reservations at the Cafe. (The restaurant portion of Chez Panisse is open for dinner only. The upstairs Cafe is open for lunch and dinner.)

In North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto at:
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709
Café Reservations: (510) 548-5049
Restaurant Reservations: (510) 548-5525
See the Chez Panisse reservation policy before booking a table.

5. Gregoire

Gregoire is a favorite gourmet take-out spot with limited seating at its Berkeley location. (Gregoire has another spot on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland.)

Chef Gregoire Jacquet conceived a menu that includes items like the always popular Crispy Potato Puffs, a selection of sandwiches and baguettes, salads, soups, and chocolate bread pudding. Menus change monthly.

In North Berkeley at:
2109 Cedar Street (at Shattuck)
Berkeley, CA
Tel: (510) 883-1893

6. Jupiter (Beer Garden)

Jupiter is the place if you're in the mood for a hand-crafted beer, in the outdoor breeze of a two-level beer garden. There's indoor seating as well, with the upstairs opening up to a view of the back garden. But the outdoor seating is the draw for me.

The food at Jupiter is what you might expect in such a venue -- standard fare of pizzas, sandwiches, salads. But if you're a beer lover, enjoy some of the microbrews available on tap, as well as seasonal specials. They also pour Old Speckled Hen, a nostalgic favorite of mine from the UK.

In Downtown Berkeley at:
2181 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel: (510) THE.TAPS

7. La Mediterranee

La Mediterranee in Berkeley's Elmwood district is one of three La Mediterranee restaurants in the Bay Area (the other two are in San Francisco).

The menu at La Mediterranee ranges from Chicken Pomegranate to daily quiche specials to traditional Mediterranean dishes like dolmas and kebabs. There is both indoor and outdoor seating at the Berkeley restaurant. The outdoor patio is small but offers some nice people watching on College Avenue.

In Elmwood at:
2936 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
Tel: (510) 540-7773

8. La Note

La Note has delicious French bistro fare, with both indoor seating and a cozy back patio -- which fills up quickly during lunch hours.

The menu includes such classics as Salade Niçoise and Croque Monsieur, as well as a selection of omelettes, cheese and charcuterie plates, baguettes and pastries. La Note also serves breakfast every weekday, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

In Downtown Berkeley at:
2377 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel: (510) 843-1535

The owners of La Note have another restaurant in West Berkeley on 7th Street At Carleton: Cafe Clem

9. Le Bateau Ivre

I almost hate to mention Bateau Ivre -- promise you'll keep it a secret. It's the ambiance that always draws me in. It's subdued to be sure -- a great place to eat while cracking that new novel. Tucked into a 19th century home on Telegraph Avenue, Le Bateau Ivre ("The Drunken Boat") is a restaurant and a coffee house.

You can enjoy a coffee and pastry in a window apse -- or retreat to the full dining area in the back for a more formal meal (relatively speaking). The coffee house also serves a full menu for lunch and dinner. A cafe menu is served all day, in between formal dining hours.

South of UC Berkeley campus at:
2629 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel: (510) 849-1100

10. Saul's Deli

Saul's is another long-time resident of North Berkeley which, like the Cheeseboard, dramatically expanded its space to accommodate its many loyal diners.

Delis of the Saul's ilk are not as common in the Bay Area as they are in New York or Los Angeles. So this Berkeley icon is much appreciated for its comfortable booths and traditional fare -- from pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup to bagels and lox. Saul's also prepares special holiday menus for Passover and other occasions.

In North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto at:
1475 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
Tel: 510-848-DELI

11. Kid Friendly Options in Berkeley

All of the restaurants listed above would be good options for kids who are more experimental with their cuisine. Places like Saul's are ideal, with booths, a large space,and a varied sandwich menu (among other food options).

Other places kids might like in the area, outside of the usual fast-food chains:

  • Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers: Bay Area chain with kid-friendly burgers and sandwiches
  • Fatapple's (1346 Martin Luther King, Jr Way - near Rose): American menu with good breakfast and lunch options
  • Caffe Venezia: Tuesday through Friday, Venezia has lunch hours for kids who enjoy pasta and Italian food
  • Rick and Ann's: American breakfast & lunch, across from Claremont Hotel
  • Gelateria Naia (Shattuck Ave): Large selection of gelato and sorbet

12. Kid-Friendly Options in West Berkeley

West Berkeley is a thriving restaurant community on its own. And it's close to the Berkeley Marina and Adventure Playground (in the Marina). Favorite family dining spots there include:

  • Picante: Casual and excellent Mexican food -- always busy with families
  • T-Rex Barbeque: What I like about T-Rex is the space -- a two-level airy spot with windows that open on warm days
  • Caffe Trieste/Berkeley: One of Trieste's Bay Area locations, with light fare and beverages (coffee and other)
  • Bette's Oceanview Diner (at 1807 Fourth Street, near Hearst): Great breakfast and diner food, always busy
  • Fourt Street Berkeley: The whole 4th Street area is fun for kids, with a Peet's outdoor patio, treats at Sketch Ice Cream and a bit history at Spenger's

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