Best Restaurants in Berkeley CA
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These are some of the best restaurants in Berkeley, California for locavore food. The city has a passion for celebrating Northern California’s farms and producers.
Berkeley, California is an eclectic mix of modern culture and 1960’s spirit. Its mild climate and beautiful landscape draw visitors to the city, and the laid back vibe makes it difficult to leave. The pace is a bit slower than the big city across the San Francisco Bay, so I knew it would be a great place to start my family’s Bay Area vacation.
The food scene in Berkeley is a reflection of the city’s rich history and spirit. Locavore dining was said to be born at Chez Panisse right here in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto back in the 1970’s. In the decades since then, it has become the norm for the city’s restaurants and markets to celebrate locally sourced food and artisan products.
One of the best ways to get an overview of the fabulous food offerings in Berkeley is to take an Edible Excursions tour. The guides provide a behind-the-scenes look at culinary highlights in this neighborhood, which is Berkeley’s epicenter of food. From the best pastrami sandwiches, pizza, and vegan soup to gourmet gelato and specialty chocolate, this tour will fill you up with some of the neighborhood’s most delicious highlights. I was impressed by the passion of the vendors and their commitment to using the highest quality local ingredients. There’s a real sense of pride in the food that’s being served all across Berkeley.
Best Restaurants in Berkeley for Real Food
It would take weeks to sample all the locavore restaurants in Berkeley. We only had a couple days here, so I’m highlighting a handful of the restaurants that we tried or heard great things about during our visit.
Chez Panisse is the centerpiece of the Gourmet Ghetto. Alice Waters’ restaurant has been serving the finest ingredients from northern California’s farms for decades. The restaurant features a fixed dinner menu that changes nightly according to what’s in season. Reservations need to be booked well in advance for this extraordinary dining experience.
FIVE Restaurant at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, just down the street from UC Berkeley, is another high-end restaurant featuring the best local food from the region. We enjoyed a menu sampling at FIVE, and it was one of the best meals of our trip. Beet watermelon salad, stuffed squash blossoms, and an epic dessert platter were among the highlights. See my review of FIVE and Hotel Shattuck Plaza for more details about this delicious restaurant.
Jupiter served up a great casual dinner on our first evening in Berkeley. This brewpub offers wood-fired pizzas on honey whole wheat crust, salads, and house-made beer. The outdoor patio is a wonderful place to enjoy the perfection of the Berkeley climate. The crust is stretched by hand to make each order, so service was a little slow. We tried three different pizzas, and all were delicious – definitely worth the wait on a beautiful summer night.
Cheeseboard Collective is a wonderful spot for specialty pizza in the Gourmet Ghetto. They offer one unique vegetarian pizza each day, and people line up down the street to get a taste. Seasonal toppings are always highlighted, and I got to enjoy a slice of fig and arugula pizza on the day we visited.
Venus Restaurant is an organic, farm to table cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We came for breakfast right when it opened, and the food and service were both excellent. The breakfast sandwiches and lemon ricotta pancakes were highlights.
Saturn Cafe is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant committed to using local, organic ingredients. Their extensive menu includes vegetarian twists on many classic comfort foods. Saturn offers several gluten-free options as well, so this is a great place for a food allergy family.
Free Speech Movement Cafe, located on the UC Berkeley campus, serves snacks, soups, salads, and sandwiches using many local, organic ingredients. We enjoyed chocolate croissants on the terrace during a walk across the beautiful campus.
Real Food Markets and Shops
There are so many little markets and specialty shops throughout Berkeley where vendors are full of passion about their local products.
The Local Butcher Shop is a unique spot in the Gourmet Ghetto that’s dedicated to seasonal, local, sustainably-raised meat. They offer a special sandwich of the day featuring their meat along with local produce and locally baked bread. This is a wonderful place to stop in for lunch if you want a sandwich you can feel good about eating.
Cultured Pickle Shop is the place to pick up organic fermented items like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha. They constantly experiment with different vegetable combinations and techniques to develop unique ferments from northern California produce. If you want to bring home a taste of Berkeley, this is a great place to grab a jar of something you won’t find anywhere else.
The Berkeley Farmers Market is a lively market on the edge of the Gourmet Ghetto each Thursday afternoon. The market is all organic, and the stone fruit samples provided an amazing taste of the season during our visit. Growers were eager to provide a sample or answer a question about their products.
Acme Bread Company is one of the premier sources of bread in the Bay Area. They’ve been baking bread in Berkeley since the 1980’s after getting their start at Chez Panisse. Acme uses locally grown organic flour to create bread for many of the best restaurants and sandwich shops in the area.
Berkeley Bowl is where the locals shop for great produce and organic grocery items. This is a good place to pick up snacks for an afternoon of exploring Berkeley, or you can grab a quick lunch at the cafe.
Mission Heirloom is a unique cafe featuring a grain-free, refined sugar-free menu of healthy meals. They grow many ingredients on-site in their greenhouse, and kids are allowed to explore their edible garden. The real food mission is at the core of what they do at Mission Heirloom. If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal here, you can pick up a healthy mason jar meal in their market.
Berkeley Between Meals
I could eat all day in Berkeley, but it probably wouldn’t be the best idea. Fortunately, there’s lots of natural beauty to enjoy between meals in this city. The landscape includes waterfront paths, hillside vistas, and serene parks and gardens that make it hard to remember you’re in a city.
The UC Berkeley campus is a beautiful spot worth visiting any time of year. It includes lots of green space and majestic trees among the campus buildings. The Campanile Tower stands tall in the middle of campus, and we made it just in time to catch an elevator ride to the top of the tower. Views extend well beyond Berkeley in all directions, and we would have seen all the way across to the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance if not for the fog.
We also took a bus up to Indian Rock Park on the slopes of Berkeley Hills. My kids loved climbing around the rocks and making their way to the top. This part of Berkeley reminded me of the residential hills of San Francisco with its beautiful houses and floral landscapes.
If we had a little more time, we would have explored Tilden Park, a beautiful spot for hiking, swimming, and biking. This 2,000 acre park also includes a carousel and a botanical garden, so there’s a little something for everyone. It’s one of the many peaceful spaces in this unique city by the bay.
Have you visited Berkeley? I’d love to know where you like to eat in this fantastic foodie city. Please share in the comments!
And if you’re planning a trip to Berkeley, check out Visit Berkeley for ideas and resources. They were a great help to me in putting together our visit.
How could you forget Three Stone Hearth on University Ave? We are the original Community Supported Kitchen! We cook nutrient dense foods (soups, stews, meaty pints, main dish “pies”,veggie sides, bone broths, desserts, pestos, cultured everything, krauts, pickles, kombucha, jun, shrubs and more! We pack them in mason jars and you may never have to cook again☺️. Come see us at 1581 University Ave in Berkeley. Visit our website at threestonehearth.com. We deliver too!
Thanks for commenting, and sorry we missed you! You’ll definitely be on our agenda for our next visit to Berkeley. 🙂
Yay for the Gourmet Ghetto! Berkeley is pretty close to my hometown so I’ve definitely gone there on several occasions for food!! They have so much variety! :] I haven’t had a chance to check out the places you mentioned, but I’ll have to do that the next time I’m home again!