Soooo basically it was my perfect re-entry back into solid foods & undoing the “damage” from my “ultimate juice cleanse”.
Last weekend one of my college besties tied the knot back at our alma mater in Berkeley. I hadn’t been back to San Francisco over a year or back in the East Bay since graduation 5 years ago. We stayed at the historic Claremont Hotel up in the Berkeley hills (old but so gorgeous – it looks like a Harry Potter castle!) and her ceremony was up in Tilden Park, nestled amongst the redwoods in the Berkeley Botanical Gardens.
Maybe it’s because this was mini-college reunion (and being reunited with old friends and memories always gives you the happy feels) or maybe because it was September aka perfect weather in the Bay. Perhaps it was because I just said goodbye to NYC & needed a new city to latch on to & romanticize… but I fell hard for the Bay. Despite all the local college connections & love for SF, I had never really seen myself living in the city. And as an undergrad at Cal I had always thought the graduate students who had stayed on for another 2-5 years at their alma mater were sort of lame (there’s so much more of world to see!)
But Berkeley really is so wonderful – a beautiful campus surrounded by funky, local joints, filled with genius minds on campus and weird characters on Telegraph Ave. The city is teaming with energy, diversity, sustainability & a free spirit rooted back to the 60’s Free Speech Movement (which just recently celebrated it’s 50 year anniversary). It’s a stone’s throw away from smelly, overpriced, weird -so wonderfully weird, beautiful SF.
But most importantly, the food in SF & East Bay is seriously unparalleled! (okay, NYC you’re doing pretty well too). I obviously value good food. I don’t think my classmates & I ever realized how well (& cheap) we ate in undergrad – everything from authentic Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, local & fresh produce, vegetarian & vegan options everywhere. Spoiled college kids. So without further ado, here’s a brain dump of eats around the Yay.
East Bay (Berkeley & Oakland):
- Bakesale Betty’s – come here for their famous fried chicken sandwiches -but don’t be discouraged by the wait. The friendly staff makes rounds through the lines & hands out free fresh baked cookies while you wait.
- Zachary’s Pizza – freshest tomato sauce & the best deep dish outside of Chicago!
- Ici Ice Cream – eclectic, uncommon ice cream flavors (before it was cool) such as Earl Grey, Jasmine, etc. all homemade in house. Get your scoop on the handrolled, chocolate filled cone.
- House of Curries & the Asian Ghetto aka ‘Durant Food Court’ (new PC name) – aw, every Berkeley undergrad has a soft spot for these eateries. Fast, dirt cheap & delicious… we’d come by here multiple times each week for Pad See Ew, Gypsy’s Special or Chicken Tikka Masala.. YUM.
- Thai Temple – Officially known as Wat Mongkolratanaram, this temple opens its doors every Sunday morning to the public & serve authentic Thai food. Customers exchange money for tokens and then line up for different homemade noodle, soup & vegetarian dishes. Go early! They’ll definitely run out.
- La Note – delicious, straightforward & quaint little French restaurant. Students & locals alike line up for early Sunday brunches.
- Cheeseboard Collective – Cheeseboard is a Berkeley staple… they create magnificent vegetarian pizzas from local & in season produce. People line up early for their daily specials, because once they’re out that’s it for the day!
- Chez Panisse (proper & Cafe) – Alice Waters was THE trailblazer for quality California cuisine made with local & organic ingredients. This is a culinary institute in not just the area but all of California. It is pricey and reservations for the main restaurant fill up asap so your best bet might be to eat at its adjacent little sister restaurant, Chez Panisse Cafe.
- Brazil Cafe – also in downtown Berkeley, this little hut serves amazingly garlicky tritip sandwiches. The chimichurri will seriously leave your fingers smelling like garlic for the next 3 days but it is sooo worth it!
- Ike’s Sandwiches in the Castro: we used to joke & call these “stoner sandwiches”. Maybe go halfsies with someone… they’re huge & are pretty gluttonous! (I mean, there’s a $26 sandwich called the Doomsday full of 6 types of meat, jalapeno poppers AND mozzarella sticks). They just opened one of these in Westwood, so I guess LA is getting their fix too!
- Curry Up Now (along a similar vein – Sushirito) – started out as a food truck and now has a restaurant in the Mission District (truck still exists though!). Indian + Mexican = heaven??? Add on a delicious mango lassi to cut some of the heavy spices.
- House of Nanking in Chinatown: authentic, delicious Chinese food. They pack you in tight & the wait may be long, but just go early! Ev still raves about the salt & pepper shrimp we ordered there 2 years ago
- Any (any!) mexican spot in the Mission: carne asada fries… anywhere & any time
- Bi-Rite Ice Cream: grab a salted caramel cone, and head across the street to Dolores Park to enjoy it while dog watching
- North Beach Eats: The House, Cafe Trieste, Church Key, Mama’s, Naked Lunch – this little Italian SF nook does it right – everything from classic old cafes, craft beers, comfort food & fancy new twists.
- Ferry Building vendors & the farmer’s market, right off of Embarcadero – enjoy a sunny day right under the Bay Bridge perusing the many produce stalls (inside & out) of the Ferry Building. While you’re stocking up on groceries, grab some cheap eats outside or enjoy one of the restaurants in the building (Slanted Door for Viet fusion is my favorite!)