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Berkeley’s Food Scene

Splurge at Chez Panisse and graze in the Gourmet Ghetto

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In the independent-minded city of Berkeley, it’s no surprise that a new way of thinking about dining was born. In 1971, chef Alice Waters opened the doors of now-legendary Chez Panisse, a restaurant that sparked the focus on local and seasonal products. Chez Panisse is still going strong, now topped by a more relaxed café upstairs—and has given rise to new companies started by former employees with like-minded philosophies about food. These include baker Steven Sullivan, who founded Acme Bread with his wife, Susan. The bakery offers its crusty and delicious loaves for sale at grocery stores and farmers’ markets all around the Bay Area.

Another Berkeleyite who started a culinary revolution is coffee maestro Alfred Peet. In 1966, he introduced the world to his rich and complex java, serving and selling his small-batch roasts from the nondescript Peet’s coffee shop on the corner of Walnut and Vine Streets. (It’s still open.) A cult following ensued, and the rest is caffeine history.

Berkeley also serves up an international mix of restaurants. Locals choose from over 100 eateries, with a huge concentration of fit-for-student-income offerings in North Berkeley along Shattuck Avenue. The area is filled with eateries and artisan food purveyors. Don’t miss Cheese Board Collective, a combo bakery, cheese shop, and pizzeria serving just one kind of pie each day. A line of die-hards almost always snakes out the door, waiting to order crazily creative pizzas—think roasted potatoes, pasilla chile peppers, onions, mozzarella, Bulgarian feta, cilantro, Mexican key limes, garlic, and olive oil. Hungry yet?

Dining pairs with drinking—and Berkeley delivers on this front as well. Craft breweries have long been popular here, with Triple Rock Brewery a well-known gathering place that offers a relaxed atmosphere complemented by a huge pub menu. If you’re into sake, or if you just want to get a look at some astounding Japanese architecture, stop by the Takara Sake tasting room for a flight of Sho Chiku Bai sakes.

Berkeley’s Fourth Street neighborhood also has appealing offerings. Many locals make a regular pilgrimage to Vik’s Chaat for addictive Indian street food, including sizzling hot spheres of fried bread called cholle bhature. To get a comprehensive taste of these and other Berkeley food-centric neighborhoods and farmers markets, sign up for a guided walking tour with Edible Excursions.

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