Berkeley is known for its locally sourced organic fare, diverse eats, and laid-back eateries that welcome students and residents alike, and lunch spots are no exception. It's impossible to narrow down Berkeley's restaurant choices to a simple few, so here are 15 favorites that are sure to please.
There was a time when you could slip into Angeline's without a wait for a delicious meal of VooDoo Shrimp paired with Swampwater (a mix of iced tea and lemonade). But ever since the KQED culinary program "Check, Please! Bay Area" found out about the restaurant it's received a load of extra buzz and a large influx of customers. Great news for Angeline's, which is one of the few Bay Area restaurants where you can find authentic Louisiana cuisine, friendly service and often a personal visit from the owner.
The Cheeseboard is a North Berkeley institution: a worker-owned co-op first opened in 1971 and serving up some of the best pizzas in the East Bay, along with a huge selection of baked goods and international cheeses in its neighboring shop. Cheeseboard pizzas are made thin-crust and sans tomato sauce, but topped with a variety of ingredients like caramelized onion, pine nuts, and fresh Asiago cheese — though each day it's a new offering. There's often a quick-moving line at the door on weekdays, but live music keeps the lunch crowd buzzing.
The magnificent Alice Waters first opened Chez Panisse — Berkeley's acclaimed eatery that's a main inspiration for the culinary genre known as California cuisine — in 1971, and it has been drawing well-deserved accolades since. Not only has Chez Panisse produced a long list of award-winning chefs, it's also help forge the direct farmer, rancher, and dairy farmer relationships that are so prevalent in restaurants today. Lunch — an à la carte menu that changes daily and focuses on fresh ingredients — is served in the upstairs cafe, and produced in a open kitchen that boasts both a charcoal grill and a wood burning oven.
Make sure to check out the Chez Panisse reservation policy before booking a table.
Downtown Berkeley's Jupiter is known for its handcrafted beers and a heated, multi-level beer garden that draws endless crowds. Housed in an old livery stable from the late 19th century, the popular brew house features a menu of gourmet sandwiches, wood-fired brick oven pizzas, and soup & salads to accompany its extensive beer menu, with nearly three-dozen beers on tap and an expansive bottle selection. Jupiter's head brewer also creates a rotating array of unique small-batch offerings onsite.
A traditional breakfast and lunch bistro doling out delicious French Provençal fare, La Note strikes a fine culinary cord with its sumptuous les casses croutes (sandwiches) and les plats chauds (vegetable stews), including multiple kinds of ratatouille. The menu also 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's back patio is open from April through October.
Another popular French-inspired eatery — this one occupying a converted 19th century home along Telegraph Avenue — Le Bateau Ivre is both a restaurant and coffee house, and boasts the perfect brick patio for lingering over a novel in the shade. The eatery's lunch menu consists of items like Coq au vin chicken simmered in red wine and a grilled Cabot cheddar cheese sandwich with mixed greens. Retreat to the cozy dining room in back for a more formal meal, or enjoy a coffee and pastry in the casual cafe — where food is served all-day, even between formal dining hours.
Saul's is a Berkeley icon appreciated as much for its comfortable booths — reminiscent of delis in New York and Los Angeles — as for its traditional deli fare: including everything from matzo ball soup to mouthwatering lox and bagels. Over the years Saul's has dramatically expanded its space to accommodate the deli's loyal following, and also prepares specials menus for holidays such as Passover and Hanukkah. For latkes, knishes, pastrami sandwiches, and blintzes, Saul's has been Berkeley's go-to spot since 1986.
Located just a bit down the hill from Berkeley's legendary Claremont Club & Spa, Rick and Ann's is a kid-friendly space where good ol' comfort food and American eats — including Mom's Macaroni & Cheese and burgers topped with blue cheese, bacon, and avocado — are the norm. Big portions and a communal ambiance are another part of the draw. There's even a communal table for larger parties, or those who don't mind dining with strangers. An afterthought, really, when the food's so good.
An always-bustling California-style diner that's been winning hearts since 1982, family-owned-and-operated Bette's is old-school at its best: burgundy red booths, stainless steel trimming, and a formica countertop with an open kitchen all call to mind a scene straight out of the 1950s. There's even a jukebox with a DJ-curated song selection. Although Bette passed away in 2017, her legacy of quality cuisine and sustainably-sourced ingredients lives on in dishes like fish tacos, Reuben and pasilla chicken sandwiches, and Bette's Famous Meatloaf and Gravy.
Not only does this family-owned spot offer a good selection of Northern Chinese fare made with California-grown ingredients, Great China has an extensive wine list that's simply put — phenomenal. The 30-plus-year-old restaurant relocated into a sleek, modern space after a fire closed the original in 2012, and has been receiving accolades since for its improved look and menu. Lunch specials that include rice, hot & sour soup, spring roll, and a fortune cookie are available weekdays (except Tuesdays), though you can order off the dinner menu, too: a boon for those can't get enough of the eatery's most popular dishes, like its “Double Skin” noodle-based appetizer and the half tea-smoked duck.
Known for its innovative menu of organic California fare, and a tradition of working together with local farmers and foragers to create dishes its customers can feel good about, Gather has perfectly embodied the Berkeley ethos since opening in 2009. The restaurant does its own butchering on site and sources its eggs and dairy from sustainable ranches. Located within downtown Berkeley's LEED Platinum David Brower Center — itself a bastion of green living — this welcoming space draws crowds with a curated selection of soups and salads, pizzas, and plates such as a “mindful meat" burger, as well as creative herb-infused cocktails.
This all-vegan delicatessen is home to a regularly changing menu of creative meat-inspired offerings: foods such as “BBQ pulled pork” on a toasted Kaiser roll with grilled onions, and a “roast beef” Reuben on toasted NY rye, to delight both carnivores and herbivores alike. All of the “meats” and "cheeses” are house-made at this traditional American eatery (albeit one with a twist!). There's both indoor and outdoor seating at the joint restaurant and market's new larger location, though the sandwiches are just as good to-go.
Tucked around the corner from Berkeley's beloved Chez Panisse, this tiny gourmet takeout space draws its own crowds with changing artisan offerings that utilize natural and organic ingredients and food prepared from scratch. Enjoy items like a deep-fried scallop patty with marinated tomato and roasted garlic on pantofolina bread, or sliced leg of lamb on grilled lavash. If you're cutting back on carbs each sandwich is available salad-style as well. Grégoire's potato puffs — crispy on the outside, soft and heavenly on the inside — have reached legendary status since the space first opened in 2002.
Innovative comfort cuisine is the name of the game at this small and always lively space hidden among West Berkeley's industrial warehouses. Along with a brief selection of libations — including the Korean Soju Marty, with wasabi tomato juice and tomolives — ideal for lingering over during a lazy afternoon on the restaurant's back patio, 900 Grayson is known for its unique twist on classical dishes: There's the Demon Lover, a fried chicken breast served with buttermilk waffle and cream gravy or Vermont maple syrup; and the Grayson burger, an organic beef patty topped with applewood smoked bacon, white cheddar cheese, and shoestring onions, and smothered in house-made BBQ sauce.
A lunch place that's quick, affordable, and even creative. At Toss Noodle Bar you can design your own Asian-fusion dish. First, choose between noodles and rice (there are a variety of options of each). Then, add your flavor. Maybe it's wok-tossed peanut sauce, or delicious red curry? Finally, select your meat. King prawn, beef, chicken, tofu...they're all available. It's possible to order sometime entirely different every time you dine here. The space itself is modern and the portions are large. Simply order at the counter, find a table, and get reach to chow down.