You voted in the Berkeley Food Bracket and we listened! To learn more about the restaurants, both old and new, that have made it into the Sweet 16, check out the list below. Even the biggest Berkeley foodie is sure to be surprised by the stories of these restaurants that have helped shaped Berkeley through the decades.
Region 1: Telegraph
#9 Caffe Strada/Caffe Roma
Caffe Strada was first run by Espresso Roma Coffee before switching hands to Daryl Ross ’85, a Cal grad, who opened Caffe Strada in 1989. Since its opening, Caffe Strada has been popular with UC Berkeley students for its espresso-made coffee, pastries, and outdoor patio. Caffe Strada just celebrated its 30th anniversary as a part of the Berkeley community. Considered to be the invention site for white hot chocolate, Ross and his team have certainly left their mark not only on the Berkeley community, but in cafes all over.
#4 Yogurt Park
Long before it was even known as “fro-yo”, Marty Piscovich opened Yogurt Park in 1977 and eventually expanded the store to include five locations. These other locations were eventually sold or closed, leaving only “The Original” Yogurt Park, which operates to this day serving up six daily flavors and many toppings.
#3 Durant Food Court (including Kingpin Donuts and Gypsy’s)
The Durant Food Court consists of several popular eateries, including some notable, longstanding places like Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana, Thai Basil (cash only), KingPin Donuts, Steve’s Korean BBQ, and Sweetheart Cafe, among others. The collection of inexpensive restaurants along with the outdoor seating area draws a large crowd at all hours of the day.
#7 Top Dog
Opened on a home football day in 1966, Top Dog has been a Berkeley fan favorite ever since. Inspired by the owner’s German roots, the menu features sausages of all varieties, including frankfurters, bratwurst, and more unique sausages such as Lemon Chicken or Mango Habanero. Note: Top Dog is cash only.
Region 2: Downtown and On Campus
#1 La Note Restaurant
Owned by UC Berkeley grad and environmental design major Dorothée Mitrani ’94, La Note is a renowned Provençal restaurant. Mitrani received an award for “outstanding storefront improvements” in 1998 for her work renovating the 1875 building, which includes an outdoor patio. But the restaurant backs up its good looks—La Note’s food has been praised by critics from around the Bay Area, particularly its Saturday and Sunday brunch service.
#4 Bear’s Lair/Bear’s Lair Tavern
First opening in 1962, the original Bear’s Lair closed in 2012 due to big changes to UC Berkeley’s Lower Sproul area. The new Bear’s Lair Tavern, which reopened in 2015, has experienced a transformation with a redesigned menu, including a signature fried chicken sandwich and a “grown-up” mac-n-cheese, along with a new selection of drinks and a freshly renovated space. A portion of the profits from the Bear’s Lair Tavern is given back to support UC Berkeley’s student organizations and programs.
#12 Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen
Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen opened in 2006 and immediately made its mark serving up Louisiana classics such as jambalaya and beignets. Founder and chef Brandon Dubea hails directly from Baton Rouge, ensuring that authentic Louisiana flavors are brought to the table.
#3 Cancun Sabor Mexicano
Jorge Saldana opened Cancun Sabor Mexicano in Berkeley in the early 1990s with the intention of serving natural, clean, and authentic Mexican food. Well-liked for its burritos, nachos, moles and other Mexican dishes, Cancun gets all of its produce from Saldana’s personally owned Sabor Mexicano Farm, a 130-acre farm located in Guerneville in Sonoma County.
Established in 1992 by John Martin, co-creator of #9 seed Triple Rock Brewery and one of the “founding fathers” of the brewpub movement, Jupiter quickly became known for its selection of craft beers and pizzas. Jupiter is also popular for its outdoor seating, which features a fire pit and live music up to six nights a week.
Region 3: Further Afield
#1 Fentons Creamery and Restaurant
Since its opening in Oakland in 1894, Fentons Creamery and Restaurant has taken off and has been featured on the Travel Channel, the History Channel, and the Food Network. Over the course of its history, Fentons has changed ownership several times, but is once again a family-owned and operated restaurant known for its retro vibe and ice cream produced right on site.
#4 Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (closed)
Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto was open for 128 years, making it Berkeley’s oldest restaurant until its closing in 2018. The restaurant was known for dishing up fresh seafood, oysters, and clam chowder, and in its heyday was frequented by famous guests including Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Joe DiMaggio, and in recent years Robin Williams and Governor Jerry Brown. According to several sources, Robert Oppenheimer visited the restaurant in 1942 with Edward Teller to discuss designs for the atomic bomb. To commemorate its historical legacy, Spenger’s Fresh Grotto was labeled a Berkeley landmark in 2001.
#3 Zachary’s Chicago Pizza
Zach Zachowski and Barbara Gabel opened Zachary’s on College Avenue in 1983 and after a year of successful business serving up deep-dish “Chicago” style pizza, decided to expand and open a second location on Solano Avenue. In 2003, Zachowski and Gabel retired and sold their business to their employees and by 2010, Zachary’s was 100% employee-owned. Zachary’s continues to operate under employee ownership to this day.
#7 Berkeley Bowl
Berkeley Bowl started out as a small local grocery store in a converted bowling alley in 1977, before moving into a 40,000-square foot space in 1999. The local grocery store, which has since expanded to an additional Berkeley location at Heinz and Ashby, is popular for its fresh produce and organic products.
Region 4: Northside and North Berkeley
#1 The Cheese Board Collective
The Cheese Board Collective started out as a small cheese shop in 1971 and has since expanded to include a cooperatively owned cheese store, bakery, espresso bar, and pizzeria. 100 percent employee-run, Cheese Board Pizza is known for serving a special pizza each day topped with unique cheeses and seasonal veggies on a thin sourdough crust.
#5 La Val’s Pizza
La Val’s Pizza has been a Northside staple since 1951 serving up pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads and microbrews. Decked out with a large seating area, both inside and out, La Val’s is a gathering place for friends to enjoy food, watch sports and play pool. It also houses Theatre Lunatico on its lower level, which offers acting classes and shows every Wednesday at 7 p.m.
#6 Grégoire Restaurant
Grégoire Jacquet started cooking at the age of 14 in France and has been working on perfecting his craft ever since. After moving to the United States and working in several renowned kitchens including the Ritz-Carlton, Jacquet decided to open the first high-end artisanal take-out restaurant ever in 2002. Jacquet’s innovative restaurant has gone on to win critics’ hearts and is best known for its crispy potato puffs.
#2 Chez Panisse
Cal alum Alice Waters ’67 opened Chez Panisse in 1971 to serve up handcrafted fine food made with attention to detail. Since then the restaurant’s reputation has exploded, and people flock to the restaurant to try the prix fixe menu ($75 Monday, $100 Tuesday-Thursday, $125 Saturday-Sunday) which changes daily, or head upstairs to The Cafe at Chez Panisse, where the á la carte menu is inspired by the local market. Waters is also the founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project, published sixteen books including several cookbooks, and in 2015 received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama for proving that food is a political act that can influence social change.
Wondering why your favorite spot is missing? Check out the full bracket to see if it was eliminated by your fellow alumni—and make sure you vote on the Sweet 16.
Caffe Strada, Hannah Pak
Yogurt Park, Rachel Ermatinger
Durant Food Court, Rachel Ermatinger
Top Dog!, Jason Reidy, CC BY 2.0
La Note, Hannah Pak
Bear’s Lair, Rachel Ermatinger
Angeline’s – Fried Chicken Po’Boy Sandwich and Hush Puppies, star5112, CC BY-SA 2.0
Cancun Brickwall, Kai Schreiber, CC BY-SA 2.0
Nine-inch Aries pizza at Jupiter, George Kelly, CC BY-ND 2.0
Fentons Creamery, rulenumberone2, CC BY 2.0
Spanger’s is The Spot, CousinJacob, CC BY-SA 2.0
Zachary’s – IMG_0564, Shiroma, CC BY 2.0
Berkeley Bowl West, Doug Letterman, CC BY 2.0
Thai new year pizza, Quinn Dombrowski, CC BY-SA 2.0
La Val’s Pizza, Rachel Ermatinger
Gregoire – Quick Bites in Gourmet Ghetto, Juliet Hemmati, The Daily Cal
Chez Panisse – Poached Felton acres eggs with ratatouille, frisee, pancetta, and fried herbs, City Foodsters, CC BY 2.0