I always lived a mile or two off-campus when I was at Berkeley, and while that made attending class inconvenient, it also gave me an excuse to explore eating options further afield, where it was a lot easier to find parking. According to me circa 2007:
For being as brainy as they are, Berkeley students seldom venture far from the 2-mile bubble that the campus seems to be under. While this puts them in proximity of overpriced downtown eats for the theater set and passable dorm alternatives, they are far from the Foodaholic Anonymous concentrations of Elmwood, Temescal, Rockridge, the San Pablo Corridor, West Berkeley, and Fourth Street—in other words, they have overlooked everything that Berkeley has to offer an aspiring palate.
I don’t know whether that sentiment still holds true six years later, but the places I loved as a student are still as good today, even if the lines are longer. On a recent tour of Berkeley with Mr. & Mrs. Selfish (photos courtesy of them), we went on a progressive lunch, hitting up some of my favorites a few new places along the way.
Fried chicken sandwiches and strawberry shortcake at Bakesale Betty
Many years ago, the SF Chronicle published the recipe to the now illustrious chicken sandwich. The secret? Twice-fried, buttermilk-battered chicken accompanied by a take on coleslaw that omits the mayonnaise in favor of a mustard vinaigrette. The crisp crunch of the cabbage is a nice contrast to the heat of the jalapenos, making the sandwich perfect for any weather, but best in summer, and paired with their amazing strawberry shortcake.
Pass on the grilled cheese at Sacred Wheel
Just across the street from Bakesale Betty is Sacred Wheel, which has great grilled cheese, according to Yelp. We sauntered over, while still regretting our decision to share one chicken sandwich between the three of us. We probably should’ve ordered another one because the Texas Toast grilled cheese was just okay. I got the sense that it was the kind of place that people love for the sinful ratio of cheese to bread, which while indulgent in quantity, is not otherwise special.
Vegetarian pizza at Cheeseboard, though I prefer Arizmendi on San Pablo
A perennial favorite of Berkeley grads year after year. Since 2007, the $2 slices have appreciated by 25%, but portions are still generous with bold flavors in the vegetarian toppings. For the sake of convenience, I usually take my visitors down Shattuck, but I prefer Arizmendi, which is part of the same collective and a short drive away (in Emeryville, with additional locations in Lake Merritt, Sunset & Mission). Same concept at both places–one vegetarian pizza for day–and while Cheeseboard is better than I remember, I prefer Arizmendi’s pizzas, which tend to be less oily.
My all-time favorite frozen treats at Ici
I was there for day 1 of Ici’s opening on College Ave, conveniently on my daily walk to and from school. Back then, I walked right up to the counter and sampled flavors to my heart’s desires. These days, you’ll know Ici by its queue at the corner of College & Ashby. Should you get bored standing in line, I recommend Your Basic Bird (for avian lovers like myself) and jewelry shopping at the boutiques next door.
Ici’s ice creams stand out on two levels: 1) texture and 2) flavor. The ice creams are smooth, but not overly rich, with an icy finish that is the perfect companion for a summer’s day. The flavors are crisp and their distinctive (but never over-the-top) combinations make for happy marriages. Whether it is a simple mint-lime or an intriguing peach-habanero, you will first taste the ingredients individually, before enjoying the harmony that they sing together in your mouth. –circa 2007
Bubble tea at Asha Tea House
Barista-led tea houses have been cropping up in the Bay Area, on the tails of the artisan coffee movement. So far I’ve been unimpressed with Boba Guys in SF and now Asha Tea House in Berkeley. In theory, I like the idea of milk tea that’s more tea than milk, but have found the execution off at both places. At Boba Guys, the black tea is better than the green tea, and at Asha, go for the Jasmine Tea Lemonade.
While you’re in the area, score a sweet deal on snowboarding goods at Destination 1440. I’ve bought 2 of my 3 snowboards there and they always hook it up. The guys there know their shit and it’s a great way to support a local business.
Otherwise, I love love love Berkeley Bowl. So much so, that I once took a job grocery shopping for a family of four, so that I had an excuse to go twice a week.