Real estate prices combined with a rising crop of chefs in the Bay area have catalysed a seismic shift of sorts in the culinary landscape of San Francisco, with many businesses moving to the East Bay. Berkeley and Oakland, two major cities across the bridge are brimming with exciting culinary options and have lots to offer for a diverse palate. Additionally, the warm weather guarantees Al fresco dining almost all year round in East Bay restaurants. So without further ado, here are some of the places that we have tried among the plethora of east bay restaurants. These include popular lunch and brunch spots, dog friendly dining and cafes serving dreamy desserts. So lets get started o some of our favorite East Bay restaurants and cafes.
East Bay Restaurants # 1 Gather
In the dynamic and extremely diverse culinary scene of Berkeley, the old timer brunch/dinner spot Gather holds a dominant and very respectable position since it proudly bears the Berkeley badge of seasonal, local and sustainable mantra in produce procurement and cooking, with everything in the kitchen being sourced from local farms and businesses. The result is a very Californian American menu well balanced with meat, vegetarian and vegan choices for brunch. Being a wildly popular place, reservations are recommended. The restaurant is located in the very busy downtown area on Oxford Street and is accessible by BART.
I started off with a citrus cooler (although the menu has a extensive list of wines and other alcoholic drinks to get the brunch mood flowing) and then after much deliberation (cause there were so many yummy dishes to choose from) we settled for the mushroom escabeche (pickled mushrooms, vegan), corn scramble with tomato jam on toast (vegetarian) and a spicy tomato pizza with cashew creme, capers, olives and chèvre (vegan). Pickled mushrooms were tarty and tender and the tomato toast was super tasty. I am not a big fan of eggs and so S devoured the corn scramble. Pizza was a thin crust one with a hint of spice thanks to the chili oil and was chewy with a slight crunch to the crust. Overall, two thumbs up for the food, the airy, casual and well lit ambiance (think tall ceilings with lots of greenery around and an outdoor seating area) and efficient service. Do check out Gather if you are in Berkeley for a taste of Californian-American brunch that is not pretentious and stays humble to its roots.
East Bay Restaurants # 2 Cafe M
Cafe M, slightly off Fourth and Delaware, is extremely popular with dog-owners since it has outdoor seating and so you are advised to arrive around 11-11:30-ish for lunch if you want to snag a spot outside. We waited for about 15-20 min and were notified by the hostess via text. The menu has typical brunch options (slightly heavy on eggs) but do not forget to order their decadent chocolate chip pancakes (stack of 3 or 2) which is an absolute delight! I got myself some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, but they also have the regular OJ and alcoholic libations. Two paws up for the food, service and dog-friendly outdoor seating and we will visit again! This cafe accepts credit cards but no brunch reservations.
East Bay Restaurants # 3 Vik’s Chaat Cafe
The extremely popular and East Bay’s answer to instant desi gratifications is the the one and only Vik’s Chaat Cafe, on a desolate spot on 4th street. Vik’s is the go to spot for East Bay denizens to get their fill of different kinds of Indian street food (Chaat is a popular North Indian street snack), drinks such as Chai and Lassi (love their rose flavored one), a plethora of Indian sweets (milk and milk solids based) and weekend special platters. Almost all of their offerings are vegetarian and if you skip the chaat dishes with yoghurt, there are several vegan options as well. You place the order, pay and grab a seat while your name is called (in the drabbest voice possible) to come get your food from the counter, like clockwork. Indians differ rabidly on their opinion of street food, depending on where they grew up and what kind of street food was part of their childhood, so comments on authenticity of Indian food in USA can sometimes veer into controversy. But controversy be damned, because I LOVE Vik’s chaat and my palate thinks of it as pretty authentic, or at least as good as it can get without the actual stuff being around. It easily rivals Chaat Bhavan in South Bay, for the quality and price. Another cool thing about Vik’s is that it has an adjacent Indian grocery store for you to stock up your pantry after gorging on some great food. The only drawback? No outdoor seating and thus not pet friendly. Vik’s too does not accept reservations.
East Bay Restaurants # 4 A Taste of the Himalayas
Berkeley has no dearth of good Nepalese restaurants, one of them being A taste of the Himalayas, a nice little Nepalese restaurant on Shattuck avenue. The decor is beautiful (lots of Nepali adornments on walls and sculptures) and the atmosphere welcoming. The restaurant was empty when we arrived but people trickled in after us, so we got a very nice seat near the window. We started off with some salted lassi (which was creamy and thick and didn’t disappoint at all) followed by an order of chicken momos (Nepalese steamed dumplings filled with minced meat, vegetarian options also available) and a potato cauliflower curry (rice and lentil soup are complimentary with all entrees) along with some garlic naan bread. I still think that the momos at Red Chilli kitchen (a hole in the wall nepalese eatery in SF) take the cake but the food here was fantastic too. Overall, a very satisfying meal plus prompt and attentive service. Highly recommended for vegetarians and vegans as well since they have lots of meat free options.
East Bay Dessert options
From Japanese ice-creams to a an authentic French patisserie, the East Bay has no dearth of places to satisfy your sweet cravings. Here are some of the spots, apart from the regular East Bay restaurants that we have been to and loved.
Uji Time Dessert (Berkeley)
Uji Time Dessert on Telegraph avenue, is the latest addition to Berkeley’s bustling Asian dessert scene (now open in SF’s Japan town as well). Uji is a Japanese dessert company which brings you Japanese flavors in soft serve (Matcha green tea, Tofu and Black sesame), mochi ice creams (both Asian and American flavors available) and their famous Taiyaki (fish shaped dessert with filling of red bean or Nutella) baked fresh upon order. The biggest rage about this place is not the ice-cream but the cone (yes, you read it right) in which it is served. You have the option of the ye old waffle cone or the freshly baked to order fish shaped cone that costs and extra $2.49. Such is the hankering for the cone that you can reserve one over the phone before 12 noon (oh my!) because you may have to wait for some time if you order in store. The matcha ice-cream was deliciously soft and the taste was super authentic (could feel the matcha taste in every lick) and the cone was warm, not too sweet, with a layer of red bean paste at the bottom and soft and chewy.
Tara’s Organic Ice-cream (Berkeley)
Visit Tara’s Organic ice-cream for some yummy hibiscus sorbet sweetened with agave nectar or cardamom ice-cream. The sorbet is chunky and akin to a sorrel (a Jamaican drink) while the cardamom ice-cream is rich, creamy, kulfi-like and to die for!
Xocolate Bar (Berkeley)
Finally, if you are in Berkeley and suffer from a sweet tooth as much as I do, you have to stop by the Xocolate bar, the tiny local chocolate store on Solano Ave, who make all their chocolates right in Berkeley! Best of all their chocolates are mostly dark chocolate and vegan and they have awesome flavors like cardamom crunch (my personal favorite), tamarind-mango filling, lemon curd, passionfruit, green tea and many more! Also, apart from regular bars, their truffles and individual pieces are moulded into fun shapes! Pieces are sold individually or in boxes of 6, 14 or more. A must visit to satisfy your chocolate cravings if you are in the bay area and love those sinful delights a little off-kilter!
La Parisienne French Bakery (Oakland)
Saving the best for the last has got to be this one lucky find, a tiny Parisian Cafe La Parisienne on Grand Ave in Oakland, which we stumbled upon last weekend while grabbing a bite at the Grand Bakery across the street. Sometimes the best things in life are those that happen by chance and this serendipitous encounter is something I will always be thankful for, as it opened up a world of deliciousness to the dessert obsessed junkie in me! The bakery is a tiny one and has outdoor seating (again, dogs welcome) and once you step inside, you will see the clean , temperature regulated marble counters, so typical of Parisian patisseries to keep the texture of the desserts unspoiled. The cafe serves the regular beverages but what it excels in true French style is in pastries and desserts. Rows and rows of delectable, mouth watering goodies lined up the counter, the dessert section being separate from the savory one.
The pastry chef is Parisian and so was the extremely friendly guy manning the counter, who got so excited with our conversation on food, dessert, my prancing around with the camera and San Francisco (he lives in the city too and gave me some excellent recommendations for cafes that I will review later), that he generously gave me samplers of the tarts and choquettes to taste. Despite being pretty full on latkes eaten earlier, I still managed to wolf down a chocolate ganache pastry with passion fruit puffs (which I paid for). The ganache was dense and moist and complimented the light and creamy taste of the puffs. The pastry is definitely on the $$ side, but totally worth every penny just for the taste. Those of us less fortunate ones who cannot jet set off to France, will have to take comfort in the richness of the pastries and a slice of the chef’s hometown in this beautiful cafe of his. The interior is sparsely, yet tastefully decorated (I don’t know how the French do this every time) with wooden chairs and tables in one row below some beautiful black and white photographs.
That brings me to the end of yet another post on exploring good eats in the Bay Area, via East Bay Restaurants and cafes. For more foodie inspiration, read my other posts on San Francisco cafes, cheap eats in San Francisco and brunch options in San Francisco here and here.
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