Had the pleasure of spending two weeks in the East Bay last month. While a Berkeley native, I have lived away for decades now. Food is as good as ever. Memorable meals:
SUSHI RAN. The best. Period. Better than Chez Panisse, Lalime's, Rivoli, Bistro Liaison. Better than Nobu. Great sushi, great Cali/Japanese fusion great service, great desserts, great wine list, awesome sake list. My new favorite restaurant. Worth a trip from anywhere within an hours drive if you are in the Bay Area. If you show up at 5:30, you don't need reservations.
CHEZ PANISSE CAFE. I had a great time, and a great meal, BUT...the people I ate with were less happy. How is it that out of all the selections on the menu, the only two non-fish or vegetarian items were head cheese and boudin blanc? If I were a meat lover/fish hater, like my brother, I would be upset. Freshness is no excuse, as I imagine there is always plenty of dead cow/pig around...
Lalimes and Rivoli are as good a Chez Panisse food wise. They both use the same ingredients as far as I could tell, though the emphasis differs with Rivoli being more Italianate, and Lalime being more occidental in its influences. Great food wine and service at both places.
Bistro Liaison Was OK. Great mussels, but I was not really impressed. Surprised that it is so popular.
Cesar great tapas, great wines and drinks by the glass, friendly servers, fast turnover, really fun.
DAIMO Really good fast chinese food in somewhat industrial surroundings.
PICANTE Ditto, but Mexican, in industrial area but really fast and tasty.
I was sorry Fenton's was closed due to a fire.
The bay area is a food lovers paradise. I particularly enjoyed Messe's bakery, the berkeley farmers market for awesome organic nectarines, peaches salad mix, the great Acme bread, and Kermit Lynch and the wine shop in Mill Valley, the former for really good french and Italian wines, the latter for nice boutique california Vitners.
A great place to visit, but wow, with the house prices, the traffic the crowds the increasing big city problems, I don't want to live there...