The Gourmet Ghetto is a stretch of six blocks in North Berkeley with a high concentration of fantastic chow. The idea behind this crawl is to help my fellow hounds sample the best of the Gourmet Ghetto in one day of eating. These are just my favorites, and I encourage others to chime in with their recommendations.
Start the day with a drink:
Smoothies – Café Gratitude. The fresh pressed juice and seasonal, organic fruit can’t be beat. The rest of the menu is a little out there, but the smoothie selection is excellent. (Note: SF dwellers may skip this as there are already two Gratitudes in the city)
Coffee – Guerilla Café. OK, so I’m not actually a coffee drinker, but the Blue Bottle here has had excellent reviews from hounds I trust. The food is fine, but this is more a neighborhood joint than a destination and you have valuable calories to devote elsewhere.
Gregoire for a light lunch. The sandwiches are excellent and a fantastic value. Though the menu changes every month my favorites are consistently the meat “patties” (lamb, beef, chicken, pork and scallop) and the cold cuts (roast beef, ham, corned beef). Ask the chef and the cashier for a rec. if you’re not sure what to order. If you have a couple hounds eating, add an order of potato puffs.
Chaya for some vegan sushi. Vegan sushi may seem counterintuitive, but Chaya does it remarkably well. Try one of the fried rolls – either the Shattuck or the Chaya. If you have a large group, you may want to skip it because it’s tiny inside.
Cheeseboard is, arguably, the best cheese shop west of Chicago. They have over 300 varieties of cheese, from cheap cheddar to $30 a pound French chevre. You may want to bring a cooler so you can take a few cheeses home with you. The counter people are friendly, informed and eager to sample. Though the place can get mobbed on a Saturday, don’t let that discourage you from taking all the time you need (just be sure to take a card as soon as you walk in). Be sure to tell them it’s your first time (they love to hear that) and ask for lots of recs. Try the Istara, of all the cheese I’ve tried there it is still my favorite.
The bakery is fine for the nabe, but no Acme/Tartine. Your calories are better spent elsewhere.
The pizzeria next door is good and worth trying for the unique pizza style and the experience of eating on the median. Grab a slice or two, but don’t fill up on pizza.
Epicurious Garden for some gourmet take out. I love Epicurious, but the fact is that many of the stalls are hit or miss. The one stall I consider a must visit is Socca Oven. Not only is it delicious and affordable, but it’s also fairly unheard of in most of the Bay Area. The socca is a chickpea pancake from Provance, cooked in an open fire and topped with meat, fish or vegetables. My favorite Soccas are the lamb and the eggplant, though the socca of the week is also consistently good (had a flank steak, caramelized onion and horseradish last week that was excellent). You might also try a few samples at Soop (which is never as good as I want it to be) and pick up some sushi at Kirala2 (make sure to get it made to order, skip the pre-made garbage). If you don’t mind dropping some cash, pick up a box of chocolate covered almonds imported from Spain at Alegio
Drinks at Cesar – By now you’re probably ready to take a break from eating. Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy some of their delicious cocktails and draft beer. If you’re in the mood to keep eating your best bets are the tapas del dia and the jambon Serrano. Personally, I’d just take a break from eating and reup my appetite.
Chez Panisse Café for pizza. You’re probably not going to be able to get a table without a res. But if you drop by right at 5:00 opening they’ll probably let you pop in for a pizza if you promise not to linger. It’s some of the best pizza in the Bay Area. If you have time, order a fruit tart for dessert.
“Taste” for wine and foie gras. The grilled foie gras on Belgium waffle with blueberry compote is frikkin phenomenal – up there with preps of foie I’ve had at 3.5 star restaurants in the city. Ask the somm to pair it with an ounce or two of something nice and you are in for a treat. If you don’t eat foie (I’m so sorry!) the ahi tartar and crab cakes are both good. Though the dinner here is great, you’re probably too full for pork chops by now. (Note: no children under 21 allowed).
If you need to take a break from eating, Black Oak Books is a great spot to sit and digest.
That pretty much covers my favorites now that Phoenix has moved (sigh).
If you time your visit right you might want to also visit a Farmers’ Market. There is one just north of the Gourmet Ghetto Thursdays, from 3-7. There is another just south of the GG in Downtown Berkeley (center between Milvia and MLK) Saturdays from 10-3.
If you drove, you should stop by Sketch Ice Cream on the way back (just off the road on the way to the freeway). What can I say about Sketch that I haven’t already? Best dessert shop ever. The ice cream, the cookies, the cakes, everything is delicious. While you’re on 4th st, you might also poke your head in Sur la Table, The Pasta Shop, the Café Rouge Meat Market and the Stonehouse Olive Oil Tasting Room.
Bathrooms: In the Gourmet Ghetto, you will find public toilets in Elephant Pharmacy and Andronicos. Epicurious Garden’s toilet requires tokens. Chez Panisse and Cesar both have bathrooms.
On 4th St there is a public bathroom in Peets.
Parking: Parking in the Gourmet Ghetto can be difficult, particularly for longer than an hour or two. Parking isn’t enforced Sundays, but the Cheeseboard is closed on Sundays. Your best bet is to find a public lot. There are a couple of small lots on Shattuck south of Cedar and a couple of large lots in Downtown (which is only a few blocks away).
Public Transit: Take BART to Downtown Berkeley. Walk a few blocks north on Shattuck and you’re there. You can also grab the 51 down University for a detour to 4th st.
Enjoy the crawl!