Best of Berkeley: Dishes

Jeffrey Joh/Staff

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Best Breakfast: Ann's Kitchen

Close your eyes and try to imagine all the classic scenarios that typically unfold over breakfast - you know, the sloppy still-kinda-drunk-but-not-hungover-yet meals meant to get you through the day, the quasi-confrontational talks with your parents about life direction or maybe just the simple Saturday morning paper read over some flapjacks.

Some of these are intense, some are boisterous, but all center on a damn good place to get your grub on. Ann's Kitchen is just that place. With the odd exception of waffles, Ann's provides the full gamut of breakfast essentials in extremely large quantities. The Rising Sun - a fat portion of home fries, eggs and toast is the basic and best meal - but those willing to experiment will find the greatness of the banana french toast.

All the meals are great, and all will provide you with the unique and essential post-breakfast condition known as "the itis" - think of it as an ultra food coma. Don't go eat at Ann's when you have tasks to complete. All plans for being productive will evaporate once food from Ann's Kitchen has been consumed. But god damn, it's worth it.

-Javier Panzar

Best Burger: Bongo Burger

Bongo Burger has three locations, so you're never too far of a walk away regardless of which part of campus you frequent.

The menu - stocked with everything from breakfast options to fresh-squeezed juices to Mediterranean plates - doesn't stick to In-N-Out-style minimalism, but the burger doesn't really suffer for it. From the first bite, you can tell that this is something that was put together with a certain level of attention and care.

The patty - Niman Ranch, which purports to be "the finest tasting meat in the world" - is thick without being too absurdly large for your mouth. Shredded lettuce is an underrated feature that mixes in well with the standard mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. If you decided to get the mushroom burger, you find that the each little slice pops with juicy, smoky flavor. Toss in tomatoes and grilled onions, then sandwich it all between thick, toasty sesame seed buns.

For around $6 for the burger alone, there's really no contest - at least within walking distance.

-Jack Wang

Best Burrito: Gordo Taqueria

Gordo Taqueria - and it is actually Gordo, no matter how much you want to say Gordo's - has a column on its overhead menu for burritos, with your choices thus divided: bean and cheese, chicken, carnitas, beef, chile verde.

If you're feeling adventurous on another trip, there's also another menu option: all meat.

But let's be honest here: You go with beef because carne asada is the meat truly meant to be wrapped inside tortillas (and because having all of the meats is a slight overkill). And while there's nothing that really makes Gordo's take on the college favorite stand out, it's satisfying in a way you can't quite place. The burrito - or super burrito, if you wisely decide to shell out a little extra for size - just gives you what you expect without any frills.

The tortilla itself is oddly smooth, but it works well enough in its role as an edible container. The pico de gallo is fresh, and the black beans supplement the meat well. Do spend the extra 65 cents on guacamole - it's worth it.

Bonus: It's cheaper than Chipotle Mexican Grill and is rarely plagued by the same long lines.

-Jack Wang

Best Coffee: Caffe Strada

This isn't Caffe Strada's first award in Best of Berkeley - in fact, it's taken this category each of the last four years.

Strada's success may not seem surprising - after all, it's close to campus and student housing. But Berkeley has many cafes that share these benefits without the same success. There are at least 10 places on campus to buy coffee, and Cafe Milano has prime real estate across from Sproul Plaza.

But the welcoming atmosphere of Strada places it above its competitors, believes owner Daryl Ross. When Ross was a UC Berkeley student, he found some cafes intimidating. "The scene was so intense, and it was like cliques had formed within the cafe," he said. With its outdoor seating and European ambiance, Ross feels Strada provides a more casual culture.

Of course, the coffee is held to a high standard. According to Ross, employees can make coffee drinks only after six months of observation. This commitment to quality, combined with Strada's setting, has earned it seemingly irrevocable rights to the throne.

-Rajesh Srinivasan

Best Late Night Food: Top Dog

It's 1 a.m. and you're aimlessly wandering around Berkeley with your friends. Whether you're drained from tirelessly working on a project or stumbling around in a post-party daze, you might find yourself drawn to the grilled, greasy goodness of Top Dog. With dogs ranging from the classic Top Dog Frankfurter to the smokey Linguica, Top Dog will satisfy any case of the late night munchies.

You want meaty? The hearty Bockwurst will fill your midnight munchies with its succulent combination of pork, veal, milk and egg. Feeling spicy? The Hot Link's four different peppers will jolt your senses with a fiery pain that is still somehow pleasing. Hell, even nocturnal vegetarians can munch on the Wienie (note: it's a veggie dog).

With a warm, toasted French bun encasing the juicy dogs like a crunchy blanket, its easy to see why Top Dog has become a staple favorite of Berkeley. Students have eloquently described the dog stand as "an adventurous treat for my mouth!" and "the perfect midnight calorie-fest." Conveniently located at three spots around campus, Top Dog's savory grub will please anyone in need of an after-hours indulgence.

-Ian Birnam

Best Meal Under $5: Cheese 'n' Stuff

Tucked away amid the shops in the Telegraph-Channing Garage, Cheese 'n' Stuff offers one of the most deliciously cheap meals in Berkeley. The Mom 'n' Pop style sandwiches are properly packed with paper-thin meat - the sign of a true deli - as well as the standard multitude of sandwich greens. Simple yet delicious.

The core of the deal, though, is the fact that these scrumptious sandwiches are always around $4. If you need a break from spending meal points - or just plain don't have any - then Cheese 'n' Stuff is the place to go for a quality meal that won't deplete your wallet.

The Turkey Delight, a sandwich born out of a Thanksgiving dinner (cranberry sauce included), is one of Cheese 'n' Stuff's popular specials. If none of the specials sound appetizing, you can create your own sandwich. Make it a deluxe and get double the lean, meaty goodness.

If you're on a budget or just want a refreshing break from Subway, Cheese 'n' Stuff tastefully settles the debate of paying food or rent.

-Ian Birnam

Best Pizza: The Cheese Board Collective

For all those carnivores out there, the idea of eating the vegetarian alternative to a traditionally meat-heavy dish might elicit a look of disapproval. But when it comes to pizza, vegetarians and meat-lovers alike cannot deny the pleasure associated with eating a slice of the cheesy - and sometimes lemony or limey - Cheese Board pizza.

Made on a sourdough crust with fresh ingredients and a heavenly mix of gourmet cheeses - such as feta, mozzarella and goat cheese - just a few slices of the collective's vegetarian pizza will satisfy your hunger and excite your taste buds. The combination of ingredients goes far beyond the ordinary, sometimes pairing asparagus with prima donna gouda or roasted potatoes and onions with gruyere cheese.

The collective - located on Shattuck Avenue in the Gourmet Ghetto - sells one type of pizza a day Tuesday through Saturday, both at lunchtime and in the evening. Customers usually migrate to the grass median to enjoy the sun and live music.

Though the shop is several blocks away from campus, it is worth the trek. Just follow the savory smell of cheese.

-Stephanie Baer

Best Salad: Cafe Intermezzo

Dressing on the side. If those words don't exit your mouth when you're standing before the counter at Cafe Intermezzo, you've made a terrible mistake.

The chef's salad - which is what you should be ordering - is huge. Think two-meals huge. Think plastic-takeout-box-filled-to-the-brim huge. If you have your dressing mixed in, your leftovers will be left a soggy mess by the time you get around to it. And no one likes soggy salads.

But what's actually in the chef's salad, you ask? First you have your standard veggie fare: lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and so on - normal salad stuff. But then you hit clusters of kidney beans and alfalfa sprouts, topped off with a sliced boiled egg and a generous sprinkle of croutons. Half an avocado is buried somewhere in the pile. Pick any sandwich meat and dressing, and your order is complete. (I prefer turkey and poppy seed.)

You'll be greeted by a thick slice of honey wheat bread and a pineapple wedge on the side as well - if that doesn't make you happy, then no salad will.

-Jack Wang

Best Sandwich: Cafe Intermezzo

There are a lot of mighty fine sandwich establishments in Berkeley. We are very lucky in that sense. Like, you could be the biggest sandwich Goldilocks ever and you would still always be able to find one in Berkeley that is just right.

Now, this isn't to say that a sandwich from Cafe Intermezzo is always going to be the one, what with competition from Gregoire, Saul's Restaurant and Delicatessen and the Coffee Spot running around. But Gregoire and Saul's are sometimes a little on the steep side (both financially and geographically). Conversely, the Coffee Spot occasionally feels a bit quotidian.

Which means that a sandwich from Intermezzo will frequently be the perfect choice. Just right. Especially if you get the chicken salad sandwich. Oh god, the Intermezzo chicken salad.

I'm sorry if you're a vegetarian (Intermezzo also makes a mean tofu sandwich, incidentally), but there actually might be crack in that chicken salad. I really don't understand it. Plus, the honey wheat bread over there is seriously habit-forming. And, of course, the price is better than right for massive meals that are loaded up with everything that makes a sandwich delicious.

-Jill Cowan


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