Best of Berkeley: Restaurants

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Best Overall Restaurant: Gregoire

Though last year's award belonged to Chez Panisse, the selection was ultimately misguided for a town of college students living on a shoestring budget. 2011 invites a more reasonable guest to the table: Gregoire, a cramped French bistro take-out situated within the Gourmet Ghetto.

The restaurant is named after its owner, a French native and former executive sous-chef. Gregoire's greatest feat has been its ability to glorify on-the-go meals, switching menus monthly while incorporating seasonal ingredients. Lunches are steals. This month, $7.50 will get you a sauteed local rock cod and chorizo sandwich, with garlic aioli and fried capers on pantofolina bread. Meanwhile, Gypsy's Trattoria Italiano offers a Shrimp Alla Primavera for $7.00. And it can't boast of preparing pork belly or Willie Bird turkey, either.

But Gregoire's crispy potato puffs are the bistro's de facto money-maker: fluffy mashed potatoes clumps deep-fried until encased in a crispy, golden-brown layer, accompanied by rotating home-made mayonnaises.

-Justin Bolois

Best Place To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: C.R.E.A.M.

C.R.E.A.M.'s offerings are not health food. For this, it makes no apologies, which, in a land of sugar-free, fat-free, organic, pseudo-healthy desserts, is frankly quite refreshing. Its signature item is an ice cream sandwich in which two cookies serve as the bread. The flavors of ice cream and the variety of cookies are of your own choosing, natch, so there are endless possibilities.

Up until quite recently, a visit to C.R.E.A.M. almost assured a ridiculously long line snaking up Channing Way.

However, the price of the sandwiches has recently risen from $1.50 to $2.00, a move that seems to have dampened the crowd somewhat, although you can still expect to wait.

C.R.E.A.M. also offers several options for those with dietary restrictions, including vegan cookies and sandwiches (for $2.99) and special sandwiches for those with nut allergies. If you're not much for the cookie sandwich concept, they also sell the cookies and ice cream separately and assorted other ice cream concoctions (think milkshakes, floats, malts).

-Valerie Woolard

Best Chinese Food: Great China

The Peking Duck is Great China's claim to fame - and the praise is well-deserved. Succulent duck meat and crispy browned skin is served on a platter alongside freshly sliced green onion, paper-thin rice wrappers and traditional plum sauce.

Half the fun of eating Peking Duck is to painstakingly assemble these ingredients together into a glorious roll that achieves the perfect balance of savory and sweet. Over the course of the meal, you will perfect your craft. Each duck feeds three to four, but get ready to battle it out with your tablemates for the last pieces of crispy duck skin.

The West Lake Minced Beef Soup is a good appetizer while you're waiting for the rest of your food to arrive. Order a few side dishes if you must - the mung bean noodle salad with seafood tossed in spicy mustard ("Double Skin") and walnut prawns are popular - but remember that there's also no shame in eating a meal that consists entirely of Peking Duck.

After tax and tip, Great China isn't a steal, but it's the perfect restaurant to bring your parents to when they're visiting (if they're picking up the tab).

-Katherine Maslyn

Best Indian Food: House of Curries

Situated across from Asian Ghetto, the place I affectionately call "H of C" won't wow with its decor (though when is that a problem in Berkeley?).

No, House of Curries continually dishes out quality Indian food: tasty biryanis that make for two whole meals, fluffy potato naan and tantalizing curries. Sometimes I can't even make up my mind, what with all the options.

Just don't be pigeon-holed into the 'safe' option of chicken tikka masala. Any of the vindaloos - trust me here, I've tried them all - are sure-fire choices, as are the mushroom and squash curries for any non-carnivorous folks out there. Oh, and be sure to drink up on free chai to your heart's content.

To those who think that this place is interchangeable with Naan N Curry: You've been deeply deceived. Wanting to save a couple of bucks, I made this foolish mistake two years ago and left with an irritable feeling in my stomach - partly because Naan's vindaloo was not to my liking, and partly because I had betrayed my go-to restaurant in Berkeley.

Oh, House of Curries, why can't I quit you?

-Ed Yevelev

Best Italian Food: Gypsy's Trattoria Italiano

With at least three consecutive years as a Best of Berkeley winner, Gypsy's Trattoria Italiano once again makes it out on top - to nobody's surprise. We all know that it's hard to resist the nostalgic smells of garlic and late-night pasta runs freshman year while walking down the oft-traveled Durant Avenue. The power of Gypsy's is real. All it takes is one to-go order of steaming lasagna for you to suddenly be surrounded by friends who would otherwise remain in their studying bunkers.

For all those students who are pinching their pennies, this self-declared Trattoria offers a relatively inexpensive splurge for a supremely satisfying meal-perhaps the first real one you've had time for in days.

By the time this article is published, I will actually be in Italy (yeah, I couldn't help but drop that in there. Don't hate me ... too much). Do I in any way expect the quality of Berkeley's best Italian to compare to the real deal? Absolutely not. Yet Gypsy's offers everything us college students need: consistency and comfort at a cheap price. This fall when I order my steaming hot plate of linguini clams, I'll know that I am truly home. No wonder Gypsy's continues to be our go-to favorite.

-Leslie Toy

Best Japanese Food: Tako Sushi

Situated on Telegraph Avenue, adjacent to Fat Slice Pizza and across from Big Al's Smoke and Gifts may not seem like the most elegant of locations, but Tako Sushi is no doubt a champion of the college-classy scene. In other words, you don't have to bus your own tables and they include a miso soup with every meal.

Once you get past the narrow entryway perpetually cramped with eager seafood-seekers, Tako opens into a comfortable Southside hideaway. Their special maki rolls are the obvious highlight of an almost overwhelmingly generous spread of Japanese options.

Tako offers 85 combinations of fresh fish and creative toppings. The Telegraph Roll, for example, is shrimp tempura and asparagus maki topped with yellowtail, jalapeno and cilantro. At $8.49, it brings its namesake's classy level up, while staying within the student budget range. A serving of edamame or seaweed salad makes the meal 20 times more enjoyable than any had in the Asian Ghetto. The extra wait and tip money are totally worth the rarity of tasty, affordable sushi.

Oh, and no jokes about the name. It means "octopus" in Japanese.

-Sarah Burke

Best Mediterranean Food: La Mediterranee

OK, full disclosure: I've taken some French and I sort of know how to pronounce "La Mediterranee." But for some reason it feels really pretentious - too pretentious for an actually very low-key establishment -- to say it the way you're probably supposed to. It can also be confusing to just call La Mediterranee "La Med" because then people confuse it with Caffe Mediterraneum, which is not the same thing and does not serve an assortment of pita bread with your order.

So that's kind of a conundrum. But aside from that, La Mediterranee is not only a great place to have Mediterranean food, it is also a great place to take people out to dinner.

The ambiance is stylized, but not overdone. And while the food is theoretically exotic, you don't have to be a particularly adventurous eater to love it. (Think chicken pomegranate and baba ghanoush.) Basically, if you take someone to La Mediterranee -- be it a date or your mom - you're saying to that person, "Hey. I want you to think I'm cultured, but I also want you to relax and enjoy your meal."

Isn't that the Berkeley experience in a nutshell?

-Jill Cowan

Best Thai Food: Thai Basil

If you are looking to take a break from cooking or braving the dining halls for a filling meal, conform - go to Thai Basil. For less than an hour's work at minimum wage, you'll get a hearty portion of savory tastiness. Taking in the 50 or more menu items is a daunting task, but the pictures on the wall will help make up your mind. After ordering, sip on a complimentary cup of hot Thai tea while waiting for your food to be freshly made.

Be brave - don't just fall back on the ol' pad Thai. Try one of the sauteed entrees over rice (a standard meal in Thailand), or if you must have noodles, order the pad kee mao or pad see ew.

The restaurant also has a number of vegetarian dishes that are very flavorful. Since most Thai food can be made vegetarian by simply omitting the meat and adding more vegetables, the dishes don't lose their pizazz.

And although Thai chilies are dangerously hot, the cooks at Thai Basil tone it down significantly to preserve the average American palate. But telling the cashier "pehd maak maak!" (really spicy!) will get some steam shooting out of your ears in no time.

-Jessica Gillotte

Best Vegetarian Food: Saturn Cafe

Eating at Saturn Cafe is as other-worldly as its name and decor would suggest - a full menu of typical diner junk food made with absolutely no meat. For a staunch meat lover, the concept will seem a bit alien. And for a vegetarian or vegan, the concept is mind-boggling ("I can order anything on the menu?!"). Onion rings, nachos, sliders, corn dogs, burgers and of course the FLT sandwich - fakin' bacon, lettuce and tomato - all made sans furry friends. And the fare isn't just for the animal-loving, tree-hugger types, as many a carnivore is known to swing by, with or without their meat-averse friends. The imitations are fairly convincing and quite scrumptious, especially the jalapeno poppers and sweet potato fries. The grub is great, the servers are friendly and the experience is definitely worth having.

-Emma Anderson

Best Bakery: La Farine Bakery

Best Deli: Cheese 'n' Stuff

Best Ethiopian Food: Cafe Colucci


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