Berkeley Food Adventures: Finding the Line Between Hunger and Food Comas

Welcome back, dear readers, for Part 2 of in my Berkeley Food Adventures, in which I take you through the city’s lunch spots. Or more specifically — the city’s salad, sandwich, and soup spots (Try saying that one three times fast. And it wasn’t even intentional.) because I’m a sucker for any combination of those three.

This list will be far more contained and organized than my previous breakfast post and my inevitable subsequent posts about dinner and dessert simply because my lunch hour is, by far, the most constrained hour of the day due to class time and work time. It’s the timeless college student struggle.

To eat or not to eat… To let thine stomach growl or to let thine eyes slip shut into a food coma… That is the question.

If you couldn’t already tell — with me, the answer is always to eat. Always.

Making the most of Berkeley Time:

  1. The Golden Bear Café3/5

    Chicken strips and French fries | Photo Courtesy of Chiara A. from Yelp
    Photo Courtesy of Chiara A. from Yelp

    Don’t give me that side eye. Those chicken strips smell delicious, and because I only ever caved one to that delicious aroma, I’m not about to deny how tempting they were are. In all honesty though, the healthier options at the Golden Bear Café (more fondly called the GBC) aren’t anything to scoff at. They pack a decent salad with their choice of toppings, offer wraps made to order, and are slowly expanding their collection of fresh food options. My markdown? The price. Anything that’s not been fried is at least $1-2 more expensive than anything that has been.

  2. Ramona’s Café3.5/5
    Outside Ramona's | Photo Courtesy of Cassie X. from Yelp
    Photo Courtesy of Cassie X. from Yelp

    I may be biased, but when a place can take a sandwich and turn it into a panino, suddenly I’m all yours. Ramona’s not only offers made to order sandwiches and panini (with choices that include roasted vegetables and hummus), but they also sell rice bowls topped with vegetables and/or chicken, various Asian dim sum selections, and the usual snack fare. Of course, their Asian choices are nowhere near authentic, but that’s beside the point. Buy a panino. It’ll make you happy. Recommendation: Roasted vegetable panino.

  3. Pat Brown’s Grill4/5

    Chicken, bread, collard greens, and broccoli | Photo Courtesy of Brian L. from Yelp
    Chicken, bread, collard greens, and broccoli | Photo Courtesy of Brian L. from Yelp

    No, I have not gone insane with my rating system. Pat Brown’s Grill is probably the best meal-point-supporting, on-campus dining spot that I’ve frequented. There’s a small Peet’s location inside, and they offer the widest array of sandwich fillings ranging from baked tofu to tri-tip; made to order burritos; and hot dinner choices like mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, and rotisserie chicken. I’m not saying it’s going to beat their home-cooked equivalents, but truly — times could be worse.

  4. Free Speech Movement Café: 4/5

    Sample salad and sandwich| Photo Courtesy of Mantian L. from Yelp
    Salad and sandwich| Photo Courtesy of Mantian L. from Yelp

    There are some wonderful food choices here. Their salads and sandwiches always look divine, their baked goods are drool-worthy, and their drinks (Hot apple cider, anyone?) are seriously worth the extra ten minute walk in the rain on the way home after class. My only complaint is their price. I’d love to have that salad and sandwich combo…but I’m not sure I really want to drop $10 on this meal.

How to spend the half hour pit stop between class:

  1. Sam’s Market and Fresh Deli: 3/5
    Sam's Famous Chicken Sandwich | Photo Courtesy of Erik L., Yelp
    Sam’s Famous Chicken Sandwich | Photo Courtesy of Erik L. from Yelp

    A sizable deli hides itself in this shabby storefront on Telegraph. Their deli counter not only offers made to order sandwiches, but also includes burgers, fries, hot plates, and even rotisserie chicken. The sandwiches are definitely sizable for their price, but they almost feel too overwhelming in both their size and flavor.

  2. Cheese ‘N’ Stuff4/5
    Cracked Pepper Turkey Sandwich with the Works | Photo Courtesy of Nayiri K. from Yelp
    Cracked Pepper Turkey Sandwich with the Works | Photo Courtesy of Nayiri K. from Yelp

    This tiny, take-out-only sandwich shop is family owned and hidden beside the parking structure of Unit 3. The lunch line between classes may stretch out the hall, but don’t worry — they’re remarkably efficient at getting each customer their sandwich and out the door in generally less than 15 minutes. Each sandwich comes out to under $6 ($6.50 if you’re getting a hot sandwich), and is packed to the brim with vegetable goodness. Recommendation: The Vegetarian Deluxe Sandwich is packed with so much fresh flavor that you won’t even miss the meat.

  3. San Francisco Soup Co.4/5
    Photo Courtesy of Lia P. from Yelp
    Photo Courtesy of Lia P. from Yelp

    This often overlooked grab and go lunch spot offers at least six different soups a day, each priced at about $6 and served with a sizable (If you pick the right one, that is) hunk of bread. If soup’s not up your alley, they also have a great selection of salads and wraps. Feel like the salad’s too pricey? Get a wrap instead. It’ll shave a few dollars off the top, and they’ll still give you whatever filling didn’t quite make it into the wrap.

  4. Yali’s Oxford Street Café3.5/5
    Half salad, half sandwich combo | Photo Courtesy of Ingrid H. from Yelp
    Half salad, half sandwich combo | Photo Courtesy of Ingrid H. from Yelp

    If you ever find yourself stuck on Northside, Yali’s offers you a quiet spot just off the northwest corner of campus where you can find a spot to sit and eat. They offer a wide selection of food, all decently priced and perfect for a midday pit stop.

Fill an hour with friends and food:

  1. Smart Alec’s Intelligent Food4/5
    Garden Delight Salad | Photo Courtesy of Smart Alec's
    Garden Delight Salad | Photo Courtesy of Smart Alec’s

    In my opinion, this corner store doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Their reasonably priced salads are chock full of tasty ingredients like garbanzo beans, alfalfa sprouts, and edamame; and their cornbread is good enough to be eaten on its own. While I don’t know precisely how all of their food is made, even their burgers and special air-baked Smart Fries feel less oily and unhealthy than your usual fast food fare. Recommendation: Get a Garden Delight Salad with a side of cornbread to experience a bit of everything. If you want to spoil yourself, get the chocolate cornbread as well. (It’s basically a brownie.)

  2. Tivoli’s Caffe3.5/5
    Roast beef on ciabatta | Photo Courtesy of Amy G. from Yelp
    Roast beef on ciabatta | Photo Courtesy of Amy G. from Yelp

    This cozy, family-owned cafe serves up great food – hot sandwiches and deep-dish pizza slices, anyone? – and wonderful conversation. All of the employees in the restaurant are all quite in-tune with campus happenings and the student lifestyle, so you’ll probably end up leaving lunch and a nice conversation tucked under your belt. The only downsides here are the slightly sub-par salads and the shortage of seating around lunchtime.

  3. I.B.’s Hoagies3/5
    Bacon burger | Photo Courtesy of Sophia L. from Yelp
    Bacon burger | Photo Courtesy of Sophia L. from Yelp

    Before you ask, yes, I’ve gone to I.B.’s Hoagies. Twice. My arteries are still regretting it to this day. I’m not going to lie and say the food here is bad. The food – hot sandwiches overflowing with meat and cheese, and curly fries that are drool worthy – is awesome…but only if you want to be put under the table afterward. Its spot relatively close to campus is always tempting, but I’m not about to risk the aftermath on a school day.

  4. Sweet Leaf3.5/5
    If you don’t recognize this one, it’s simply because they closed down over the 2014-2015 winter break.

    Half a Sweet Leaf Salad with a side of bread and fruit | Photo Courtesy of Cindy M. from Yelp
    Half a Sweet Leaf Salad with a side of bread and fruit | Photo Courtesy of Cindy M. from Yelp

    The tiny storefront originally stood right next to Pieology and offered a direct view of the tempting baked goods just inside the glass. Their sandwiches were chock full of flavor, if a bit small, but their salads were definitely my go-to. With their full and half salad options, it was a perfect way to gauge precisely how much food I wanted to order, and I was never about to say no to any salad served with avocado.

Do you really not have class after noon?:

  1. Slow4.5/5
    Roasted portobello sandwich | Photo by Courtney Cheng
    Roasted portobello sandwich | Photo by Courtney Cheng

    Berkeley really needs to work on keeping its cute sandwich stores alive. Slow, originally located a ways down on University offered local, organic, and fresh foods put together in creative, albeit slightly odd combinations, that tasted divine. They served you just enough food and left your stomach satisfied, but your gluttonous self dying for more. I’ve basically only marked it down for its closing.

  2. Berkeley Bowl’s Fresh Deli4/5
    Fresh food fare | Photo Courtesy of Kaylan S. from Yelp
    Fresh food fare | Photo Courtesy of Kaylan S. from Yelp

    Every time I go to Berkeley Bowl, it’s a major struggle to not leave with something from their huge fresh food section. Everything looks and sounds amazing, even if my wallet is perhaps not as stuffed as my eyes would like it to be. I stopped by once recently with some employees at my summer internship and treated myself to a roasted vegetable sandwich (Told you I have a thing.) with a chocolate chip cookie for dessert, and both were divine. The hefty size of the sandwiches definitely makes up for the price.

  3. Whole Foods’ Fresh Deli3.5/5
    Spicing up my dinner salad | Photo by Courtney Cheng
    Spicing up my dinner salad | Photo by Courtney Cheng

    I think my wallet wants to hold a revolution whenever I even consider wandering to Whole Foods, but since it’s barely a 20-minute walk from my apartment, I can’t help myself. Everything from the bakery, the salad bar, the sandwich and pizza zone, and the fresh food counter looks and smells so tempting. My only complaint with Whole Foods is the price. The salad bar costs $8.99/lb, and if you’re anything like me with my penchant for exotic salad toppings, this place will really put a dent in your budget.

I know there are loads of places missing from this list, and I apologize for its lack of completion. Again, it’s hard to get far from campus with only so much time to spare, and I’m not sure I want to traipse all over campus sampling the campus-supported cafés.

At any rate, here are some of the places that I’d like to stop by before I graduate. Let me know if you think they’re worth the stop, and what other places you think I should add. I’m always more than happy to try new places.

  1. The Local Butcher Shop
  2. The Sandwich Spot
  3. Montague’s
  4. The Melt

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