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Berkeley Produce Center (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1500 Shattuck Ave
(on the corner of Shattuck and Vine)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 848-8100

The Berkeley Produce Center is a friendly and quick little market, right in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto. Despite it’s relatively small space, they have just about everything I need, and their prices beat the big supermarket on the same block (you know who you are) every day of the week. The place is so convenient and reliable, that for those who live nearby, it’s really the anchor of the neighborhood.

They have great fresh veggies, with a respectable selection of organic fresh and bulk foods. Try the fresh-squeezed orange juice they make up in the back. And don’t miss the groovy mural on the North wall. I only wish that they wouldn’t run out of my favorite yoghurt so often.

The Berkeley Produce Center It’s a great place to pick up both the key ingredients and the inspiration for a great meal on your way home.

Cha Am (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1543 Shattuck Avenue
(Between Cedar and Vine)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 848-9664


Cha Am is by far my favorite Thai Restaurant. They’ve been on Shattuck since 1985, and they’re absolutely still going strong. They hit the mark with dish after dish, it seems you can’t go wrong. Their lunch specials are great, and I often go there with a group of people from work. Dinners are even better, especially when you can order with friends and try several different entrées.

There’s a wide selection of vegetarian items, with delicate spices and flavors that set the bar for me with other Thai restaurants. These days, I love the red and green curry dishes, Gaeng-Tofu and Gaeng-Pak, the most. For a long time, I was a Pad-Pak-J adherent, with every great vegetable and fried tofu. The Cha-Am Fresh Rolls are similar to other Thai restaurants I’ve tried, but the Vegetarian Po-Piah, their deep-fried cousins, sing with wonderful base notes, and a nice light crunch. It doesn’t say it on the menu, but you can order a vegetarian version of the Cha-Am Noodle which makes a superb alternative or complement to a rice dish.

My only gripe is that they recently stopped serving the lovely Thai tea that they had for years. I hope it’s just a temporary thing.

Let’s hope Cha Am will still be as great 25 years from now.

The Juicebar Collective (Berkeley)

Author: Kathryn | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , ,

2114 Vine Street
(Between Shattuck and Walnut)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-8473


Located in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto, The Juice Bar Collective is hardly large enough to fit a car inside—unless you had an electric Smart Car. There’s a sales counter, and exactly one table inside, with extra seating on the sidewalk.

From this modest spot comes a mighty selection of sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods—and JUICE! Almost all of the food is organic, and predominantly vegetarian.

My favorite dish is the black bean polenta casserole, which is offered either with cheese, or in a vegan version, with red salsa. For $5.25 I can’t think of a heartier lunch. They also have fantastic vegan cookies, including a vegan molasses cookie that will knock your (rainbow) socks off.

As indicated in the name, The Juice Bar is a collective, so there’s a good vibe amongst the people working there. They also have a selection of pizzas, lasagnas, soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps, including a hummus/veggie wrap which is the perfect item to scoop up for a picnic.

When the seating is all taken, I often sit on benches right across the street—it’s sunnier over there anyway. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone, vegetarian or otherwise.

The Cheeseboard (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | 1 Comment
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , , ,

1504 Shattuck Avenue
(Between Vine and Cedar)
Berkeley, CA 94709

The Cheeseboard rating

I have to admit that it’s not easy to write about something you love so much, and hold in such high reverence as I do The Cheeseboard, a bakery and cheese co-operative in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. But here goes.

If you want to get to know one of the best parts of Berkeley, visit The Cheeseboard on a summer Saturday morning, grab anything that looks good, and sit yourself down on the covered outdoor benches facing the street. The whole city eventually walks by. Morning dog walkers tie their antsy pets to the parking meters. Fleece-clad couples stop by, pushing strollers bearing well-fed, wide-eyed babies. Tweed-wearing UC professors, and gray-haired activists mix with young couples still in last-nights clothes. Therapists in neutral colors and smart wool shoulder wraps amble with the ladies of Vine Street. Teenaged skateboarders text by, narrowly missing the exercise set, who clutch the silver and black coffee travel mugs they carry around. All while few familiar panhandlers languidly angle for spare change.

I love the bread, the luscious smell of Fresh Baked Bread. I love the piquant, wafting aromas of sharp cheeses, baked into the cheese rolls, and detectable from a block away. I love the thin outer crust of the zampano roll, perforated with slits or holes on top, with red pepper flakes and a slightly melted cap of shredded real Parmesan (Asiago?) cheese. I love the simple olive foccacia baked into a hand-sized four-part disk, with a cornmeal undercarriage. I love Wednesday’s beer batter rye, which holds its hearty taste and freshness for days. I love the sourdough English Muffins, which make this native San Franciscan’s heart sing— completely plain with absolutely no adornment. They make Thomas’ English Muffins seem like a bad cardboard impostor, forever after. I love the morning scones with bits of fruit (like currant). I love the blueberry millet muffins, with lightly-crunchy toasted balls of millet, I had only ever seen before in birdseed.

I love the baguette pieces which condense all of the sourdough goodness of a baguette into a three or four-sided pillow of crust and seeds. I love the City Batard when I need a perfect, wide loaf of Sourdough. And who wouldn’t love the fluffy Chocolate Things, which are a decadent excuse for more chocolate for whomever needs such an excuse.

I cannot not mention the greatest Bialy this side of old Białystok—a chewy sourdough disk, like a hole-less bagel, but baked, not boiled. Translucent onions flecked with poppy seeds melt their way into the Bialy’s center depression. Oh my.

I love the Mr. Espresso coffee (my very favorite local, boutique, organic, fair trade coffee roaster), served daily until 10 am. And I fully appreciate the worker-owned Berkeley co-op vibe, where everyone you see making bread and selling the cheese has a stake in the success of the business and earns the same wage. Their pride shows in every roll, and Berkeley loves them for it.

Everything there is oven fresh, with the bread traveling just a few feet from the prep table to the oven to the self-serve racks. The Cheeseboard rotates their menu throughout the week, so if you go there enough, you start to learn the days when your favorite specialties appear. (Otherwise, here’s a Cheat Sheet.) This isn’t a place for dull, wide baguettes, bland white-bread, or flaky butter croissants. This is where real bread is born and comes of age.

Oh and did I mention that they sell cheese? There’s a long, wrap-around cheese counter, staffed by highly knowledgeable and friendly folks who take the time to make suggestions, explain the cheeses, and dole out samples, cut right there for you to taste. The chalkboard on the wall lists maybe a hundred different cheeses, if I ever bothered to count. There’s no obvious line, so draw a playing card from the rack in the center, and that’s your “number.”

If you’re wondering whether the artisinal cheese and gourmet bread ever tied the culinary knot, look no further than the huge lines snaking outside of The Cheeseboard Pizza next door.

So, if you want to please me, just sit with me there for a while. I’ll savor my bread, pretend to read the newspaper I brought, and try my best not make a small mess of crumbs below. And, if you would, please let me know if there’s anything clinging to my beard, since I’ll be in too much bliss to care.

Cha-Ya (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , ,

1686 Shattuck Avenue
Between Lincoln and Virginia
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 981-1213


Cha-Ya is my favorite restaurant in all of Berkeley. A small (20 seat) strictly vegan Japanese kaiseki ryori restaurant in the Gourmet Ghetto. Kaiseki cuisine is an edible art form largely unknown outside of Japan, and most-closely associated with Kyoto. Take me there for my birthday, or any day; I never need an excuse to go.

A vegan meal at Cha Ya consists of many small plates, and there’s a huge variety of dishes and food styles to mix and match. Weekly specials are posted on the wall. You can probably go ten times and never order the same thing twice. It can be overwhelming on your first visit if you’re not familiar with the food. Here’s a little orientation, based on what I usually order.

Among the soups I’ve tried, I prefer the Dobin Mushi, a “pot soup,” with all kinds of delicious veggies and mushrooms. Once you pour off and finish the broth (like tea), you can dive into the pot and eat the veggies. The salads are all incredibly fresh, and come with seasoned hijiki (seaweed), ginkgo seeds, tofu, greens, and sometimes persimmon.

There are a number of small dishes (Kozara) that I love, but my hands down favorite is the Gyoza (vegan pot stickers). Served with gyoza dipping sauce, they’re warm and melt in your mouth as the steam rises from your first bite. They’s sweet and chewy and really a treat. I also recommend the simple and delicious Robata Yaki (which is served as pair of skewers with grilled vegetables, mushroom, and tofu, glazed with a sweet plum sauce).

Cha-Ya has a very wide variety of al la carte veggie rolls: both hosomaki (nori seaweed on the outside), and nigiri vegetables on top of the rice, strapped on with a little nori belt. Among the hosomaki, don’t miss the Kampyo, seasoned gourd. It doesn’t sound impressive, but it has a mouth-watering, sweet, slightly vinegar taste. With the Nigiri I really love the way they do the eggplant. Seasoned perfectly, the eggplant is soft and delicious.

There are some special rolls that are particularly decadent. The Cha-Ya Roll is my guilty pleasure: tempura sushi filled with avocado, yam, and carrots, the entire roll is lightly battered and deep-fried, served with a special house sauce. It’s amazing.

On a cold night, there are noodle soups, and on hot nights, you can order cold noodles, like Zaru soba.

The menu contains six or so Combination Dinner Sets, which come with a bowl of miso soup and a small salad, in addition to an entree. The combos are probably a great deal, but I can never wrap my mind around how they’re organized or what I should choose. If you’re already ordering an entree that’s part of the specials, it makes sense to see if the specials work for you.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that they have a number of vegan desserts. The Vegan (chocolate) Cake is usually excellent, but the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae is the real prize winner, with both azuki beans, and green tea sauce.

The menu features many kinds of fine teas, and a range of sake (hot or cold), including Sho Chiku Bai Sake from Takara, made in Berkeley!

The place is small and popular, so if you get there too late, you might be standing in the cold for a while waiting for a table. Be forewarned.

Da Lian (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , ,

1674 Shattuck Avenue
(between Lincoln St & Virginia St)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 883-1883


Da Lian feels like a second home to me and is among my favorite food spots in Berkeley. It fills the missing go-to Chinese restaurant niche in the Gourmet Ghetto.

Ken and I eat here about once a week and it always feels like a treat. There’s nothing too fancy about Da Lian: the surroundings are clean and modern-cozy, maybe even plain. The entrees we get are basic (Americanized) Chinese. It hits the spot every time.

Like a lot of Chinese restaurants, they menu is huge. Our favorite dishes are the Vegetarian Pot-Stickers and the Spicy Garlic Eggplant with soft tofu added. We sometimes get the Dry-Sauteed Green Beans instead. For us, the one, large appetizer plus entree is enough food for dinner.

The food is reliably delicious, the staff is very sweet, the service is excellent, and you never have to wait for a table. They do excellent takeout, and their space is large enough to handle pretty big groups.

Da Lian for lunch or dinner is a perfect venue for a mixed veg/non-veg group. Ken and I go there with all of our out-of-town guests and it’s always a hit. It’s also quite reasonably priced.

I can’t say enough about how nice the people are here. When I call to order take out, they know me by name and usually finish my order for me. One time I called, and after I got through specifying soft tofu for our eggplant dish, the waitress on the phone said, “Oh, we have Ken’s credit card here. I’ll give it to you when you come in.” (He had been looking all around!)

About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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