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Insider: Berkeley

William Meppem

Photo: William Meppem

The best restaurants here all show the influence of Alice Waters's Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave.; 510/548-5525; dinner for two $160) — world-class cuisine, neighborly ambience. It would not be hyperbolic to call Chez Panisse a shrine to good and wise eating, or even a way of life.

Also emblematic is Rivoli (1539 Solano Ave.; 510/526-2542; dinner for two $65), whose inventive food (such as portobello fritters and Parmesan soufflé) highlights fresh local ingredients, and whose dining room overlooks a lush garden where skunks and possums scamper about.

Breakfast at Café Fanny (1603 San Pablo Ave.; 510/524-5447; breakfast for two $20) is de rigueur. The tiny, no-nonsense café, owned by Alice Waters and Jim Maser, is tucked nonchalantly into the corner of a parking lot. The milk happens to be organic; the food is hearty and delicious.

Café Rouge (1782 Fourth St.; 510/525-1440; dinner for two $65) makes its own charcuterie, and spit-roasts and grills a variety of meats — all of them hormone-free.

San Franciscans drive across the bridge for hybrid Japanese dishes — like cremino-mushroom and green-onion pancakes, or smoked trout and seaweed on soba noodles — at the stylish O Chamé (1830 Fourth St.; 510/841-8783; dinner for two $60).

There seems to be an artisanal baker and organic grocer on every block here, especially on the streets radiating out from Chez Panisse—an area called, lovingly, the Gourmet Ghetto. Heated arguments frequently erupt over who makes the best pain au levain, and Acme Breads (1601 San Pablo Ave.; 510/524-1327), adjacent to Café Fanny, usually wins.

The Cheeseboard (1504 Shattuck Ave.; 510/549-3183) is a 33-year-old cooperative and gathering place for everyone in town; tasting is encouraged.

Peet's Coffee & Tea (2124 Vine St.; 510/841-0564), Berkeley's own—and, most believe, better—version of Starbucks, has outposts all over town, but this is the original, opened by Alfred Peet in 1966.

The Juice Bar Collective (2114 Vine St.; 510/548-8473) sells sandwiches and, of course, fresh juice.

Phoenix Pastificio (1786 Shattuck Ave.; 510/883-0783) carries organic pastas and sauces, including a rose-petal pasta that's reputed to be an aphrodisiac.

At Far Leaves Tea (2979 College Ave.; 510/665-9409), in the Elmwood district, Peter Christy will teach you about Chinese teas while he brews you a cup to sample.


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