Rod Dibble plays piano nightly at this Lake Merritt bar, often with vocal accompaniment from local amateur cabaret crooners. Designed like an old saloon with relatively private diner-style booths (where you can order a burger, steak, or fries to go with your drinks), the Alley is characterized by its vintage clotheslines, pink and baby-blue restroom stalls (much cleaner than those at your average East Bay haunt), and the thousands of marquees and business cards stapled to its walls. In contrast to the swankier Kingmans Lucky Lounge across the street, the Alley stays true to its namesake, and the cluttered decor makes it seem homey.
This Chinatown breakfast and lunch counter serves “organic bicycle-pedaled roasted coffee” and Sri Lankan homemade Chai tea. There’s also an array of tropical smoothies, and a lunch menu full of Caribbean and Sri Lankan flavors that rotates daily and often sells out. (You can order a day in advance.) The muffins and breads all come from Semifreddi’s bakery. Prices are very reasonable, seating is limited, and catering options are available.
Ahh... Au Coquelet, the welcoming Berkeley cafe where you can get a cup of coffee at the crack of dawn and come back after midnight for another cup with an Irish kick, indulge in a fresh fruit torte or any of the homemade desserts. No matter what time of day you opt to sit for a spell in the brick-walled Berkeley institution, the tables are sure to be dotted with people typing at laptops, thumbing through books, or just shooting the breeze.
This sleek, loungey little wine/sake bar boasts an interesting menu of nigori cocktails, a dozen or so largely satisfying noshes, and an ambient conviviality that belies its proto-IKEA design scheme.
The mantra is simple food done very well. Nearly everything — from the dressings to the desserts and the soups to the sauces — is made in-house. Café Aquarius serves locally roasted shade-grown coffee as well as beer and wine. Come for breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, or just for a cup of joe. If you fancy a cup of tea, the selection is top-notch.
Housed in a mellow, spic-and-span space, Cafe Yesterday is Berkeley's most comprehensive cereal bar, though its well-rounded menu also includes salads, sandwiches, house-baked pastries, and fair-trade coffee.
Ahna Adair co-owns the CommonWealth with her brother Pete Jeffryes and her husband Ross Adair, a Scot who learned to appreciate traditional cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. He prepares it here in the form of English-style breakfasts and pub grub with a California twist: Steel-cut oats, beans and toast, egg-and-chutney sandwiches, and the like augment an impressive selection of beers from the UK, the East Bay, and a few locales in between.
This cocktail lounge/hipster hangout/sports bar serves a menu of ambitious global cuisine that changes countries every eight weeks. The cocktails are complex and carefully crafted; the setting is an attractive mix of brick, dark wood, objets d'art, and firelight; and the Old Oakland setting can't be beat.
This Uptown bar is inviting but not desperate; trendy without trying too hard; relaxed but not lazy — a rec room with the metaphorical volume turned up to eleven (the actual volume, by the way, is nicely not too loud — except on weekends). The cocktail list, which was masterminded by Caroline Pagel of Sea Salt, manages to be both decently priced ($6 during happy hour, which runs 4-6 p.m. weekdays, or $8 regularly), and, by and large, unfussy and delicious (try the garden gimlet.) Big bonus: bocce ball!
This hip, airy Temescal hangout serves fresh, often tasty and imaginative soups, salads, sandwiches and breakfast items. Rich, buttery chowder, spiky tamarind chicken salad, a meltingly tender pulled-pork sandwich, and exemplary triple chocolate-chip cookies are among the menu's highlights.
This East Bay iteration carries on the Mission District original's trademark practice of treating tea and coffee as a cocktail (there's even a "mojito iced coffee"). You may find yourself having to answer an array of questions about your tastes while the barista makes each cup to order. On top of a wide array of coffee and tea variations (including Turkish coffee), Philz offers pastries, plenty of seating, and free wi-fi.
Veggie-centric small plates, microbrews, and gorgeous lake views rule at this new beer garden and restaurant, located along the southeast side of Lake Merritt.
Amy Murray’s bustling downtown Berkeley venue celebrates the Bay Area’s bounty of fresh, organic foodstuffs with flair and a sense of fun. Fig and marrow flatbread, creamy pork rillettes with lemon chutney, handmade pasta with pea tendrils and trumpet mushrooms, and a mixed pig plate of sausage, tenderloin, shoulder, and belly are among the standouts.
Tea Here Now carries about twenty different teas at a time, all well sourced and well priced, and serves vegetarian offerings such as salads, steel-cut oatmeal, and rice pudding.
The College Avenue restaurant and wine bar, opened in 2011 by two local moms, serves meals made with local produce and sustainably farmed and caught fish and meats, and small plates for pairing with carefully selected, small-production wines. TOAST is also available for private events.