North Berkeley & Kensington 

Beyond the Gourmet Ghetto

North Berkeley has long been known as the epicenter of California cuisine. But make no mistake; there's more to Shattuck and the surrounding areas than Chez Panisse and the Cheeseboard.

Gioia (1586 Hopkins, 510-528-4692, GioiaPizzeria.com) is a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint nestled between a liquor store and a fish market on quiet Hopkins Street. Will Gioia — whose pies bear the indelible imprint of a childhood spent eating paper-thin pizza in Brooklyn — elevates the form with an airy, almost cracker-like crust and a whole host of artisanal and seasonal ingredients, such as butternut squash and handmade Italian sausage.

Across the street, Espresso Roma Cafe (1549 Hopkins St., 510-528-8010) is a tree-shaded paradise just perfect for studying, reading, or catching up with a friend. The airy cafe's brew is as thick and strong as any self-respecting Berkeley coffee shop's should be, and the food is substantial, but the real star here is the expansive, sunlit patio.

Serge Vigeant and Suzie McKig fell in love when McKig, a Los Angeles graphic designer, ordered a bicycle bag over the phone from Vigeant's Montreal-based company. Despite the distance, the two managed to make it work and get married. In 2003, they moved to Berkeley and opened Twig and Fig (2110 Vine St., 510-848-5599, TwigandFig.com), Walnut Square's too-cute-for-words paperie and letterpress company. The duo specializes in handcrafting exquisite wedding and bar/bat mitzvah invitations, but the two also run a small, wood-ceilinged shop that's well-stocked with cards, pens, and stationery from local independent designers. "We very much wanted it to be something special in the community," McKig says. "We make a point of not selling stuff from massive corporations or that's produced in China."

Fancy Nails (1792 Shattuck Ave., 510-644-2650) is about as no-frills as it gets: There are no state-of-the-art massaging chairs, no precious day-spa attitude — just a team of extraordinarily fast and thorough manicurists and pedicurists who can make even the most mangled feet sandal-ready, all in less than an hour and for a reasonable price.

The East Bay is blessed with more cheap, delicious Thai places than we know what to do with, but Cha-Am (1543 Shattuck Ave., 510-848-9664) stands out from the rest based on atmosphere alone: At the top of a set of stairs and overhanging the street, the place looks and feels like a tree house.

The brunch at Inn Kensington (293 Arlington Ave., Kensington, 510-527-5919) is truly worth waking up for. The restaurant, which also serves lunch and dinner, has gained a loyal weekend following based on its fresh buttermilk biscuits, smooth hot chocolate, and creative scrambles and omelets.

Don't Miss: The original Peet's Coffee and Tea (2124 Vine St., 510-841-0564) — which was recently renovated to include more seating and a small exhibit showcasing the coffee chain's illustrious history — remains one of the Bay's best places to buy coffee. ... The produce at Monterey Market (1550 Hopkins St., 510-526-6042, MontereyMarket.com) is always abundant and fresh. ... Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave., 510-548-5525, ChezPanisse.com) is a legend. There's a reason it sparked a culinary revolution and changed the way the Bay Area — and America — eats.

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