There's excellent, hassle-free dining on the warm side of the Bay Bridge at these popular local restaurants.
Sure, San Francisco has great restaurants. But you know what else it has? Bone-chilling fog, snooty service, monthslong reservation queues, and parking so diabolically difficult it would make the Dalai Lama lay on his horn in frustration. So why not skip the windbreaker and head to the East Bay to sample its culinary gems—long-standing highlights and the best of the recent restaurant boom—without the city hassle. Area code is 510.
- Downtown Berkeley has long been known more for its student-friendly budget offerings than for gourmet fare. But Comal flipped the script when it opened in 2012. Executive chef Matt Gandin beautifully blends an ingredient-driven California cuisine sensibility into such comforting Mexican dishes as chicken mole tamales, beef and pork albóndigas meatballs, and an outrageous tripe stew. But the greatest pleasure might be simply enjoying the fantastic back patio, a mescal-based cocktail, and a shared order of fresh-made chips and guacamole. 2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 926-6300, comalberkeley.com.
- Michelin-starred chef and Oakland native James Syhabout has won locals’ hearts by following the lauded, upscale Commis with several offshoots, the most recent of which, the Dock, may be his best. Sharing a one-of-a-kind location with the popular Linden Street Brewery—one that overlooks the Port of Oakland—the Dock tips its cap to the city’s working-class roots, serving an imaginative selection of small plates to be enjoyed with beer. Favorites include jerk chicken wings flavored with pineapple vinegar and habanero, and fried Brussels sprouts with salted fish roe, chile flake, garlic, and capers. 95 Linden St., Oakland, 338-3965, thedockoakland.com.
- After a long stint at the Japanese restaurant Yoshi’s in San Francisco, chef Shotaro “Sho” Kamio finally opened his own place in late 2013 in the heart of Berkeley’s lively Fourth Street. At Iyasare, Kamio taps into the hearty, seafood-heavy country flavors of Japan’s northern Tohoku region, where he grew up. His takes on classic dishes such as okonomiyaki—savory pancakes—and agedashi tofu are flawless, while originals such as rich sea-urchin risotto are flat-out remarkable in their inventiveness. 1830 Fourth St., Berkeley, 845-8100, iyasare-berkeley.com.
- Watch owners Bob and Maggie Klein cheerfully, methodically work the crowd inside the elegant dining room at Oliveto and it’s easy to see why this nearly 30-year-old Rockridge district restaurant is still one of the East Bay’s finest. Dynamic young executive chef Jonah Rhodehamel, who races cars in his spare time, brings renewed vitality to the pristine Italian fare, even as the establishment’s annual tomato and truffle dinners remain bucket-list dining events for Bay Area foodies. Looking for something more casual and thrifty? Try the downstairs café. 5655 College Ave., Oakland, 547-5356, oliveto.com.
- Pioneering restaurateur Charlie Hallowell’s Pizzaiolo remains a classic under the steady hand of chef de cuisine Julya Shin. The lively atmosphere lures everyone from hipsters to their hungry parents for the majestic wood oven-fired pizzas sporting deliciously chewy crust and primo toppings matched by few, if any, of the never-ending stream of new “artisan pizzerias.” But visitors shouldn’t pass up the nightly changing pastas and entrées—the spaghetti with clams, meatballs, and fried chicken are legendary—and the excellent cocktails. 5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 652-4888, pizzaiolooakland.com.
This article was first published in January 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.