When folks think of North Berkeley, the Gourmet Ghetto usually comes to mind as the go-to destination for dining. Turnover isn’t as common there as in other areas, but a few recent additions should be noted. Coffee shops such as Guerilla Cafe (1620 Shattuck Ave., 510-845-2233, GuerillaCafe.com) and Philz Coffee (1600 Shattuck Ave., 510-705-1083, PhilzCoffee.com) are the “new” kids on the block, where old standbys like Peet’s and The French Hotel continue to serve their loyal clientele. And although it’s been around since 2006, Gioia Pizzeria (1586 Hopkins St., 510-528-4692, GioiaPizzeria.com) has earned its title as the best new pizza around, residing in the quaint Hopkins Street business district. Gioia is a no-frills counter, and although it’s great as a quick take-out option, don’t underestimate the quality of its fixings — its fresh vegetables, meats, and cheeses rival longstanding competitors such as Cheeseboard.
Perhaps the most notable new business in the Gourmet Ghetto, though, is The Local Butcher Shop (1600 Shattuck Ave., Ste. 120, 510-845-6328, TheLocalButcherShop.com). It’s kind of an antiquated affair: a place stocked only with meat, where you can have a chat with someone who actually knows his cuts, and then watch as he takes great care to give you exactly what you want. And yet the butcher shop, started by an enterprising Chez Panisse alumnus and his wife, is one of the few Berkeley businesses bringing back the art of animal protein. Aaron and Monica Rocchino buy their animals whole, and the all-local, sustainable pieces that don’t make the cut for their display case get turned into a variety of “sausages, pates, confits, stocks, rendered fats and sauces.” Yum. And if you’re not much of a cook, you can always drop in for a sandwich.
Up the hill on Euclid Avenue, the tiny north-campus shopping district has recently shuffled in a handful of new dining options. Opened last summer, The Pho Bar (1828 Euclid Ave., 510-647-9872, ThePhoBar.com) is among the classier ones. True to its name, it’s actually got a sizeable bar, rendering it not only a place for Vietnamese cuisine but also a place to relax and have a beer or a glass of wine. On cold days, try a large bowl of comforting oxtail pho, as staff stokes a fire in the hearth. Its banh mi sandwiches, vermicelli, and even thick-cut fries are all worth trying, as well — the best deal is definitely the soup-sandwich combo.
The past couple years have seen the opening of more affordable eateries on Euclid, as well. Urbann Turbann (1870 Euclid Ave., 510-704-0109, UrbannTurbann.com) adds a quick and easy Indian option to the already multicultural strip, and for the meat-and-cheese enthusiast, there’s Vinnie’s Cheesesteaks (1866 Euclid Ave., 510-845-5300). Unlike I.B.’s Hoagies on South Side, Vinnie’s keeps it simple: meat, cheese, peppers, and onions. You want Cheez Whiz, you say? How about Cheez Whiz and American cheddar? No problem. Burgers, wings, and onion rings also make this a great backup to the always-bustling Bongo Burger.
Northside Cafe (1878 Euclid Ave., 510-845-3663, NorthsideCafe.net) was another welcome replacement for a long-vacant bakery, right across the road from North Gate. Not only is Northside a choice caffeine alternative to the long lines at Brewed Awakening (it’s the same owner, in case loyalty is an issue), it also has a wide selection of food. The breakfast sandwich is always a solid bet (especially if you get it on a croissant), but if you’re a health nut, you could also spring for a bowl of granola. Friendly staff, good lighting, and unbeatable proximity to school round this place out as a need-to-know for both campus-dwellers and visitors alike.