8 Destination Lunch Spots in Berkeley

Featuring Korean comfort food, a special "pizza of the day" and a bustling Indian market

January 9, 2024 6:28 am
Exterior of The Cheese Board Collective
With these lunch spots in Berkeley, you'll always want to go out to eat
The Cheese Board Collective

With so many experimental chefs, bargain deals and incredible local ingredients in the Berkeley culinary scene, you have no excuse for eating that sad sandwich at your desk again. It’s time to mix up your lunch routine with these eight eateries worth trying right now. From longstanding lunch institutions to a new breed of deli, we’ve got you covered for midday meals.   

Berkeley Social Club

Part of the Hoyul Steven Choi empire — the restauranteur behind Sweet Maple and Kitchen Story — Berkeley Social Club specializes in Korean comfort food adapted to Western tastes. Think arugula salad adorned with juicy KFC (Korean fried chicken), Vermont cheddar and creamy Sriracha dressing. In the much-Instagrammed “Pimped up Ramyun,” saucy noodles spill out of a container in a playful take on Cup O’ Noodles. It comes with Choi’s trademarked (yes, it’s actually trademarked) “Millionaire’s Bacon” — thick center-cut slabs slow-roasted in sugar and cayenne. Two blocks from the Cal campus, the modern high-ceilinged dining room and spacious patio are great for groups.

The Butcher’s Son Vegan Deli

After growing up in the restaurant industry and working at their dad’s all-American diner, the brother-and-sister owners wanted to create plant-based dishes to mimic classic comfort food flavors, like hoagies, reubens, tuna melts and chicken tenders. The all-vegan menu is divided into simple categories of sandwiches, salads, gyros, sides and sweets. After munching on some cashew mozzarella sticks or fries with 10 different dipping sauces, you can’t go wrong with the “Killer B.L.A.T.” tricked out with vegan fried chicken and pickled jalapeno. Outdoor seating supplements a bright and airy space with display cases of cheesecakes and other vegan goodies to go.  

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Imm Thai Street Food

This Thai food purveyor on the corner of University and Shattuck Avenues near campus has been winning hearts and bellies since 2014 with its affordable spicy pad Thai, vibrant green curry, chicken satay skewers and homemade roti. Despite the small footprint — maybe two dozen seats and spots at the counter — the mighty menu is considered some of the best Thai food in town. Don’t miss the spicy fried rice, and get some of their homemade chili sauce ($5) to take home.

La Note

For a quarter century, this Berkeley mainstay has been known for its weekend brunch, but the French café also brings it at lunch with killer les casse-croûtes or light sandwiches and salads. Enjoy French classics like Croque Monsieur or baguettes topped with pâté in a charming brick patio overflowing with bougainvillea. Colder days call for ratatouille — there are three versions, including an irresistible option to upgrade with Merguez, a spicy lamb sausage.

The Cheese Board Collective

When it comes to the origins of Californian cuisine, Berkeley’s North Shattuck Blvd. is an embarrassment of riches. Amid the world-renowned Chez Panisse and the original Peet’s Coffee location, one lesser-known spot stands out. This worker-owned cooperative opened in 1967 includes a bakery and pizza restaurant, where the bakers offer a “pizza of the day,” topping a thin sourdough crust with whatever interesting cheeses and vegetables strike their fancy (the pizzas are always vegetarian). Expect a casual order-at-the-counter setup — and what a counter it is. If the display case of four hundred cheeses doesn’t mesmerize you, the daily-changing assortment of freshly baked bread, scones and pastries will. Bonus: a local blues band often plays impromptu sets during lunch and dinner.

Fava on Vine

Around the corner from Cheese Board is a tiny storefront with a big-time pedigree. Two Chez Panisse alums — Sylvia Osborne Calierno and Jeremy Scheiblauer — opened this Eastern Mediterranean lunch spot in the former home of the iconic Juice Bar Collective to honor local, organic ingredients just like the previous inhabitant. People line up down the block for crispy falafel flatbread sandwiches piled high with herbs, grilled chicken with tabouli and delicata squash, and chocolate tahini cookies. Be sure to order a side of what many consider Berkeley’s best hummus (and that’s saying something). There’s no seating, but Live Oak Park is a 10-minute walk away.


Steps from Fava on Vine is the famous “home of the potato puff,” where fluffy fried pillows of goodness are made with extraordinary care by French chef Grégoire Jacquet, who worked at a Michelin 5-star restaurant before launching his famous storefront 25 years ago. So much of what put Berkeley on the culinary map seems to be found on this one block. The puffs come with your choice of dipping sauce or as a base for poutine, slathered in cheese curds and gravy. A rotating seasonal menu might include a spring lamb sandwich or a fall salad of tempura-fried butternut squash and onion chutney.

Viks Chaat

This bright and bustling Indian market on the edge of Emeryville is a local lunch institution. The cavernous warehouse provides plenty of room to grocery shop before refueling at the in-store restaurant, where you’ll gorge on the namesake chaat. The bargain lunch specials change daily and include basmati rice, daal, raita, pappadum and your choice of protein. Don’t miss the smoky, tender tandoori chicken or the fluffy, freshly made bhatura bread that is an ideal companion to chickpea curry.


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