We all have our standby restaurants, the old faithfuls we visit any time we want a comforting, reliable meal. But what about the days we want the thrill of the new? Those days, choosing a restaurant becomes harder, as the fear of the unknown can overwhelm all but the most adventurous diner. After all, when you’re hungry, no one wants to take a chance and end up disappointed.
That’s where this guide comes in. Every spot on this list (which we update on the regular) has either opened in recent months, reopened after a lengthy closure or has made a substantial update to its menu. Every spot on this list is a place that we’re really excited about — and we think you will be, too.
As always, we’re eager to hear your own new dining finds. Drop us a line with your picks for fresh spots to check out at email@example.com.
Jo’s Modern Thai
3725 MacArthur Blvd. (near Loma Vista), Oakland
4-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Jo’s Modern Thai opened last month in the Laurel District, the brainchild of chef Intu-on Kornnawong (Kin Khao, Intu-On) and Kao Saelee, who grew up in his family’s Racha Cafe in Berkeley.
Kornnawong told Nosh that Jo’s menu of drinking snacks and family-style food is intended to represent wide swaths of Thai food, but admits that there’s a lot of California in there too. For example, there’s a catfish taco packed with mango and avocado that serves coastal surf vibes galore. Or the pork laab burger, an Isaan-style patty that’s fried, topped with shallots and herbs and slid into a brioche bun.
The cocktail menu is also a thing to behold, with drinks from the mind of Starline Social Club’s Tayler Sampson. Try the “Made in 510,” with cazadores blanco, martini Bitter, martini rosso and watermelon for a not-too-sweet clobber from a velvet boxing glove.
Seats inside Jo’s dining room or on its outdoor patio are walk-in only, but don’t let fears of a wait dissuade you. While Jo’s has been busy, we haven’t had much of a struggle to score a table. And if time is of the essence, Jo’s offers takeout too.
4935 Shattuck Ave. (at 51st Street), Oakland
4-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Monday
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Snail Bar’s commitment to “slow food” isn’t the only reason for the natural wine bar’s name, as one of its most popular menu items is its escargot with garlic, umami butter and miso from Bay Area fermentation specialists Shared Cultures.
Owner Andres Giraldo Florez has a high-brow resume, with stints at spots like Saison, and I already know what you’re thinking — a fancy food guy and escargot in Temescal, what is happening? But, y’all, it’s OK, the restaurant feels relaxed and warm and judgement-free.
If you’re not a snail snacker, there’s a little gem Caesar salad with Spanish anchovies and shiitake power dressing that you’ll keep thinking about later; and its ham and cheese sandwich is all the buzz. The natural wine list is presented approachably, and picking a glass (or bottle) feels like a collaboration, not a class.
Snail Bar is walk-in only, and Florez told Nosh this week that since their opening last month, they’ve been remarkably busy. That means that though it’s a good spot for folks with kids, if you think the little ones can’t manage a wait, it’s best to choose an off hour for your visit.
5849 San Pablo Ave (at 59th Street), Oakland
3-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday
Soul Slice owner Karter Louis seems torn about calling his dishes “pizzas,” telling Nosh that “we play in the genre of pizza but it is not pizza. It is basically soul food on an open face biscuit with soul food ingredients.”
It’s a game diners want to play too, lining up outside his 2-month-old restaurant for breakfast-style dishes like the bacon & eggs pizza (the eggs are poached and showered with crispy onions and mac and cheese sauce) and the cornmeal chicken nuggets pizza (that one comes with smashed potato and green beans, also on that biscuit crust).
There are so many choices — and the pizzas look on their face to be small — so you’ll be tempted to get multiples. Be careful, though, as even the hungriest among us have been filled by a single (soul) slice. If you have to pick just one, go with the best-selling black-eyed pea pizza, which Lewis says tastes like meat when it’s on his biscuit crust (and if you order with no cheese, it’s also vegan).
There are also a decent number of salads and sides, all of which are very good (especially the grit sticks! Gotta love grits you can eat with your hands). But if you’re going to Soul Slice, you should really get a slice, you know? Lewis told Nosh this week that next up for Soul Slice are lunch hours starting in September, and a happy hour deal that starts the week of Aug. 22 with a pizza and pint for $15. Reservations are recommended for a seat in the dining room, and takeout or delivery are options, too.
401 13th St. (between Broadway and Franklin Street), Oakland
5-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Tribune occupies a vast space at the ground floor of Tribune Tower, in a space that’s suffered from turnovers and landlord disputes for years. This new restaurant might fare better, as its owner Doug Abrams, is also its landlord. It’s not Abrams in the kitchen, though, its Gary Danko vet Omri Aflalo; his operating partner, Darrin Ballon is also a former Danko staffer and runs the front of the house.
Their background shows. On a recent visit, I had some of the best restaurant service I’ve had in ages. (Before you ask, while I don’t dine out in disguise I don’t announce that I’m a food writer when I visit a spot for this list — and I always pay my own way — so I believe this is just how things are at Tribune.) When I made my reservation I requested an outdoor table, but unbeknownst to me, they hadn’t opened their outdoor dining space yet as their patio tables had yet to arrive. Despite that, Tribune staffers had set a solitary table outside for me under a glowing heat lamp, and though we were the only party on the patio, our server (who Tribune had lured away from SF fine dining institution Kokkari Estiatorio) was endlessly attentive and present.
Everything we ate was a tiny delight, from a chopped salad with an edgy roquefort to a lemony summer mushroom cavatelli pasta dish that’s inexplicably listed as a starter (it really should be a main). Tribune’s cocktail program is also a powerhouse, with the almonds in Alameda (vodka, bitters, lemon) as its most dangerously delicious option.
I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to talk you out of dinner there (I am not!) when I say that I also think it’s a perfect spot for dessert and coffee after a night out downtown. Why Tribune’s sticky toffee cake is only $11 is a mystery to me, as it feels like a much more expensive dessert with loads of butter, melty toffee sauce and a sweet scoop of ice cream. I can see myself, in more indoor-friendly times, taking a seat at the bar and splitting that cake with a friend as we unpack after an evening on the town. I can’t wait.
Badan at Berkeley Organic Market and Deli
2642 Ashby Ave. (near College Avenue), Berkeley
11 a.m-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Badan quietly kicked into gear in May, serving a tightly edited menu of Yemeni food. “We have been finding out that the best food is the food people want,” co-owner Hafez Alsaidi told Nosh this month, saying that since Badan opened inside the Berkeley Organic Market and Deli, he’s built a following of loyal regulars, as “once you taste the food, you don’t need any marketing.”
Alsaidi uses unprocessed whole wheat flour from Community Grains for his veggie-laden manakeesh (savory, pizza-like flatbread with toppings), and on Wednesdays offers a gluten-free version made with rice flour and millet. He’s currently refining a zatar wrap and a “very traditional” quinoa and avocado dish, passing out tastes to customers along with their orders. “Everything I make is how my mother and my grandmother made it,” he said.
Don’t miss the seasonal soup, which Alsaidi makes by cooking down beans and grains. “It’s a wholesome meal for people who have to get things done,” he said, and it’s also delicious. As you might expect, every meal at Badan is grab-and-go, but it’s all “made fresh every day,” Alsaidi said. Your best plan is to place your order, pick up your grocery and household staples at the market, then swing back to pick up your food when it’s done.
1160 University Ave. (between San Pablo Avenue and Curtis Street), Berkeley
7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Belmo Cafe opened on University just last month, and immediately made a splash with its French and Algerian pastries, sweet desserts and solid coffee program. Owners Bel Mokeddes and Mo Boughris are lifelong friends whose banter makes an immediate impression when you come in the door — both seem to know the names of every regular patron who passes by.
Both tell Nosh that they’ve been bowled over by the support they’ve gotten during their early days in business, but they shouldn’t be surprised.
The baked goods, all made in-house, set Belmo apart from the standard coffee shop crowd; and its beverage side is far superior to most bakeries’. Put together, and they’ve got a combination that’s hard to beat.
If you’re looking for recommendations, you can’t go wrong with their massive Madelines, their not-to-sweet citrus tarts and their terrific zlabia. But it’s all good, you’ll see.
1019 Camelia St. (at 10th Street), Berkeley
7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Lulu, the maiden brick-and-mortar outing from The Mana’eesh Lady pop-up star Mona Leena Michael, is blessed with an airy patio space in addition to its compact dining room, setting it up for COVID-era success. Its tightly edited breakfast and lunch menu mean you’ll get to those seats fast, as it leaves little room for indecision and its most popular items tend to sell out quickly. In three visits, I never managed to arrive early enough to score its buzzy simsim breakfast sando.
During the week, standouts include a garlic-heavy kale thoom caesar, a dish that made me wish all salads had Michael-style roasted asparagus. But the item I keep thinking about is the halloumi and preserves sandwich, which is grilled cheese for grownups who want more than squishy string between their buns. The semi-hard cheese with Michael’s seasonal preserves is a stroke of sweet and salty genius.
While walk-in service to eat in or carry out is the norm on weekdays, Lulu’s weekend brunch is a trickier affair: it’s reservation only, with no takeout service, and tables fill quickly. But if you can get a seat, the $25 per person brunch board is a pretty special treat, with generous servings of Cal-Palestinian items like labneh whipped deviled eggs and a bread and veggie spread that will fill you up far faster than expected.
2442 Telegraph Ave. (near Haste Street), Berkeley
8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday
8 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Mezzo reopened on June 15 after over a year away — the sandwich and salad spot went completely dark at the beginning of the pandemic, worrying many that they might shutter for good. When I mentioned my visit on social media last month, several people contacted me to say that they thought the business was permanently shuttered, so consider this your reminder that Mezzo is back, baby.
A recent visit confirms that the spot, which was founded in 1983 as Café Intermezzo, closed for six years after a five-alarm fire in 2011, and back with a new name in 2017, has a resilience many would envy.
Its massive salads remain fresh and quickly prepared, with that signature poppy seed dressing as the only option, really. (Yes, they offer other dressings, but the poppy is where it’s at.) Its generously-sized sandwiches on sweet, soft bread make for multiple meals, and my companion termed their tuna salad “one of the best sandwiches in the Bay Area,” with specific praise for the freshness of the albacore.
Service is fast, friendly and efficient: I didn’t feel rushed as I vacillated at the hanging menu, but my order was ready almost as soon as I finished verbalizing it. It all felt so familiar and normal and good that for a moment, my worries were gone — and that was even before I guzzled down the CBD-infused pineapple kombucha they had on tap.
Via del Corso
1788 Shattuck Ave. (near Delaware Street), Berkeley
5-9 p.m. Sunday Tuesday – Thursday
5-10 p.m. Friday – Saturday
Via del Corso isn’t quite Corso 2.0, though you can be forgiven for thinking so: After 12-year-old Corso closed last year, chef and Berkeley native Peter Chastain (Walnut Creek’s Prime Ristorante) bought the business with a plan to bring back some of Corso’s favorites while broadening its menu to feature dishes from across Italy’s many regional cuisines.
A stunner from its summer menu is its linguine nere al tonno, a house-made squid ink pasta with tuna conserve, capers, olives and tomato — basically, what puttanesca wants to be when it grows up. But don’t worry, Corso hits like pollo alla sostanza (Mary’s chicken in brown butter) are on the menu, too.
Reservations are recommended for its cozy dining room; Via del Corso also has a lovely outdoor seating area ideal for folks dining in mixed-vaccination company.
1360 Locust St. (near Cypress Street), Walnut Creek
3-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
Noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Bierhaus has yet to reopen its Oakland outpost, but after a few weeks of limited service it fully reopened its Walnut Creek location after a lengthy pandemic shutdown.
With a vast outdoor dining space (“just like what we have at home,” my German dining companion said) the spot is a solid pick for any Octoberfest-ing you have in mind, with umbrellas to block the sun and heating elements for after sundown. The beer list is a nice list of local faves (Moonlight’s Death & Taxes, two Ghost Town IPAs) and surprises (Hen House’s half-day sour, for example), and you could easily make a night of it on brews alone.
Owner Mike Finley has pared the menu way, way down to just a few Cal-German dishes. I thought the house spatzle was great, but purists might blanch over its presentation on a bed of whipped ricotta. I almost didn’t get the whole Mt. Lassen brook trout, as I’m bad at deboning, but it was fine — whole, in this case, just meant that there was a lot of excellently prepared fish, not a lot of tableside butchery.
The farro salad might be the best example of how Bierhaus so deftly merges NorCal and Deutschland, though, its soft-cooked grains and a mushy egg married to the sharp pickled tastes of kraut and radish. “We wouldn’t have this here,” my German friend said as he gestured toward the grains and soft-cooked egg, “but the whole thing together tastes like home.”
43761 Boscell Road #5125 (in the Pacific Commons Shopping Center), Fremont
8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Cafe Mei’s opening in Fremont this month is big news to anyone who pines for fast-casual icon Mei Er Mei, a Taiwan-based chain known for its savory-and-sweet breakfast sandwiches.
Cafe Mei might be as close as we get to that company, as owner Kandy Wang says she’s using Mei Er Mei’s recipes to make her menu of egg and cheese crepes, triple-layer breakfast sandwiches and a pork patty breakfast burger topped with an egg.
Wang’s sandwiches are a comforting reminder of home for some, while those new to Mei Er Mei might decide that the dishes are their newest craving. While the sandwiches are the draw at Cafe Mai, don’t look over the black pepper teppan noodles, a umami party of pork and mushrooms in a bowl.
1389B N. Main St. (in the Phillips Building), Walnut Creek
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Dumpling Hours might be Walnut Creek’s worst-kept secret, a packed inside-and-out spinoff of San Francisco’s wildly popular Dumpling Home.
Their made-to-order dumplings — boiled or pan-fried or soup — have been gobbled up by multitudes of the Bay Area’s self-appointed dumpling insiders since it opened earlier this month. But though the dumplings are made on the spot (not frozen or otherwise pre-made), you won’t be waiting hours for your order — sit-down diners’ XLB will arrive with haste, steamy and perfect.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the dumplings, but the other menu items are equally strong: There’s a truffle Brussels sprout plate that deserves praise, and the tongue-numbing pig ear with spicy sauce is a snappy surprise. Dumpling Hours’ owners say that online ordering for takeout is coming soon, but for now you’ll have to walk up or call (925-933-8888) to place your order, if waiting for a table isn’t for you.
50 S. Livermore Ave. (between First Street and Railroad Avenue), Livermore
8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Wingen Bakery started out as a farmers market star, but since June they’ve been slinging their hand-rolled bagels, savory sourdough loaves, and sweet pastries from a new Livermore storefront.
Now there are sandwiches on offer, like a Hobb’s Bacon BLT, as well as a summer bean salad with some serious goat cheese croutons and a nice selection of beer and wine. Co-owner Aimee Wingen told Nosh this week that the bakery is working to expand its hours in September, and a croissant program is also in the works.
But for now, there’s the sourdough olive loaf, their Sun Gold-packed crustless quiche, and those brown butter chocolate chip cookies to tide you over. Just know that many of the baked goods sell out by the afternoon, so come early if you have your heart set on a loaf.Eve Batey is Berkeleyside’s interim Nosh editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.