Every story Nosh’s publishes won’t be a runaway hit, and that’s fine. As a nonprofit news outlet, we’re not beholden to traffic or clicks to remain afloat. That said, we love it when one of our articles captures the public imagination, sparks conversation or just inspires people to try something new. 

These are the 10 (or so, I cheated just a bit) stories we published in 2021 that did one of those things. It was a lot of fun to wander through our archives to find these reports, a walk down memory lane that reminded me how many happy, sad, comforting and exciting things happened across the East Bay food scene this year. 

10. Totally bananas: 9 standout banana puddings in Berkeley and Oakland

Container of banana pudding from Lois the Pie Queen.
Banana pudding from Lois the Pie Queen. Credit: Sarah Han

While at a summer lunch with Sarah Han, the former Nosh editor who wrote this guide, I asked what inspired her to pen it. “I just really like banana pudding,” she said. Apparently, lots of other folks also enjoy the nostalgic dessert, and the story still attracts readers nine months after publication.

9. Chez Panisse delays reopening indefinitely

Alice Waters, right, stands in front of Chez Panisse on Jan. 6, the day of the restaurant's first breakfast takeout service. Photo: Doug Ng
Alice Waters, right, stands in front of Chez Panisse during a pandemic-era breakfast takeout service. Credit: Doug Ng

Does Alice Waters know something the rest of us don’t? The iconic Berkeley restaurant had announced an October reopening back in June, during those halcyon post-vaxx days. But as the delta variant prompted an increase in cases this fall, the restaurant reversed course and postponed a reopening until 2022. At the time, some commentators suggested that the restaurant was being too cautious. But as case rates spike again as I type this, the restaurant’s decision seems downright precognizant.

8. One year in, Oakland’s Horn Barbecue is an undeniable success

The line for newly opened Horn Barbecue can stretch down for blocks. Photo: Joanna Della Penna
The line for Horn Barbecue will often stretch down for blocks. Credit: Joanna Della Penna

Horn Barbecue opened in the fall of 2020, and by the next summer founder/lauded pitmaster Matt Horn was promising the East Bay three more restaurants. Reporter Paulina Barrack spoke with Horn about his intense year and about when we might expect his new burger spot, his new chicken sandwich spot and his breakfast taco trailer.

Oliveto owner Bob Klein with white truffles. Credit: Oliveto

Oliveto and Rivoli’s closures could not have been more different, both in practice and to write about. In Rivoli’s case, it was next to impossible to determine what had happened with the spot, which shuttered without notice after over 27 years of serving loyal patrons — many of whom had unused gift certificates when it closed. I know this because I still get emails from frustrated and hurt fans of the spot, wondering if it will reopen. Sadly, it will not, as a business called “Korean Superette” is opening in its former space.

Oliveto owner Bob Klein, by comparison, was a beyond-open book about his decision to close down, and fans of the 35-year-old Oakland institution had ample warning and a sense of closure. Both restaurants were East Bay fixtures that spoke to a certain, comfortable era and a similar clientele. One will be remembered fondly, the other — I fear — with a tinge of disappointment over how things ended.

6. June’s Pizza was an Oakland success story, until the health department shut it down

June’s Pizza owner Craig Murli, photographed September 2, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos Credit: courtesy of Qiana Moore

June’s was an East Bay cult favorite in an area already packed with excellent pizza spots. Craig Murli opened his restaurant just days before the Bay Area was shut down by the pandemic (March 12, 2020, if you can believe it) and did business at a brisk clip from a shipping container at O2 Artisans Aggregate, handing off thin-crust slices and pies made with locally sourced flour and a rotating list of toppings. Its closure was less of a surprise when Murli told reporter Flora Tsapovsky that the operation was unpermitted. I suspect we’ll see him with a new restaurant (this time, with the proper paperwork) in 2022.

5. Michelin’s 2021 guide to California honors 20 East Bay restaurants as exceptional, affordable spots

Gulf shrimp with vermicelli, a modern twist on a Vietnamese dish at Top Hatters Kitchen in San Leandro.
Gulf shrimp with vermicelli from Top Hatters, a San Leandro restaurant with Michelin recognition. Credit: Benjamin Seto

Michelin, the French guidebook company that also sells tires (I will never tire of writing that) has been called out for years regarding what many see as arbitrary accolades and omissions on its lists. The 2021 guide to California did not escape such critiques…and yet, it’s still nice to see beloved local spots like Taqueria El Paisa@.com, New Dumpling and Spinning Bones get some love (and, presumably, increased patronage). 

4. These are the East Bay restaurants that closed in July and These are the East Bay restaurants that opened in June

Berkeley’s Plearn Thai closed for good in July 2021. Credit: Plearn Thai Credit: Amir Aziz

The openings and closings reports longtime Nosh contributor Joanna Della Penna writes are the most reliably popular features we do. The reasons aren’t rocket science: Joanna is a tireless sleuth when it comes to places that might go dark or turn on the lights, and she writes about each restaurant with expertise and wit. It makes what might be a rote monthly list into a delight to read. I’m not exactly sure why July’s was her most popular closings column and why June had her most read openings, but this year that was how the cookie crumbled. When I am just trying to think of somewhere to eat, I look at Joanna’s work first.

3. Puerto Rican restaurant La Perla may not reopen because of building code issues

Jose Ortiz, co-owner of La Perla, inside the restaurant's new location at 3409 Fruitvale Avenue. Photo: Ricky Rodas
Jose Ortiz, co-owner of La Perla, inside the restaurant’s new location at 3409 Fruitvale Ave. Credit: Ricky Rodas

The Oaklandside’s Immigrant Small Business reporter, Ricky Rodas, had been following La Perla’s journey for months. The restaurant from Jose “Cheo” Ortiz is one of the region’s only Puerto Rican restaurants, and its plan to move to a more expansive space gained national attention. It was Rodas who learned that the restaurant’s opening was jeopardized at the last minute by a confounding and confusing  $14,000 issue around the space’s floors, which before La Perla’s advent had operated as a Subway sandwich shop. 

2. This Oakland bakery regularly sells out of pastries within minutes

Green House Bakery founder Rachel Caygill. Credit: Karina Otrokhova

Miranda Jetter’s report on Green House Bakery is, on its face, a nice story about a bakery pop-up operation. But look a little closer and you’ll notice something unusual: founder Rachel Caygill has (for now) decided against opening in a permanent location, unlike so many pandemic-era hustles. Instead, she says, her small business will remain small. The piece is a good reminder that there is more than one route to success.

1. This couple loves Berkeley Bowl so much, they took their engagement photos there

Joey Chiang and Melody Yu say they spent much of their courtship at Berkeley Bowl, so involving it in their engagement photos seemed like a natural choice. Credit: Anna T. Nguyen

I was worried that reporter Alix Wall would return with a saccharine tale of Instagrammable love when she reached out to Joey Chiang and Melody Yu, the couple who took over Berkeley Bowl West for an engagement photo session. My concerns were a waste, though, as Alix captured Chiang and Wu’s crackling banter in a way few could. Sure, the photos are delightful and charming and I have no complaints. But Alix got Yu to razz Chiang about his knife obsession, and really illustrated why Berkeley Bowl was the perfect setting for this couple’s courtship and beyond.