I’m really lucky to live in a place with so many different kinds of cuisine and fabulous places to eat, almost too many to keep track of at times! Sometimes it can be really easy to miss out on some truly great places right under my nose, so I asked my friends – my eating-partners-in-crime – to share with me all their favorite hidden gem restaurants and places to eat in our close-knit neighborhood of Berkeley and Albany, California. The result? Over 50 recommendations of their favorite food joints in the area that they considered hidden gems. Now, I’m not talking about the Chez Panisse’s, Cheeseboard’s or Zachary’s of Berkeley and Albany that everyone in the Bay Area knows about. I’m talking about the smaller restaurants, the take-out places and shacks that are unassuming and don’t require a dress code. The ones that people might pass every day without really noticing and never knowing how truly amazing they are unless someone told them about it (like me – that’s what I’m here for, right?) Right. So let me share with you some of the favorites from our list of hidden gems. Some being favorites of many of my friends whom I trust their judgment in good food – and some being my personal favorites that my friends also happen to love as well.
The clear winner of recommendations for hidden gems was Sam’s Log Cabin. I’ve passed this place a million times and honestly don’t know why I haven’t been here – yet. First, the exterior looks exactly as the name indicates – a log cabin, how fun! Second, they offer mouthwatering breakfast and lunch menu items like Cinnamon Current French Toast, which also comes in sandwich form stuffed with house made jam and Farmer’s cheese or banana, raisin and walnut – yum! They also offer the likes of corned beef hash, corn cakes, vegan hash, fried chicken sandwiches and these house-made scones that everyone seems to be raving about (blueberry lemon anyone?) Must try. Third, they have a kid and dog-friendly backyard patio and open space – which they are currently updgrading to a cement patio – to be completed within the next few months. And when I say kid-friendly backyard, I mean there is literally a grassy area where the kids can go play and get their wiggles out while you wait for your food. It’s what every kid and parent of young kids dreams of, right? Brilliant! Can’t wait to enjoy breakfast on the new patio!
Another big contender is this place. I’ve been to many other Thai places in the area, but ‘Da Nang’ is Da Bomb and our very favorite go-to place for Thai take-out. Whenever I suggest we do take-out for dinner, my husband always insist we get Thai food from Da Nang Krungthep so he can get his very favorite meal of all time – the Gang Dang (red curry pork). And boy, can they make your order spicy if you request it! I love the Thai Pumpkin Curry ($8.95), Pad Thai ($7.95) and Pra Ram ($8.95), which is vegetables and meat (chicken is always my choice meat) in a delicious peanut sauce. And of course, the Fried Banana with Coconut Ice cream is to die for! And their portions are huge! We’ve only ever ordered our food to go, but the amount of food we get for the price we pay is a steal – I always have enough food for at least 2 – 3 meals. This place is amazing – they are always so fast in preparing my food, it’s always fresh, hot and consistently delicious every single time. Everyone I’ve ever referred to this place loves it.
905 San Pablo Ave., Albany, CA | 510-524-6837 | Menu
Housed inside this little fun and brightly colored shack blaring Brazilian music – and yes, it’s literally a shack – are some of the Bay Area’s best tri-tip sandwiches – and apparently the world’s friendliest restaurant owner, Pedro. The top two favorite Tri Tip sandwiches are the standard tri tip sandwich and the award winning Pedro’s Favorite Tri Tip Sandwich with the works, which includes cheese, olives, pineapple and jalapenos. Yelper, Caroline H. confesses “A friend recommended this place to me by saying ‘I broke my vegetarianism for the tri-tip sandwich.” Berkeley vegetarians take their oath to abstain from animal products pretty seriously, so that must be a dang good sandwich to break such an oath for. Other items on the menu include rice bowls, pulled pork carnitas with “the works”, cold sandwiches, hearty salads and their signature mango smoothie – which is free when you check-in on Yelp.
2161 University Ave., Berkeley, CA | 510-845-8011 | Menu
It’s a favorite amongst students, but often unbeknownst to others. At Top Dog, you don’t get those same sub-standard beef hot dogs that you grew up on when you went camping. Instead, they offer a variety of high quality grilled sausages like Garlic Frankfurter, Lemon Chicken, Smoked Chicken Apple, Calabrese, Spicy Chicken Mango, Kielbasa and more on a fresh French roll. And, you can add chili to your dog. Drooling yet? Thought so.
Berkeley, CA: 2534 Durant Ave. and 2160 Center St. | Website
This place is amazing and I’ll let you in on a little secret – I’ve eaten at one of the top rated, upscale Indian restaurants in the Bay Area before, and I must admit, Hamro Aangan sure gives the other place a run for their money – and at almost half the price. It’s pretty impressive. I love their Chicken Tandoori Sandwich, Chicken Jalfrezi, Paneer Tikka Masala and Chicken Shahi Korma. However, my true love and go-to order is now their Chicken Tikka Masala – which is the best I’ve ever had – and onion naan with their amazing basmati rice. When I say amazing basmati rice, I mean this place seriously has the best rice I’ve ever had. The spices they use in the rice are so fragrant and flavorful I can’t possibly fathom replicating it myself, which is why it is the only take-out place I consistently order rice from as opposed to usually making my own rice at home.
856 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA | (510) 524-2220 | Website & Menu
Home to one of the Top 10 Burritos in America, is this small Mexican restaurant that you just might miss if you’re walking by too quickly. The most popular menu items by far at Gordo Taqueria are their carnitas burritos and the chicken burritos. Also largely popular are their quesadillas, tacos or the Gordo Plate – which is essentially a plate with rice, beans, meat, salsa, and tortillas so you can assemble your own tacos yourself. And with the most expensive menu item being $6.25 – and most items averaging between $4 – $5, you really get the best bang for your buck at Gordo’s.
Albany, CA: 1423 Solono Ave | Berkeley, CA: 2989 College Ave and 2404 Telegraph Ave | San Francisco, CA: 2252 Clement St; 6460 Geary Blvd; and 1239 9th Ave. | Menu
Well, these are some of our favorite hidden gems. There are so many wonderful hidden gems in our area, I wish I had time to write about all of them! Who knows? Maybe there will be a Hidden Gems: Part 2!
What are your favorite hidden gems in your area? I’d love to hear about them!