Iyasare was named as one of the region's Top 100 restaurants by the San Francisco Chronicle Photo: Kate Williams
Berkeley’s recently opened Iyasare was named as one of the region’s Top 100 restaurants by the San Francisco Chronicle. Photo: Kate Williams

The phone at Iyasare Restaurant on Fourth Street in Berkeley started to ring a bit more urgently on Friday. Word had leaked out that the Japanese restaurant had been named to the San Francisco Chronicle’s list of top 100 restaurants – one of 20 new places on the list.

It’s already hard to get Friday or Saturday night reservations at Iyasare, a 50-seat restaurant opened by chef Shotaro Kamio and general manager Niall Cantwell just five months ago. When the Top 100 list is published on Sunday (an online version is available now for subscribers) the demand may be even stronger.

Michael Bauer, the Chronicle’s restaurant critic, gave Iyasare three stars for its food when he reviewed the eatery in February, pointing out that Kamio cooked well when he was chef at Ozumo and then Yoshi’s in San Francisco, but had risen to new heights at Iyasare. “In his own kitchen he soars even higher, creating dishes that are refined and elegant,” wrote Bauer.

“We are very excited to be in the top 100,” Cantwell said on Friday. “People keep the magazine all year round on their coffee table and they make their way through the list one by one. We are happy to be part of that.”

The three other Berkeley restaurants on the list are Ippuku, Comal and Chez Panisse.

For years, Rivoli and O Chamé regularly made the list. O Chamé closed in 2013, to be replaced by Iyasare, and Rivoli dropped off last year.

Nido, a small Mexican restaurant on Oak St. right near Interstate 880, was another new restaurant put on the list.

A selection of dishes at Nido, which has been open less than a year, but made it on the Chronicle’s Top 100 list. Photo: Nido

“This tiny Mexican restaurant, fenced in by Interstate 880, a gasoline station and semi-industrial buildings, doesn’t seem like a likely place for farm-to-table cooking, but Silvia McCollow and her husband, Cory, have made it a worthy destination,” wrote Bauer. “The interior makes the most of its working-class setting, with scarred concrete and plaster walls, rippled metal doors from industrial storage containers and benches that look like they’re made from scrap lumber.”

In the East Bay, Bauer also named Boot & Shoe Service and Pizzaiolo, both owned by Charlie Hallowell, Camino, A16 Rockridge and The Ramen Shop.

Bauer is the most powerful restaurant critic in the Bay Area and a nod from him is almost a guarantee of success. He dines out every night – sometimes hitting more than one spot. While he tried to dine anonymously, many chefs know his tell-tale blond hair and make sure to send him their best efforts. Bauer usually eats at a restaurant two or three times before he judges its foo, service and noise level.

Bauer has produced the Top 100 guide for 19 years and says it gets harder each year since there are so many good places to eat. Of the 20 new restaurants added this year, three were Japanese, one was Chinese, and one was Mexican.

“This year’s list also demonstrates that the Bay Area restaurant landscape has truly diversified from what it was even just a few years ago, in which a majority of the top spots were rooted in California-Italian fare,” Bauer said in a press release. “The nine restaurants on the list that opened this past year are a perfect example of this as they are influenced by British, Spanish, Japanese, French, Mexican and other cuisines.”

5 Berkeley restaurants make it into Chronicle’s Top 100 (04.02.12)
Ippuku in Top 100, 5 restaurants make the list (04.04.11)
5 Berkeley restaurants make Top 100 (04.04.10)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...