1. Los Cilantros
Dilsa Lugo opened Los Cilantros at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley in May after running her own catering business under the same name for several years, cooking for high-profile clients such as Isabel Allende along the way. Lugo, who arrived in the Bay Area in 2003 speaking no English, was helped by La Cocina, the nonprofit food business incubator in San Francisco’s Mission district that works with low-income female food entrepreneurs. Now the talented cook is serving up huevos divorciados, torta para desayuno and churros for the breakfast crowd, and carnitas, albondigas and tacos at lunchtime in La Peña’s café space. There’s also a weekend brunch. (See the full Los Cilantros menu.) The Chronicle called Los Cilantros’ slow-cooked barbacoa, which comes with a smoky almond salsa, “absurdly good.” Los Cilantros is at 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. [Read about Lugo’s path to opening her own restaurant.]
2. Perdition Smokehouse
New BBQ and craft beer spot Perdition Smokehouse opened on University Avenue in downtown Berkeley in June, and its beer garden out back, complete with dart boards, has already become a destination spot on warm days. Owners are Mike O’Brien and Chuck Stilphen (The Trappist, Trappist Provisions and Mikkeller Bar SF). On the menu right now: smoked meats served and charged by the pound: Black Angus Brisket, Duroc Pork Shoulder, St. Louis Pork Ribs, Mary’s Chicken and Roasted Serrano Pepper Hot Links — all come with Acme bread and pickles — as well as sandwiches, sides and desserts. (See the full Perdition Smokehouse menu.) Perdition Smokehouse is open every day dinner and also for lunch on the weekend, except Monday, at 2050 University Ave. (between Milvia and Shattuck).
Jen Biesty and Tim Nugent, two former Top Chef contestants, opened Shakewell last month in Oakland’s Lakeshore neighborhood. The cooking is Spanish-Mediterranean with dishes like bacalao croquettes and grilled calamari. The “bomba” section of the menu offers four types of the iconic Spanish rice dish, all baked in a wood-burning oven. Tapas choices might include fried stuffed olives, fried sausage sage leaves with ginger aioli, and falafel with gypsy pepper and dried chorizo. The greens section includes four salads; the little fish section has selections like sardines on toast with avocado, radish, arugula and chili oil and albacore with smoky eggplant, sugar snap peas and ginger; and the meat section may have chicken albondigas, chili-chocolate braised short ribs or a grilled lamb kevta. (See the full Shakewell menu.) Shakewell is at 3407 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland. [Read Berkeleyside Nosh’s interview with Biesty and Nugent.]
Townie is the brand new spot that has opened in the hallowed Caffe Venezia space on University Avenue in Berkeley. It is owned by Nima Shokat, who managed Missouri Lounge in West Berkeley in recent years. Heading up the kitchen is chef Dana Ryan, who formerly worked at Gather, State Bird Provisions and RN74. Both the food and drinks menus are intentionally small. Bay Area Bites tried the Marin Atlantic oysters with roasted corn and bay leaf, the potato croquettes with Manchego cheese and Serrano ham and chicharrones, the mussels with Spanish chorizo, and the seared hanger steak with potato purée, summer squash and arugula. Shokat told Berkeleyside he hoped Townie would become a neighborhood place “where people can just come by for a drink and hang out, but also get some exciting food.” Townie is at 1799 University Ave. in Berkeley.
5. The Cook and Her Farmer
The Cook and Her Farmer opened in May in Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland. Its owners are cookbook author Romney Nani Steele, whose family founded the popular Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, and Stephen Day, a former teacher and oyster fisherman. The menu at the bustling, casual spot may include sandwiches, including oyster Po Boys, salads, large bowls of mussels, Argentinian chimi churi flat iron steak, and platters of oysters and clams. The grilled cheese sandwich is described by the restaurant as “the best ever” and, in its review, the East Bay Express said it couldn’t disagree. The Cook and Her Farmer is at 907 Washington St. in Oakland (closed Sunday and Monday).
6. Sanctuary Bistro
The newly opened Sanctuary Bistro is clearly onto something — over 1,400 Berkeleyside readers “liked” our story on Facebook when we wrote about the vegan, gluten-free restaurant a couple weeks ago. The West Berkeley spot took over the space that held Sushi Banzai for over 20 years. Husband and wife Barry Horton and Jennifer Jones Horton, who have run Local Love Vegan Catering for the past five years, are the chef-owners. On the menu for brunch: tofu waffles, almond pancakes or harvest salad; for lunch: crab-less cakes, roasted beet salad or seasonal savory soufflé; and for dinner: cajun black beans and rice, ravioli or classic raw lasagna. Sanctuary Bistro is at 1019 Camelia St. in Berkeley. [Read more about Sanctuary Bistro in our feature article, published last month.]
If you’ve tried any or all of the restaurants above, let us know what you thought by leaving your comment below. If there’s another “must try” spot on your list, please share that as well.