After a year and a half of mostly empty campuses, this month’s return to physical school and college for so many young people is giving the region a much-needed boost — of energy, hope, and, of course, business, as those kids are hungry. 

COVID-19 uncertainty or no, an end-of-summer crop of fresh and reopened restaurants hopes to capture that market, joining an already impressive number of East Bay openings aimed at a variety of diner budgets. Despite the looming delta variant, this month’s list is long. 

Whether fast-casual or beautifully upscale, we wish all the following restaurants tremendous luck. After all, this August marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Chez Panisse — around here, you don’t get any more auspicious than that.

As always, please send any tips to


Belmo Cafe’s tarts, croissants and sizable Madeleines have already gathered a loyal following. Credit: Eve Batey

BELMO CAFE University Avenue commuters and locals have a lovely new stop for fresh coffee and pastries. Belmo Cafe is named for Algerian-born owners Bel Mokeddes and Mo Boughris, lifelong friends and business partners who together make their French and Algerian pastries and desserts in house. Try the croissants, napoleons, or zlabia, a traditional North African pastry soaked in syrup, at this charming cafe with a handful of outdoor tables. Belmo Cafe, 1160 University Ave. (between San Pablo Avenue and Curtis Street), Berkeley 

BLAZE PIZZA This expanding pizza chain with Pasadena roots gives Cal students a new option for quick, personalized pizzas. Pies are made to order via a mini production line of high-end toppings, followed by a speedy bake. (This might sound familiar to fans of Seattle-based MOD Pizza, of which Blaze is a competitor, though Blaze offers freshly-made dough.) Choose also from salads, garlic breads and other fast, snacky fare. Berkeley’s location marks the chain’s third in the Bay Area. Blaze Pizza, 2400 Bancroft Way (at Dana Street), Berkeley

FLAVIA OSTERIA Fast-casual Italian spot Flavia has closed up its Oxford Street shop and moved across North Berkeley to join the Epicurious Garden, taking over the former Soop stall. The sleek new kiosk offers personalized pizzas, pasta and sauces available to go. Flavia, 1511 Shattuck Ave. (inside the Epicurious Garden), Berkeley

HOUSE OF CURRIES Shout-out to House of Curries, opened earlier this summer inside the former Moxy space in South Berkeley. Expect plenty of vegetarian specialties, as well as a range of meat and seafood curries, kormas and other Indian and Pakistani dishes. (We also appreciate the easy parking lot.) House of Curries has a second location on Solano Avenue in Albany; the Elmwood location is now closed. House of Curries, 3136 Sacramento St. (at 66th Street), Berkeley

LULU BERKELEY This hotly-anticipated Berkeley restaurant had a lulu of a grand opening this past weekend — which, given that it was previously predicted to open as late as October, makes it already sort of a unicorn. The lovely little restaurant in the former Nest of Comforts space (and before that, Sanctuary Bistro) is the first brick-and-mortar for notable pop-up chef Mona Leena Michael, aka The Mana’eesh Lady, and features her flavorful, Palestinian-inspired California plates for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch for now. (Check out the beautiful mezze board). Lulu Berkeley, 1019 Camelia St. (at 10th Street), Berkeley 

PASSIONE EMPORIO DOWNTOWN Downtown Berkeley’s spacious “town square” Italian cafe Passione Emporio (formerly Passione Caffe) has reopened as of this month, and is back to serving pizza, pasta, panini, Italian coffee drinks and gelato after a year’s dormancy. During the worst of 2020, Passione’s owner Fabrizio Cercatore closed up shop downtown and cultivated, with the help of his sister Eleonora, a West Berkeley counter to serve that neighborhood, with to-go Italian dishes, dried pasta and pantry goods. Passione Emporio Fifth Street remains open, but it’s also good to have La Squadra Cercatore back on Shattuck Square again. Passione Emporio Downtown, 91 Shattuck Sq. (at Addison Street) Berkeley 

TI-BEAR “Tea”-bear is a new boba and milk-tea shop on Shattuck Avenue that is as cute as its name. Look for the bright yellow trim. Ti-bear, 1938 Shattuck Ave. (between Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way), Berkeley


Aman’s roti comfort dish, which is house-made roti with mixed vegetables and tofu. Credit: Aman Cafe

AMAN CAFE Malaysian roti canai — layered, pastry-like flatbread topped with sweet or savory flavors for breakfast, lunch or dinner — is the specialty at this new restaurant from chef Tiyo Shibabaw and her team at Teni East Kitchen. Expect mostly vegetarian and vegan toppings with flavors that range from southeast Asian to Ethiopian, chef Shibabaw’s native country. Aman Cafe, 4021 Broadway (near 40th Street), Oakland

BINNY’S There’s an old-school coolness to Binny’s, a new, Old Oakland cocktail bar and lounge, featuring classic drinks and steak on a large, square plate (among other drink-worthy bites). Look for the beckoning neon sign. Binny’s, 525 8th St. (between Clay and Washington streets), Oakland

LIMON Lucky Valdez neighborhood locals are seeing a flurry of hot new openings, including the first Oakland branch for this Peruvian standout, a favorite in San Francisco since 2002. Dishes to try on chef Martin Castillo’s menu include the ceviche, empanadas, seafood plates, lomo saltado and rotisserie chicken, with maybe a fresh cocktail or two. (Limon also has a very popular location in Walnut Creek, open since 2017.) Limon, 2450 Valdez St. (at 26th Street), Oakland

THE SAINT SANDWICH SHOP Loaded sandwiches on Acme breads, weekly specials, fresh Oreo-banana cream pie, pickles, side salads, enthusiastic reviews — Nosh kinda wishes she was there right now. The Saint Sandwich Shop, 3016 Macarthur Blvd. (between Maple and Laurel avenues), Oakland

TANNERY ON TELEGRAPH Napa’s Tannery Bend Beerworks has a vibrant, welcoming new Oakland bar and outdoor patio on Telegraph, where customers can sample the group’s notable brews such as the Yajome IPA (with hints of mango) or Coombs Belgian-style saison. A menu of generous bar snacks includes sandwiches, salads and cheese plates. Tannery on Telegraph, 6369 Telegraph Ave. (at Alcatraz Avenue), Oakland

TIMELESS COFFEE Stylish Timeless Coffee is expanding, and has launched a modern, spacious new location in Uptown, joining the group’s other popular cafes on Piedmont Avenue and in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood. Expect upscale, plant-based cakes and other baked goods, and coffee drinks, including the group’s new canned iced coffee to go. Timeless Coffee, 1700 Webster St. (at 17th Street), Oakland

TRIBUNE Even in the Time of Many Pivots, this upscale dining room has seen more than its fair share, and many of them before 2020. It opened as Tribune Tavern in 2013, and abruptly closed in 2017 (tainted with scandal), then triumphantly reopened in 2019, and then was brutally shuttered again mid pandemic — but now this large dining room and bar at the base of Oakland’s Tribune Tower has brazenly reopened for real. Its operating partners are Darrin Ballon, who runs front of house, and executive chef Omri Aflalo, both fine dining vets who met on staff at San Francisco’s Restaurant Gary Danko. Designer Jon de la Cruz is responsible for the room’s handsome, airy new look that maximizes its spaciousness, and is streamlined with soft, subdued French and mid century modern details. New American brasserie fare will come from the kitchen, including a much talked about burger. This is a big-deal opening reminiscent of San Francisco greats, but with a very Oakland vibe, and we’re excited. Tribune, 401 13th St. (at Franklin Street), Oakland


Assemble Restaurant’s clam and mussels dish. Credit: Assemble/Instagram

ASSEMBLE MARKETPLACE Richmond locals: Assemble! This new restaurant, bar, market and event space operates out of a beautiful corner of the industrial Craneway Pavilion property and comprises an almost confusing number of attractions: a cafe; the Riveter Bar (the Rosie the Riveter historic center is nearby); an airy restaurant with a rotating seasonal menu; an actual market. Operating in close concert, Tommy’s BBQ Company (see below) is located just outside the Marketplace, near the waterfront, and Rocky Island Oyster Co. is coming soon. Don’t worry — once there, it all makes delicious sense. Also: Views, and plenty of parking. Assemble Marketplace, 1414 Harbour Way S., Richmond 

CAFE MEI Look to Eve Batey’s summary of the East Bay’s freshest openings to learn more about this notable breakfast sandwich spot in Fremont, where, Batey explains, proprietary recipes are actually those of Mei er Mei, a Taiwanese chain with a cult-like following. Cafe Mei, 43761 Boscell Rd. #5125 (in the Pacific Commons Shopping Center), Fremont 

CAFE RACK Formerly one of the most respected billiards halls in the Bay Area, The Broken Rack broke many hearts when it closed up shop last September, taking with it the pre-pandemic promise of upbeat tournament nights and relaxing, weekend pool hall afternoons. As of this month, Cafe Rack will bring half of that back. New owners Ohana cannabis remodeled and moved their dispensary into half the old Broken Rack space, but kept the other half intact, including the bar, around 10 pool tables and menu of American food. (And one assumes the adjacent dispensary will be an added draw for some customers.) Cafe Rack, 5768 Peladeau St. (between Stanford Avenue and Haruff Street), Emeryville    

DA BOCCERY We love the name of this new family-friendly Livermore hangout that has taken over the former Campo di Bocce property, featuring an impressive range of games (cornhole, ax throwing, and yes, bocce ball) to go with its fun American menu of eats and drinks. Da Boccery, 175 E. Vineyard Ave. (near Isabel Avenue), Livermore

DUMPLING HOURS This sweet, speedy and already busy dumpling shop in Walnut Creek can credit its immediate popularity to sister restaurant Dumpling Home in San Francisco, and to its fresh dumplings made in house. Dumpling Hours, 1389 B North Main St. (inside the Phillips Building), Walnut Creek

EIGHTY PERCENT ALAMEDA This new health-focused restaurant features a menu of light bites — the business name alludes to smaller portion sizes, promising fewer calories for those seeking that type of dining experience. Expect salads, yes, but also small sandwiches, and reasonable prices to match. Eighty Percent Alameda, 1118 Lincoln Ave. (near Bay Street), Alameda 

LA TIA TEQUILA The old Stan’s restaurant space in San Leandro has been reanimated by a family-style Mexican restaurant called La Tia Tequila. La Tia Tequila, 2075 Doolittle Dr., San Leandro

NICK THE GREEK The Nick The Greek chain has reached Livermore, with gyros and pitas, Greek-style soups, salads and sides. Fun fact: The South Bay-based chain, currently expanding across California, was founded by not just one but three Greek cousins named Nick. Nick The Greek, 2190 First St. (near S. Livermore Avenue), Livermore 

RAMEN HIROSHI ALAMEDA This highly praised little East Bay ramen chain, with shops in San Ramon and Walnut Creek, has opened a location in Alameda. Ramen Hiroshi Alameda, 1241 Park St. (between San Antonio and Encinal avenues), Alameda.

TOMMY’S BBQ COMPANY Situated just outside Richmond’s new Assemble Marketplace (see above), Tommy’s BBQ Company features the Texas-style barbecue of local pitmaster Tommy Ryan, including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages and chicken, and all the right homemade sides. (As one new young fan put it, “every bite is the best bite.”) Enjoy roomy outdoor seating on the waterfront, or get yours to go. Tommy’s BBQ Company, 1414 Harbour Way S, Richmond

UTZUTZU Not a new opening but a notable resurfacing — sushi great Utzutzu in Alameda is back. (Not to sound greedy, but fans of chef Chikara Ono’s properties hope this means Masabaga may be next.) Utzutzu, 1428 B. Park St., Alameda 

ZACHARY’S CHICAGO PIZZA PLEASANTON As promised, the newest location for the beloved, local, employee-owned pizza company opened this month. We’ll say it again: San Ramon’s loss is Pleasanton’s deep-dish gain. Zachary’s Chicago Pizza Pleasanton, 337 Main St. (between Angela Street and Old Bernal Avenue), Pleasanton

Freelancer Joanna Della Penna has written about food, people and the arts in the Bay Area since moving here from the East Coast in 2001, and was Gayot's Northern California regional restaurant editor for...