We all have our standby restaurants, the old faithfuls we visit any time we want a comforting, reliable meal. But what about the days we want the thrill of the new? Those days, choosing a restaurant becomes harder, as the fear of the unknown can overwhelm all but the most adventurous diner. After all, when you’re hungry, no one wants to take a chance and end up disappointed.
That’s where this guide comes in. Every spot on this list (which we update on the regular) has either opened in recent months, reopened after a lengthy closure or has recently presented a pressing reason to visit when you can. Every spot on this list also is a place that we’re really excited about — and we think you will be, too.
As always, we’re eager to hear your own new dining finds. Drop us a line with your picks for fresh spots to check out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1160 University Ave. (between San Pablo Avenue and Curtis Street), Berkeley
7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Belmo Cafe opened on University as fall began, and immediately made a splash with its French and Algerian pastries, sweet desserts and solid coffee program. Owners Bel Mokeddes and Mo Boughris are lifelong friends whose banter makes an immediate impression when you come in the door — both seem to know the names of every regular patron who passes by.
Both tell Nosh that they’ve been bowled over by the support they’ve gotten during their early days in business, but they shouldn’t be surprised.
The baked goods, all made in-house, set Belmo apart from the standard coffee shop crowd; and its beverage side is far superior to most bakeries’. Put together, and they’ve got a combination that’s hard to beat.
If you’re looking for recommendations, you can’t go wrong with their massive Madelines, their not-too-sweet citrus tarts and their terrific zlabia. But it’s all good, you’ll see.
1019 Camelia St. (at 10th Street), Berkeley
7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Lulu, the maiden brick-and-mortar outing from The Mana’eesh Lady pop-up star Mona Leena Michael, is blessed with an airy patio space in addition to its compact dining room, setting it up for COVID-era success. Its concise breakfast and lunch menus mean you’ll get to those seats fast, as it leaves little room for indecision and its most popular items tend to sell out quickly. In three visits, I never managed to arrive early enough to score its buzzy simsim breakfast sando.
During the week, standouts include a garlic-heavy kale thoom caesar, a dish that made me wish all salads had Michael-style roasted asparagus. But the item I keep thinking about is the halloumi and preserves sandwich, which is grilled cheese for grownups who want more than squishy string between their buns. The semi-hard cheese with Michael’s seasonal preserves is a stroke of sweet and salty genius.
While walk-in service to eat in or carry out is the norm on weekdays, Lulu’s weekend brunch is a trickier affair: It’s reservation only, with no takeout service, and tables fill quickly. But if you can get a seat, the $25 per person brunch board is a pretty special treat, with generous servings of Cal-Palestinian items like labneh whipped deviled eggs and a bread and veggie spread that will fill you up far faster than expected.
States Coffee X Bread
2101 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley
8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily (bread Wednesday-Sunday only)
Few restaurant openings have generated as many excited emails to Nosh as the opening of States Coffee X Bread inside the former Country Cheese Co. building. The coffee shop, which serves pastries, a selection of sweet and savory toasts and freshly baked, wild-fermented bread, was a long time coming: two years ago, Brett Benzer and Keith Gehrke first told Nosh that their company, Martinez-based Farm & Flour, would open a States location with house-roasted beans and baked goods prepared on site.
As with nearly everything else in life, the pandemic slowed that plan down (and prompted the company to temporarily close one of its Oakland locations, though its compact shop at 419 40th Street remains open), but the remodeled Berkeley shop opened for business in October with friendly takeout service and outdoor seating.
Its lovely dining area inside is still closed for now, though a State’s staffer says they hope to open it “within weeks, when we are fully staffed up.” It’s an eye-catching location with a flagship feel, and you can already imagine the place’s sleek black/white/wood tables packed with laptop users and coffee klatches.
Until then, grab a country loaf or a sesame whole wheat to take home (on Thursdays and Saturdays there are also rye options of my Reuben dreams), and a coffee-infused snickerdoodle cookie and/or a slice of apple coffee cake for an al fresco snack.
532 8th St. (near Clay Street), Oakland
4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Binny’s has more to offer than its decor, of course. But I must admit that the dim, clubby decor of the Old Oakland bar — which quietly opened in September, and has been humming along ever since — offers a welcome change from the “Miami Vice” mirror/fern/pastel look that’s dominating Oakland’s restaurant and bar scene. Trade Crockett and Tubbs for Danny Ocean and his 10-12 pals, and you’ve got it.
Danny probably wouldn’t be as into Binny’s artichoke crab dip as I am, but Oliver Putnam, the dipavore star of “Only Murders in the Building,” surely would. (Come to think of it, Putnam’s apartment in the titular “Building” also reflects Binny’s wallpaper and upholstery vibe.) The dip is a cheesy and ‘chokey treat that doesn’t skimp on the lump crab, a solid pair with a selection from Binny’s classic cocktail menu (all offered at just $11, a veritable East Bay steal).
But just because I naturally gravitate to bar food doesn’t mean that you must. Binny’s has an Ocean-appropriate Nieman NY steak frites that’s generous enough to split, and its root hash is more that home fries, with crunchy macadamias and well-seasoned Brussels sprouts. All substantial enough to soak up the mezcal in their “bi-coastal” cocktail (reposado, shiso, pear and a little lemongrass) or the “she’s so fine,” a negroni-like mix of gin, vermouth, orange bitters and rosemary.
4316 Telegraph Ave. (between 43rd and 44th Streets), Oakland 4-9 p.m. Thursday and Sunday
4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Daytrip, which opened in October to wild buzz and descriptives like “soft disco drunken dinner party” that made me wonder if I was too old or uncool to take a seat in one of its cozy booths. I shouldn’t have worried, though — the service is friendly and approachable, and the food is dynamite.
The flavors at Daytrip are so intense and unusual that for your first visit you’ll be best served by dining family style, if you can. That means going with a chill couple of people who are down to share several dishes, with each of you getting a decent portion of each item without having to fully commit to any one plate.
The cacio e pepe arancini is three decadent deep-fried and cheesy rice balls that explode at first cut. One ball, or even half, is plenty. The same with their new potato pavé, a smoky and thin-cut square of tuber topped with nicely acidic chanterelles. You want to eat the whole thing yourself, but do you need to? No, you do not. Other stars worth sharing are the miso pasta (which has enough chili heat and kick to keep it from getting bogged down) and the chamomile trifle, a floral dessert that is billed as “for two” but could satisfy three just fine.
5655 College Ave. (in the Market Hall building), Oakland Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Dinner: 5:30-8:30 p.m. daily
You’ve been to Oliveto’s cafe and fine dining restaurant a zillion times in its 35 years, but with a closure planned for New Year’s Eve, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t make it over one last time.
Its comfortable and familiar menus are relatively unchanged for its final weeks in business, as Wednesday – Saturday nights Oliveto will serve the upstairs restaurant kitchen menu in its dining room, and Sunday through Tuesday dinners will be from the downstairs cafe menu.
So, essentially, you can adjust the level of fanciness you want based on the day you come to dine. Grab a heritage grain-based pizza early in the week (my pick: the roasted mushroom, with béchamel sauce and pickled onions to cut through the fat), and come back for that Liberty duck breast or that quail ragù linguine on the weekend, perhaps.
Owner Bob Klein says there are also some special dinners in the works, including the restaurant’s notable seafood feast and celebration of truffles, so you might want to join Oliveto’s mailing list for its last hurrahs. Reservations for dinner are available via OpenTable or by calling 510-547-5356 after 4 p.m.
Uptown got a cool twofer this November when radler specialists Two Pitchers opened a taproom inside a former auto body shop that’s been turned into a sprawling indoor/outdoor space. That’s because Lovely’s, chef Mikey Yoon’s longtime smashburger pop-up, also calls the spot home by way of a sleekly-designed shipping container out back. It’s a match made in heaven, like Brad and Angelina but with a (one hopes) happier ending.
In this metaphor, Brad is Lovely’s, with their all-American Stemple Creek Ranch beef, Monterey Fish Market fish sandwiches and an admirable hot dog (also beef, from Shwartz). Angie is Two Pitchers, bringing sweet-and-sour, vaguely Euro flair with fruit-and-beer blends like lager and grapefruit or wheat ale and pomegranate lemonade. (You’re allowed to be skeptical about these drinks, I get it! I was once like you, but then I married a German — a country where radlers are ubiquitous — and gave the concoction a shot. Like Angie, as she got off that fateful flight, I’ve never looked back.)
Yoon offers an Impossible patty for vegetarians, but that mock meat isn’t quite up to the rigors of smash-style preparation. Instead, the meatless should go for the veggie chili and cheese fries. Pescitarians might check out the mixed sea basket, which is a rotating fish, Gulf prawns and corn fritters. And for everyone else, the burgers are a can’t miss.
3016 Macarthur Blvd. (near Maple Avenue), Oakland
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
The Saint’s name isn’t inspired by religion or Leslie Charteris: the founder of this Dimond District sandwich shop is named Saint James Boney (he goes by “SJ”), so the restaurant name is an eponym. The longtime pop-up chef is well known to East Bay food insiders for Cal-Italian events at spots like Albany Taproom, and you can see those same Italian leanings in the menu at his new spot, which opened in August.
No decent city can call itself a city without a multitude of good, corner deli sandwiches. But great sandwiches aren’t as easy to find. Oftentimes, chefs throw in too many bells and whistles in an effort to “elevate” (ugh, that word) their bread-and-fixings, while others rely on a mad mass of meat to make their sandwiches stand out. The Saint doesn’t make either of those missteps: As my dining companion put it, “the flavors are unexpected, but they aren’t, like, ‘look at me I’m CRAZY’ unexpected.” That means a hot sandwich called The Dimond with pesto, tomatoes, ham, salami and mozzarella on pizza bianca; or a curry chicken sandwich with grapes and mayo on a sweet roll. There’s enough going on there to make you think, but not enough that you feel like you have to struggle to enjoy yourself.
If you’re not a meat eater and the menu scares you off, I’ve got good news: You can sub in the salami or prosciutto for Mia’s vegan version, and the fast and friendly staff is ready with suggestions if you’re looking for other plant-based suggestions. The bread, delivered daily, is from Acme; most spreads are made in-house. And the sandwiches — which range from $12-$14 — are big enough to have for lunch and dinner, so hang on to that takeout box.
401 13th St. (between Broadway and Franklin Street), Oakland
5-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Tribune occupies a vast space at the ground floor of Tribune Tower, in a space that’s suffered from turnovers and landlord disputes for years. This new restaurant might fare better, as its owner Doug Abrams, is also its landlord. It’s not Abrams in the kitchen, though, its Gary Danko vet Omri Aflalo; his operating partner, Darrin Ballon is also a former Danko staffer and runs the front of the house.
Their background shows. On a recent visit, I had some of the best restaurant service I’ve had in ages. (Before you ask, while I don’t dine out in disguise I don’t announce that I’m a food writer when I visit a spot for this list — and I always pay my own way — so I believe this is just how things are at Tribune.) When I made my reservation I requested an outdoor table, but unbeknownst to me, they hadn’t opened their outdoor dining space yet as their patio tables had yet to arrive. Despite that, Tribune staffers had set a solitary table outside for me under a glowing heat lamp, and though we were the only party on the patio, our server (who Tribune had lured away from SF fine dining institution Kokkari Estiatorio) was endlessly attentive and present.
Everything we ate was a tiny delight, from a chopped salad with an edgy roquefort to a lemony summer mushroom cavatelli pasta dish that’s inexplicably listed as a starter (it really should be a main). Tribune’s cocktail program is also a powerhouse, with the almonds in Alameda (vodka, bitters, lemon) as its most dangerously delicious option.
I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to talk you out of dinner there (I am not!) when I say that I also think it’s a perfect spot for dessert and coffee after a night out downtown. Why Tribune’s sticky toffee cake is only $11 is a mystery to me, as it feels like a much more expensive dessert with loads of butter, melty toffee sauce and a sweet scoop of ice cream. I can see myself, in more indoor-friendly times, taking a seat at the bar and splitting that cake with a friend as we unpack after an evening on the town. I can’t wait.
3301 E. 12th St. (near 33rd Avenue), Oakland
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Opening day at Wahpepah’s Kitchen was an exhilarating affair, with an All Nation drum and dance ceremony that left me worried that the food wouldn’t live up to the event. I am pleased to report, however, that pace-setting Kickapoo chef Crystal Wahpepah was ready for her moment, with a breakfast and lunch menu that felt both familiar and new.
Dishes like hominy and corn mush are well-known to folks from the inland West and Midwest, but the preparation at Wahpepah’s allows the corn to really shine. (Think about it, when’s the last time you had really great corn?) And her bison offerings (there are patties and meatballs) are juicy and tender, no easy feat when dealing with a lean protein.
She also makes a cornbread I had at a pre-opening event but isn’t on the current menu. I’m crossing my fingers she brings that item back, as it was some of the best cornbread I’ve had this side of the Sierra Nevada. Until then, the blue corn waffles (served with berries and maple butter) will do just fine.
651 W Tower Ave. (near Pan Am Way), Alameda
Taproom: noon-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-10 Friday-Saturday, noon-8 Sunday
Backyard and lounge: noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-8 Sunday
Almanac Taproom opened in 2018, part of a massive redwood naval hangar turned brewing facility that boasts 30 handles of barrel-aged beers, IPAs, lagers and pilsners. That taproom isn’t tiny, but the business just opened two new spots within their property for drinkers, an outdoor spot for family fun and a new indoor area for grownups, only.
The outdoor area, which opened late last month, is just across from Almanac’s main structure on Tower Avenue. It’s called “the backyard” and it’s a grassy, 8,400-square-foot area dotted with picnic tables and punctuated by an Airstream bar (vintage: 1967); there’s a rotating selection of food trucks or folks can pack a picnic from home. When I visited, it was sunny enough that I needed one of the spot’s shade structures to avoid a scorched nose, but the kids playing throughout the space seemed fine with the sun. It’s a gorgeous, scenic place to enjoy one of Almanac’s excellent brews, and I plan on heading back as long as the weather allows.
Inside they’ve launched a funky spot called “the lounge,” a high-ceilinged and antique-packed space brimming with plants. (An Almanac rep promised a “100-million-year-old dinosaur skull” will also adorn the space, but it had yet to make the trip from Vernal/Nic Cage’s/whatever when I visited.) Unlike the rest of Almanac’s front-facing areas, the lounge is for folks 21 and over, but with 15-foot-tall sliding doors that open to the garden, you can still catch a glimpse of the kids even while seated in front of the lounge’s electric fireplace. That just might be the best of both worlds.
43761 Boscell Road #5125 (in the Pacific Commons Shopping Center), Fremont
8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Cafe Mei’s opening in Fremont this summer was big news to anyone who pines for fast-casual icon Mei Er Mei, a Taiwan-based chain known for its savory-and-sweet breakfast sandwiches.
Cafe Mei might be as close as we get to that company, as owner Kandy Wang says she’s using Mei Er Mei’s recipes to make her menu of egg and cheese crepes, triple-layer breakfast sandwiches and a pork patty breakfast burger topped with an egg.
Wang’s sandwiches are a comforting reminder of home for some, while those new to Mei Er Mei might decide that the dishes are their newest craving. While the sandwiches are the draw at Cafe Mai, don’t look over the black pepper teppan noodles, a umami party of pork and mushrooms in a bowl.
1389B N. Main St. (in the Phillips Building), Walnut Creek
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Their made-to-order dumplings — boiled or pan-fried or soup — have been gobbled up by multitudes of the Bay Area’s self-appointed dumpling insiders since it opened in August. But though the dumplings are made on the spot (not frozen or otherwise pre-made), you won’t be waiting hours for your order — sit-down diners’ XLB will arrive with haste, steamy and perfect.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the dumplings, but the other menu items are equally strong: There’s a truffle Brussels sprout plate that deserves praise, and the tongue-numbing pig ear with spicy sauce is a snappy surprise. Dumpling Hours’ owners say that online ordering for takeout is coming soon, but for now you’ll have to walk up or call (925-933-8888) to place your order, if waiting for a table isn’t for you.