The East Bay’s most reliable bar and restaurant destinations in 2021

These are the restaurants in Berkeley, Oakland and beyond that we kept going back to this year.

A Zachary's spinach and mushroom stuffed pie and Caesar salad.
A spinach and mushroom stuffed pie from Zachary’s, a go-to restaurant for many of us in 2021. Photo: Zachary’s Chicago Pizza

Nosh’s 2021 in review
· The East Bay’s most reliable bar and restaurant destinations
· The East Bay’s best restaurant experiences
· The best outdoor dining in the East Bay
· The East Bay’s saddest restaurant closures of 2021

At the end of every year, East Bay Nosh surveys staffers across Cityside’s newsrooms as well as its regular writers and columnists. The goal: to bring you an overview of the region’s food and restaurant scene from our diverse group of contributors. Please keep checking back every day until the end of the year for answers to 2021’s set of dining questions — and if you’d like, add your own answers in the comments at the bottom of this article.

Today, our respondents were asked: What were your regular, go-to East Bay bar and/or restaurant destinations in 2021? (Were they dine-in, outdoor dining, takeout, all three at different times?)

Having Pomella and Doña right next to each other (not to mention so close to me) makes me so, so happy. I like that I can get reasonably healthy, delicious food at reasonable prices from each (and both have ample outdoor spaces). While nothing about restaurant experience this year has been regular, I also immensely enjoyed returning to Mägo to eat in its courtyard. I feel like those three restaurants are a perfect trifecta to have nearby. — Alix Wall, Nosh contributor and Oakland-based freelance writer

Mostly takeout. The Tacos El Autlense truck next to the Hotsy Totsy, Roong Jing Jing — the Thai market’s Saturday takeaway, banh mi from Banh Mi Ba Le; Shangri-la in Albany. Champa Garden in Oakland, takeout. New Dumpling in El Cerrito. I’m still cooking a lot, so I am so grateful for the farmers markets in Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Oakland. — Shirley Huey, Nosh contributor

Jacob Simas, Managing Editor of The Oaklandside, heads to Aguachiles el Tamarindo on the regular.

When it comes to regular spots, my go-tos this year were definitely of the takeout variety. My kids, who are 9 and 11, are almost always involved in food decisions these days, which means choices often get reduced to about a half-dozen things that they can both agree on about eating. Luckily, I’m on board with most of them: Ahn’s on Grand is our consensus pick for the best burger in Oakland. They keep it old school in every respect, and I love that. For pizza, Zachary’s has been a staple of mine for about 25 years and it still is. These days I head over to Grand, which I find a lot easier to get in and out of than the College Avenue location. 

When it comes to taquerias, with all due respect to Oakland, I found myself hitting up Los Pericos in San Leandro quite a bit this year. They just have their game together, and there’s something to be said for a place that gives you so many chips that you can make chilaquiles with them the next morning. Other taco spots that I patronized on the regular (there are a number) and that deserve mention are Los 2 Gallos on Foothill and Seminary (it’s all about the barbecued chicken on weekends), El Ojo de Agua #2 on 104th Avenue (for breakfast burritos and tortas), and Aguachiles el Tamarindo (for seafood) in Fruitvale. — Jacob Simas, Managing Editor, The Oaklandside

Rico Rico Taco in Oakland and Nori Sushi Roll in El Cerrito (both takeout) — Ricky Rodas, Reporter: Immigrant Small Business, The Oaklandside

I ended up eating outdoors for most of 2021, sadly, for safety reasons. There was a small window this summer when eating indoors felt safe, and my husband and I returned for two indoor brunches at Saul’s deli. That felt almost normal (except for dealing with that dreaded QR code reader, and not having relationships with the waiters like we used to.) And then the (safety) window closed again, and we returned to outdoor dining, often at Saul’s. Daphne White, Berkeleyside and Nosh contributor

Saul’s (outdoor dining and takeout), Anchalee (takeout), Cali Alley (takeout), Middle East Market (takeout), Akemi (dine-in and takeout) — Lance Knobel, CEO and co-founder, Cityside

The $1 samosas sold hot at the Milan International Indian grocery store at University Avenue and Ninth Street in Berkeley — deep-fried tetrahedrons of crunchy, spicy, potato-and-pea perfection. — Zac Farber, Managing Editor, Berkeleyside

The boyfriend and I mostly stuck to familiar spots that provided that comfort food feeling. Burgers and fries from Sparky’s in Redwood Heights are our go-to. Jade Palace in the Dimond for Chinese, and burritos from El Tio Juan, our favorite taco truck with the best carnitas, chicharron, and spicy chicken burritos. Azucena Rasilla, Reporter: Arts & Community, The Oaklandside

It’s not quite a destination, but I have eaten a LOT of tacos from El Tio Juan. (It’s a taco truck.) My family also loves noodles, so Pho King, Monster Pho and Marugame have been go-tos all year because of their safe dining options. Cafe Colucci is where we go for Ethiopian food. — Jill Kunishima, Vice President of Development, Cityside

Belotti on College Ave.; Zachary’s (takeout),  Rick and Ann’s (all three at various times — chicken pot pies for takeout!), and Honor Kitchen and Bar for takeout and outdoor dining. — Risa Nye, Nosh contributor and memoirist 

Started out visiting only restaurants with outdoor dining spaces. I remember in March, Zaytoon was our first time dining out, and I was thrilled to enjoy one of my favorite dishes, maklouba (their upside-down rice dish with eggplant, cauliflower, carrots, almonds and lamb) on real plates with heavy silverware and a cloth napkin. The second place we dined was 5 Tacos and Beers, where we sat outdoors at a small secluded table next to their sweet succulent wall, amid heavenly aromas and live music.

Okinawan salty fish- sukugarasu
Okinawan salty fish at Nosh contrib Anna Mindess’s go-to, Sushi California. Credit: Anna Mindess

In Oakland, other favorite pairings of terrific food and comfortable outdoor dining spaces are Monster Pho (love their Vietnamese crepe and comforting pho)  and Judoku Sushi (the freshest sushi in a lovely garden). Also thrilled to celebrate the triumphant return of the most delectable dim sum at Peony in Oakland Chinatown! 

For dine-in, I’m so thankful that an old favorite, Sushi California, (that I wrote about back in 2013) was able to make it through the pandemic. A cozy little spot, where Ryoji Arakaki has lovingly prepared sushi and Okinawan specialties for 35 years. And Friday nights, enjoy a double delight with live mellow, electric guitar oldies from Hideo Date.

And our most dependable takeout place for the last two years has been Rojbas for gyro and kebabs (the salmon is my favorite), lentil soup and baba ghanoush. — Anna Mindess, Nosh contributor and Berkeley-based freelance writer

Friends and Family for drinks and snacks, Funky Elephant for takeout, Hidden Cafe, Lulu and Okkon, wherever they pop up. — Flora Tsapovsky, Nosh contributor and culture writer

Gregoire was my fave go-to lunch takeout whenever I popped over to the office. Kingfish remains my fave bar in town. And my all-time favorite go-to (solely takeout lately) for dinner in my neighborhood is Noodle Theory. — Colleen Leary, Vice President, Client Partnerships, Cityside

We stayed mostly takeout only all year to be safe. We also moved to the East Richmond Heights neighborhood in the spring, and have a kid, so have enjoyed Red Onion diner-style burgers; Mexican from El Tucan; rolls from Sushi Matsu; barbecue from Tommy’s; and pizza from Raymond’s and Zachary’s on repeat; with an occasional grown-up foray to the excellent outdoor space at The Factory Bar. Joanna Della Penna, Nosh openings/closings columnist

Because we are lazy at my house, we made a circuit of once-a-week takeout within walking distance during the pandemic. Since we live where Elmwood meets Rockridge, we ordered from Noodle Theory, Momo Ramen, Oori Rice Triangles, Mitama, Summer Kitchen and Yimm. Elise Proulx, Nosh contributor and Berkeley-based freelance writer

The Mob Plate featuring planted-based barbecue and side dishes from Vegan Mob.
Vegan Mob’s Mob Plate is worth the wait, Nosh contrib Brandy Collins says. Credit: Vegan Mob

Vegan Mob’s outdoor dining by Lake Merritt. The wait is longer on the weekends and the cheese rolls are the truth. Sushi A Go-Go: takeout. I like to joke that it’s the best gas station sushi ever. The Alameda location has the Poke Roll. Trap Kitchen: I only do takeout here. Hands down their macaroni and cheese with a side of broccoli are my go-to as a meal. Brandy Collins, Berkeleyside, Nosh and The Oaklandside contributor

Hold back your tears, but one of the tragic downsides of being a food editor is that you so rarely get to fall back on favorites — every meal is research for me, and if I’m not dining for work, I’m making a questionable meal decision at home (yes, popcorn for dinner, again). That said, there are two places I’ll always grab takeout to enjoy later even when I’m coming from a restaurant: Belmo Cafe, with its monster-sized madeleines and citrus-laden tarts, and Mezzo, with those salads you can stretch out for a full afternoon. Both places are pure comfort to me. — Eve Batey, East Bay Nosh Editor

Las Delicias Salvadoran Restaurant (takeout) Our daughter, who is a picky eater, asks for pupusas every week. We love them all, but our favorites are the revuelta and the cheese, beans and loroco. Easy Creole (takeout, outdoor dining) Easy Creole has been added to our comfort food rotation. We know the vegan spinach and mushroom étouffée will always be on the menu, but we always check their Instagram so we can be sure to get gumbo. We’re also so glad they’ve set up some outdoor seating! — Doug Ng, News Platforms Director, Cityside