February was supposed to be sunny, short and hopeful, with the worldwide Rice Krispies shortage the only drama worth mentioning. Then last week it snowed in the East Bay and Russia invaded Ukraine, and we’ve learned yet again not to take anything for granted.  

Meanwhile, the following new restaurants overcame quite a bit to open last month, and are emerging onto a fairly transformed dining landscape — in many cases for the better, as Nosh contributor Alix Wall noted last week. Let’s show these new spots some California love

However, it’s not just newcomers that need that love. As the pandemic cuts us a break, diners may now book reservations at a wide range of quietly reopened dining rooms, including next week’s not-so-quiet reopening of Chez Panisse restaurant and cafe. One can also check out the emerging and seasoned talent among these East Bay semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, a list that beams a well-deserved spotlight onto Oakland. 

Maybe this month, Russian vodka will be the shortage on local shelves? Strength to all, and as always, please send restaurant, bar, and Rice Krispies tips to nosh@berkeleyside.org

Berkeley

Humbowl’s owners attempt to capture a dish for Instagram. Credit: Humbowl/Facebook

HUMBOWL Softly opened Feb. 16, new fast-casual option Humbowl in the Elmwood features healthful bowls made with brown rice, quinoa, lean proteins and organic veggies, in flavor profiles from Italian (chicken Florentine) to Thai (Thai curry shrimp) to Mexican (Vera Cruz chicken). Owner is Eric Wright, an East Bay industry vet who has worked as director of operations for Cesar, Bar Cesar, Caffe Chiave, Longbranch and others, and co-owns Baker & Commons up the street. Humbowl, 2975 College Ave. (between Webster Street and Ashby Avenue), Berkeley  

KYOTO SUSHI & BAR This long-awaited new neighborhood sushi restaurant and bar is now open in the former Lilly’s Chinese space on Hopkins, and locals are lining up to try the rolls, sashimi, tempura and lunch specials, including bento boxes. Sake and beer are also available. (Note for the curious: Solano Avenue’s Kyoto and this new Kyoto restaurant are distinct businesses.) Kyoto Sushi & Bar, 1580 Hopkins St. (between California Street and McGee Avenue), Berkeley

NUEVO SOL Nosh editor Eve Batey’s heartfelt profile on this new restaurant outlines Mexican-born owner and 29-year Bette’s Oceanview Diner vet Gilberto Monroy’s specific talents: Namely, the man can cook both classic American diner-style and traditional Mexican repertoires, and is using his first restaurant to combine both into something special. It might be the ideal Berkeley food. Nuevo Sol, 1335 San Pablo Ave. (between Gilman and Camelia streets), Berkeley  

SISTORY THAI KITCHEN The former Sabuy Sabuy II is now Sistory Thai Kitchen, and locals are cheering the pretty, revamped interior and flavorful Thai specials. One Yelp reviewer calls Sistory’s khao soi — a northern Thai dish of egg noodles, pickled mustard greens and chicken thigh, blended with curry and topped with noodles that have been deep fried to a crisp — one of the best examples of the dish they’ve enjoyed. Sistory Thai Kitchen, 1233 San Pablo Ave. (between Gilman and Harrison streets), Berkeley

SIZZLING LUNCH Yet more transition for the storied space at 2475 Telegraph Ave. that was formerly 1960s bastion Caffe Med. After becoming Boileroom hotpot for a hot minute just as the pandemic shut things down, it morphed into Sojo Ramen for the latter half of 2021, and now may have found its footing as the newest location of Sizzling Lunch. The emerging Japanese-fusion chain allows customers to choose proteins, veggies, toppings and seasonings to top beds of rice, udon, pasta, or mixed into a curry, and enjoy the arrival of their custom dish still sizzling on a hot cast iron skillet. Sounds … dangerously good. Sizzling Lunch, 2475 Telegraph Ave. (between Haste Street and Dwight Way), Berkeley

Oakland

Chef Green’s tacos, in all their glory. Credit: Chef Green/Instagram

CHEF GREEN He’s been around since 2021, but here’s a PSA that Chef Green’s street food — namely quesabirria tacos, peach cobbler, and a growing menu of additional dishes — can now be found regularly outside of 1575 7th St. in West Oakland (and also outside Kaiser Richmond, depending on his schedule, posted on Instagram). Chef Green street taco vendor, 1575 7th St. (between Peralta and Henry streets), Oakland 

IBEXICO AT MAD OAK We might be a month late, but that’s no reason not to mention the paella, octopus tacos, mole croquetas and other Spanish-Mexican-fusion flavors from Ibexico, helmed by La Marcha chef Sergio Emilio Monleon, now appearing at Mad Oak every Tuesday-Sunday. Ibexico at Mad Oak Bar ‘N’ Yard, 135 12th St. (between Madison and Oak streets), Oakland

MONSTER PHO We loved this piece from Nosh contributor Anna Mindess on Tee Tran’s long-loved restaurant Monster Pho’s new opening in Temescal. The robots! The Wall of Mom! Go for the delicious Vietnamese food, stay for the soul-affirming vibes. Monster Pho, 360 40th St. (at Manila Avenue), Oakland  

PIZZA PONTE Giant, New York-style slices and pies, calzones, pasta, wings and salads are on offer at Pizza Ponte, Temescal’s newest counter-service restaurant with what appears to be a bit of an East Coast vibe. Pizza Ponte, 4919 Telegraph Ave. (near 49th Street), Oakland

SATURN CAFE AT LONGFELLOW FOOD PICKUP This one’s interesting: Locals, especially the vegetarian community, probably recognize old-school, veg-slash-diner favorite Saturn Cafe from its 10 years on Allston Way in downtown Berkeley, before it closed in 2019. Or maybe from the original location in Santa Cruz that opened way back in 1979, that sadly closed mid-pandemic in April 2021. Well guess what: Saturn Cafe is back in orbit, now serving its tasty, fast veg fare for take-out and delivery out of the still-new Longfellow Food Hall. And yes, that includes the milkshakes. And the fries. Saturn Cafe at Longfellow Food Hall, 5325 Adeline St. (near 53rd Street), Oakland

Beyond

The buttery apricot bar at Cafe Buenos Aires. Credit: Cafe Buenos Aires

CAFE BUENOS AIRES EMERYVILLE Berkeley’s Cafe Buenos Aires announced amid its eclectic Instagram posts that it has launched a second location, now open in Emeryville, featuring the Argentinian cafe’s signature coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches and empanadas. Thanks to The E’ville Eye for first sharing the news. Cafe Buenos Aires, 1366 Powell St., Emeryville

CERON KITCHEN New American bistro meets old-fashioned swank at this elegant newcomer that opened in Alameda’s former Otaez space at the end of January. Eater had this first look back in 2021. First-time restaurateur Vicente Ceron and chef Juan Jaquez (Paradiso, Boulevard) have teamed up to create a new American menu with pre-pandemic vibes: fish and seafood dishes, steak, rack of lamb, pizzas and inventive cocktails served at white marble tables. Desserts are from pastry chef Krishna Patel (Monsieur Benjamin, Boulevard). Ceron Kitchen, 1619 Webster St. (between Lincoln and Pacific avenues), Alameda    

THE DAMEL POINT RICHMOND Oakland’s Afro-Brazilian standout The Damel, featuring empanadas and Senegalese specialties from chef Oumar Diouf, now has a location with outdoor dining and an Afro-Brazilian market in Point Richmond. Though the new space softly opened in late 2021, Diouf celebrated his second brick-and-mortar’s grand opening at the end of January. Thanks to The Richmond Standard for more of the scoop. Look also for The Damel’s roving food truck business. The Damel Point Richmond, 25 W. Richmond Ave. (at Tunnel Avenue), Richmond

DAVID’S PASTAS AND PIZZAS It’s all happening in Richmond: Family-owned David’s Pastas and Pizzas serves, you guessed it, pasta and pizza specialties from chef-owner David Guillen. If it’s on the menu, folks say to try the crab and artichoke ravioli. David’s Pastas and Pizzas, 1025 13th St. (between Hellings and Coalinga avenues), Richmond

MI CASA GRILL Mi Casa Grill is now open at the northeast corner of San Pablo and Macdonald avenues, and garnering what looks to be multiple thumbs up so far for both food and service, including in the sit-down dining room. Diners say to try the tacos dorados de papa, the mole poblano enchiladas, and Nosh knows some cochinita pibil and chile relleno enthusiasts who will no doubt pay this new regional Mexican contender a visit. Mi Casa Grill, 12056 San Pablo Ave. (at Macdonald Avenue), Richmond

85°C BAKERY CONCORD This fanciful Taiwanese-style bakery and cafe franchise, a downtown Berkeley contender for five years, has just opened a location in Concord, its 48th store in California and fifth in the Bay Area. Offerings include cakes, breads and desserts such as strawberry tiramisu, sea salt tea, hot chocolate and coffee, and all manner of other sweet treats. 85°C Bakery Concord, 1691 Willow Pass Rd., Concord

LONGPORT FISH CO. More from Concord: Longport Fish Company is now open in The Veranda shopping complex, and has already gained a following. The handsome new seafood restaurant features a raw bar, seafood “towers” for larger parties, a kid’s menu and crowd-pleasing nibbles and mains (oysters, fish sandwiches, seafood pastas), including a variety not from the sea. Longport Fish Co., 2015 Diamond Blvd. (The Veranda), Concord

MAY THAI KITCHEN February saw the opening of May Thai Kitchen in Alameda’s former Thai House Barn (that closed in late 2021, we just discovered, after three years in business). May Thai has a menu of soups, salads, noodles, curries, stir fry and other specialties, and has received many accolades for quality, freshness and service in its opening weeks. May Thai Kitchen, 1319 Park St. (between Alameda and Encinal avenues), Alameda 

Joanna Della Penna

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...