Berkeley Bowl has a reputation as one of the great grocery stores of the East Bay, attracting both locals and visitors from across the country. Originally founded by Glenn and Dianne Yasuda in a former bowling alley in 1977, it’s grown to fame for a dazzling selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as everyday grocery items. Some locals love it so much, they even take engagement photos there.
Yet who hasn’t felt overwhelmed among the pyramids of citrus? Whether you’re new to the Bay, new to the Bowl or simply human, the experience can be intimidating. That’s why we called in a pro to help us along on a B-Bowl journey. Acclaimed food stylist Lillian Kang has tweezered scallions for the likes of Ayesha Curry and Bryant Terry, for cookbooks, magazines and more.
She’s also lived in Berkeley with her husband and two little girls for nearly 15 years, so she shops Berkeley Bowl both professionally and personally, whether scrutinizing the prettiest passion fruit for a shoot or grabbing fresh noodles for her own family.
Kang confirms that Berkeley Bowl is her favorite grocery store of all time. “Oh yes. It’s my number one. It’s the best one-stop shop,” she said. “My strategy is to go there first, because I’ll probably get most of what we need.”
So grab those reusable bags. Here’s how to shop like a pro at Berkeley Bowl.
Which Berkeley Bowl location is better?
“Absolutely Berkeley Bowl West,” Kang confirmed without taking a beat. Berkeley Bowl’s own staff and many insiders agree. They have several reasons: Berkeley Bowl West is bigger. The aisles are wider, leading to fewer cart collisions. West has way more parking, thanks to an underground garage. And it has a cafe just across from the entrance, for anyone who just dropped their kids off at school and might need a latte and pastry to caffeinate and emotionally prepare.
What’s the best day and time to go?
Berkeley Bowl does have slightly shorter hours than many grocery stores, this is true. “Definitely a weekday, anywhere from open until around 3 p.m. is a good bet,” Kang advised, which is generally good grocery advice. On the busier weekends, she and her husband have an ongoing argument, but she prefers the late afternoons.
What’s the parking situation?
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace (2020 Oregon St.) has been called the “Berkeley Brawl” because the parking gets so competitive. However, Berkeley Bowl West (920 Heinz Ave.) boasts a front parking lot, an underground garage and another across the street. “I don’t think many people realize that,” Kang noted. “There’s a whole other black top.”
How do you keep an eye on budget?
It is possible to get carried away with high-end items, and wander out with half a bag of house kombucha and bluefoot mushrooms, but no idea what to make for dinner. But Kang crunches both a work budget and a personal budget, and insists Berkeley Bowl offers good value.
She loves the bulk section, because you can get a single cup of chocolate chips, rather than splurge on a big bag. There are separate organic and conventional sections, so keep walking to cross check. And within those, many different options, so skim a few price tags.
There’s also an imperfect produce section tucked away in the southwest corner, “to the side of the produce,” Kang gestured. “Almost behind the wall.” That’s where it’s possible to find dinged fruits and vegetables, nearly expired items and the real deals.
What else should shoppers know?
“Take your time,” Kang advised. Don’t attempt to duck in for just a single tub of yogurt, at least not on your first visit. She recommended at least an hour to digest all of the options.
“If you run through too quickly, that makes it stressful. Berkeley Bowl is not something to whip through. There are a lot of cool things you might miss. You’re cheating yourself.”
Ready to roll? Check back tomorrow for a shopping list of exactly what to buy at Berkeley Bowl, according to the shopping pro.