Ici (Berkeley, CA)

It's so not Halloween! I love this kid!

I love talking about ice cream in the winter… I live in California, so I can! I don’t remember when we, as a people, moved past the standard 31 flavors, but artisanal ice cream is now found in every nook of this country. I’m not a desert person in general—and I’m far removed from those girls who ease their pain with a nibble of dark chocolate or a pint of Häagen-Dazs—but every so often I stumble across an ice cream shop that seems to read my mine!

Ici (Berkeley, CA)

Cha-Am (Berkeley, CA)

I put this on top because I can't even remember what it was...

I’ve dined at Cha-Am for many years, but can’t seem to remember why. Perhaps it’s the whimsical treehouse dining room, overlooking Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Maybe it’s the food, but nothing springs to mind. And so, in this state of uncertainty, I selected Cha-Am for dinner with my Beau’s best friend.

The orange dining room

Walking through the door, everything looked familiar—orange walls, bamboo-colored wood, potted plants strewn about. The menu is typical Thai-American fare with plenty of vegetarian options. Once the food arrived, however, it struck me. This restaurant is completely forgettable, except for one ‘best of show’ dish: The Cha-Am-Fresh Roll.

Cha-Am (Berkeley, CA)

Manpuku (Berkeley, CA)

The hand roll is blurry because it is irrelevant

The evolution of vegetarian sushi stalled a long time ago. I love kappa maki, avocado rolls, inari, futomaki and tomago as much as the next vegetarian, but after years of eating these monotonous platters over and over, I’ve grown completely disenchanted. So whenever I come across ANY vegetarian sushi innovation, my attention is piqued. Manpuku (Berkeley, CA)

La Note (Berkeley, CA)

There's never enough room for all the good eats!

When you visit Berkeley, you’re faced with many tempting options, from South Indian chaat at Vic’s to Michelin-rated California cuisine at Chez Panisse. Be sure, however, to reserve at least one morning for my absolute favorite brunch spot in the East Bay—La Note. In my college days, I spent leisurely hours between classes nibbling on baguettes with raspberry jam in the dappled light of the garden patio. Today, their provincial French breakfast plates are just as I remember them…easily worth the 500 mile drive from Los Angeles.

The colors are not accidental! It's as delicious as Christmas morning!

My favorite dish is the elegantly simple Tartine Mistral ($7.5). A skinny toasted baguette—slathered with *just enough* goat cheese—then  topped with mounds of basil chiffonade and slick roasted peppers. Despite its minimalism, every mouthful is an event. With each bite, the crisp baguette crust crackles in your mouth, followed by a clingy pull of wooly white bread. As the sharp goat cheese prances over your tongue, sweet peppers burst between your teeth and your nose fills with the fragrance of fresh basil. It’s an edible symphony! La Note (Berkeley, CA)

Mario’s La Fiesta (Berkeley, CA)

The taco's look great, but I'd rather eat two burritos!

In 1999, I moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, where I discovered the world of Mission-style burritos. At first I was dazzled by the baby blanket-sized tortillas stuffed with whole beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, pico, crema, guacamole… so big, so filling! But it wasn’t long before I grew weary of these overpriced behemoths pouring out of every taqueria in San Francisco (for a time, you could find me at Taqueria el Buen Sabor every weekend). That’s when I met Mario’s. Mario’s La Fiesta (Berkeley, CA)