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Favorite Places: Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

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Welcome to the second installment of our new weekend series”Favorite Places,” featuring beloved travel destinations, attractions, restaurants, hotels and more from different members of the TPG team. Today, TPG Contributor Leigh Rowan gives us a glimpse of the delightful/delicious Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, California.

While Berkeley is renowned for its hippie culture and top-notch public university, to me, the truly standout feature of this Bay Area city is a neighborhood known as the Gourmet Ghetto. Unfurling along Berkeley’s Shattuck Street between Vine, Cedar, Rose and Hearst streets, this area is the birthplace of “California Cuisine,” which focuses on the beautiful presentation of quality, locally produced and organic ingredients.


The nexus of the Gourmet Ghetto is the famed restaurant Chez Panisse, opened here by Chef Alice Waters (and a few friends) in 1971 to feature a French style of cooking with a California spin.

The intimate downstairs portion of the restaurant is open only for dinner, featuring a different set menu every night, inspired by what’s freshest at local farmers’ markets (or the restaurant’s famed gardens) that day. Upstairs, the more casual Café at Chez Panisse, which has an open kitchen, a charcoal grill and a wood-burning oven, serves different à la carte menus (also market-inspired) for both lunch and dinner.

Know that even four decades in, it can still be hard to score a dinner reservation at Chez Panisse, so try to plan ahead.

Nothing beats these Chez Panisse beets - a simple presentation with incredible flavor!
Nothing compares to these Chez Panisse beets —a simple presentation with incredible flavor!

Waters’ success sparked a culinary revolution, making California Cuisine a fixture on menus across the world and encouraging other Northern California-based food and beverage entrepreneurs to hang out a shingle near Chez Panisse and celebrate locally produced goodies. Whenever I’m in Berkeley, I grab a cup of Joe from the original Peet’s Coffee (2124 Vine Street—on the corner of Walnut and Vine), have a slice of pizza (or a whole pie!) from the Cheese Board Collective, or treat myself to a a couple of decadent macarons at Masse’s Pastries.

Each time I dine here, I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns me double points for dining—points I then use to travel to other iconic U.S. restaurants (e.g., Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Zuni Café, Lucques, etc.) that were influenced by Waters and Chez Panisse.

Don't miss out on Alice Waters' famed duck confit
Don’t miss out on Alice Waters’ famed duck confit with parsnip puree, freshly shelled favas and garden carrots.

For more on what to do/eat in the Gourmet Ghetto, check out this guide. Or, consider attending A Taste of North Berkeley, an annual event that this year will be held on May 12, 2015 from 5:30-8:30 pm; tickets cost $25 per person and benefit several area charities.

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