The Ten Best Italian Meals in Berkeley

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

Do you love Italian food? We do too, and that's why we dedicate ourselves to finding the best places to enjoy Italian cuisine in Berkeley. We've diligently scouted out the top eateries, and we've listened to our readers and their reviews of Berkeley restaurants. We share the places that get great buzz, like Trattoria La Siciliana, and we showcase the ones that have proven themselves over time, like LoCoco's Restaurant & Pizzeria. We also point out good neighborhoods for Italian restaurants in Berkeley - Gourmet Ghetto, for instance. When the craving hits, we'll make sure you get your fix!

Need a reason to travel across the Bay to Berkeley for your Italian food? If you're staying in San Francisco, it's true that the restaurants of North Beach offer fantastic Italian meals, no argument there. But if you want to eat your pasta in a warmer climate, perhaps one without bone-chilling fog, then Berkeley is your place!

10. Jupiter's
Photo courtesy of Facebook

Housed in what was once a stable, Jupiter has taken full advantage of its unusual location by creating a unique modern day Gothic ambience. Pews and Gothic-style chandeliers were scavenged from an old church, bronze-colored pressed tin panels some of the walls, and copper tops the bar itself, and vintage games provide some entertainment. Upstairs there are several cozy tables set up around a woodstove, and out back there's a heated patio that functions as a lively jazz venue during the summer. Jupiter brews its own beer, but offers an array of other microbrews as well, and when hunger pangs strike, you can order a stellar wood-fired oven pizza.

9. Cheese Board Pizza Collective

They may serve only one variety of pizza each day, always vegetarian, but you can be sure that it will be absolutely incredible. Your main decisions will be whether to get a slice or a whole pie, and whether to eat it there or take it somewhere else. You may not actually have to make that second choice though, because there are only a handful of tables. The collective rotates about 20 different gourmet pies, which might include combinations of roasted peppers, tapenade, fresh herbs, garlic, feta, Roma tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. Call ahead to see what's on the menu.

8. Riva Cucina
Photo courtesy of Riva Cucina

If you're interested in eating the kind of gourmet, local produce that Alice Waters made famous at Chez Panise - but can't get a reservation there - then Riva Cecina is a wonderful second choice. Executive Chef Massi Boldrini, born and raised in Ferrara, a city rich with culinary tradition in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, brings authentic love and passion to every meal he makes - with the gusto that only a true Italian chef can muster. The specialties of this specific Italian cuisine is the seafood, so be sure to try the dishes that feature fish, scallops, or shrimp.

7. PIQ Bakery and Cafe
Photo courtesy of PIQ

Hidden in full sight in the bustling downtown area right next to the always bustling Berkeley campus, PIQ Cafe is somehow overlooked. But don't let the label of "bakery" fool you - there are Italian selections in this unassuming restaurant that can rival the best Italian meals of any place in Berkeley. Their roots and passion as a bakery insures that their amazing pizzas - the Margherita, the Parmigiana, the Calabrese, the Parma or the Pesto - all have the perfect crusts. And no matter what time of day you visit, be sure to leave room for a dessert of their amazing Italian pastries.

6. Corso
Photo courtesy of Corso

Many restaurants in the Bay Area have garnered national attention by being innovative, just like the techies in silicon Valley. They'll take an old tradition and make it "better," which may or may not work. Corso goes the other way: instead of searching for some kind of future Italian cuisine, head chef Chef Scott Eastman looks to go way, way back, back to the very roots of what made Italian food world famous in the first place. You'll find their selection of Tuscan classic and house-cured meats will work miracles on the palate, taking you back to a time when people knew that simple food was simply excellent.

5. Pasta Bene
Photo courtesy of Pasta Bene

You can't say you've really experience Berkeley until you've walked down legendary Telegraph Avenue. Site of many of the famous Berkeley protests of the 60's, this iconic street still has many of the odd characters that make Berkeley, well, Berkeley. Once you've had your fill of the wild side of Berkeley, step into Pasta Bene for a more traditional view of the world. Filled with light and colorful Italian posters, it brings some old-world sensibilities to the youthful zeal of Telegraph Avenue. And the 6.96 pasta lunch special is one of the best lunch deals you'll find in all of Berkeley.

4. Zachary's Chicago Pizza
Photo courtesy of Zachary's

They don't take reservations, so at peak mealtimes a wait is next to impossible to avoid, but Zachary's deep-dish pizzas are so incredible that you won't mind. They start with a layer of dough, followed by heaps of cheese and your choice of 19 toppings. Then another layer of dough is placed on top, sealing in all the goodies. Chunky tomato sauce is ladled over that, and the whole thing is baked to a perfect golden brown. The result is a super moist, chewy and flavorful pizza unlike any other you'll find in the bay area. If you have access to an oven, get a half-baked pie that you finish cooking yourself.

3. Pizza Moda
Photo courtesy of Piza Moda

Pizza Moda is a great option for those who want delicious Italian food at a reasonable price. Reflecting the youthful vigor of Berkeley, this restaurant has a friendly and open vibe. For those really looking to pinch their pennies, stop by during Happy Hour on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30pm until closing time, featuring $3 microbrews pints, $5 any glass of wine and $10 12 inch pizzas. Even college freshmen can afford those prices! Another great deal is no corkage fee every Thursday, so bring your favorite bottle of California wine and make it a classic Bay area Italian night.

2. Trattoria La Siciliana

The award-winning Trattoria La Siciliana has quite a loyal following, and fans are particularly fond of the garlicky red sauce. Traditional southern Italian dishes are the specialty, and the pastas are truly wonderful and authentic. Menu standouts include chicken with lemon, garlic and wine, fresh seafood, and fabulously hearty spaghetti and meatballs; the wine list has several good California and Italian selections. With so many cuisine choices in the Bay Area, sometime a simple Italian dish makes all the sense in the world. When you need that kind of comfort food, make it a Trattoria La Siciliana kind of night.

1. LoCoco's Restaurant & Pizzeria

Although it's been around for decades, the popularity of this Sicilian eatery hasn't dwindled a bit, in part because of the colorful personalities of the owners. Menu highlights include cheese cannelloni in a flavorful light tomato sauce, and a variety of seafood, sautéed with olive oil or broiled. Sicilian style pizza, with medium-thick, chewy crust, makes up a good portion of the menu, with about 20 topping combinations. Don't skip dessert – the house-made cannoli is perfectly crunchy and creamy. It's location on the north end of Shattuck, a healthy walk from the UC Berkeley campus, makes it a bit quieter than the restaurants near campus.