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La Note and Café Clem
Dorothée Mitrani-Bell, owner and proprietor of both La Note and Café Clem in Berkeley, was born in the South of France and grew up in Paris. Daughter of French gourmet cooks, she is no stranger to fine French cuisine, but wanted to bring the rustic and unpretentious side of things to her clientele. “I sell conviviality,” she says, adding with a laugh: “It’s about people – I want people to be together and sit together…and calm down.”
After “Berkeley called, ” a young twenty-something Dorothée arrived on a one-way ticket and $6 in her pocket, attended Cal, and sometime thereafter set up shop in a once dilapidated 1875 building that she completely renovated and restored on her own. La Note opened in 1997 and has been in the same location since.
“As soon as I walked in to the building, I had a vision of what it is today” – that is a charming eatery with a warm and rustic Provençal ambiance. Reclaimed and repurposed furniture like old pews make it feel homemade, like the food. The pancakes are a must-try, as are the eggs. Les Oeufs Lucas and a fresh croissant will not disappoint.
More Paris than French countryside, the new Café Clem opened last April near Berkeley High with much fanfare. “The kids are fans of the Nutella-filled baguette and les pain perdus.” A pain perdus, for the uninitiated, is a pressed stack of challah layered with Nutella, served here with a glass of milk – French comfort food at it’s finest, for students and adults alike. (Jackie Andrews)
La Note, 2377 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley | (510) 843-1535| lanoterestaurant.com 
Café Clem, 2020 Kitteredge St., Berkeley | (510) 280-3881 | cafeclem-downtown.com 
Voted as “Best Taqueria” in the Best of the Bay for 10-plus years, this taqueria is one of the best in the Mission. Their tacos and burritos are always delicious but if you are looking to mix it up a little try their pastor torta – flavorful pork between two fluffy warm buns with lots of tasty toppings in between. If you are a vegetarian this place will satisfy since they’ve been voted “Best Veggie Burrito” more than once. This small, quaint, authentic taqueria is located in the heart of the Mission at 2288 Mission St. @ 19th with another location at 1003 Market St. @ 6th and their newest one at 3211 Mission St. @ Valencia. Whether you are looking for lunch, dinner or a late night snack, this place deserves consideration. Open Monday through Thursday 10am to1am, Friday and Saturday 10am to 2am, and Sunday from 10am to 1:30am.
Bistro SF Grill
Bistro SF Grill provides the best, always fresh, organic, sustainable, local, and eclectic meats, and with their fresh-baked organic breads they create the most exciting burgers.
If you’re looking for a hearty meat dish – whether a traditional Kobe beef burger, or if you’re feeling funky and want to try grilled ostrich, alligator, buffalo, wild boar, or venison – then this is the place for you. Their wide variety menu also has options for the vegan and vegetarian eaters as well. This restaurant serves a wide variety of beers from around the world and also has wine tastings everyday. Open Monday through Friday, 5 to 10pm and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 10pm, located at 2819 California St. @ Divisadero.
This Salvadorian/Mexican/Latin American restaurant is sure to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, even those of the picky eater. They offer all the traditional Mexican food including refried beans, rice, homemade warm flower tortillas, salad, salsa and their famous pupusas – a thick handmade corn tortilla stuffed with a variety of cheese and pork. The menu also includes tamales, soup, finger lickin’ fried chicken and hamburgers. Open seven days a week from 8:30am to 9:30pm daily, located at 2721 Mission @ 23rd St.
Taqueria El Castillito
This affordable, delicious, and undeniably authentic taqueria may be one of the best in the Mission. This place is best when you are looking for a late night, cheep eat. They are known for their XXL burritos and bottomless chips and salsa everyday. They also offer a wide variety menu that includes tacos, nachos, and tortas. Whether you want a mild or extra hot salsa, their salsa bar is sure to satisfy whatever your level of spice may be. El Castillito is pen for lunch, dinner, and late night meals with two locations –2092 Mission St. @ 17th St. and 370 Golden Gate Ave. @ Larkin.
This locally owned grocery store has been serving San Francisco’s Mission District since 1975. They aim to buy goods from local organic farmers, bakers, dairies, and other local businesses whenever possible. They are most known for having a wide selection specialty items, most of which you cannot find in a chain grocery store – plenty of gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, soy-free and organic products. Customer’s favorite items include the wide variety of cheeses, oils and vinegars that you can package yourself, bulk grains and teas, and a large supplement aisle. Located at 1745 Folsom St., Rainbow Grocery is open everyday from 9am to 9pm.
If you’re looking for some good comfort food at incredibly reasonable priecs, then Ganim’s is the place to go. With everything from delicious burgers – veggie too – and fries for $6 or less to traditional English fish and chips for the same price, this is a cheep deli-style joint that will not disappoint. Looking for something different to mix it up? Try their surf and turf burger – a piece of fried fish on top of a bacon cheeseburger. This place has everything from burgers to burritos, and icy cold beers to wash it all down. Here, you can truly enjoy a huge meal for a small price. Located at 1135 18th St. right on the corner, Ganim’s is open Monday through Friday 11am to 9pm and Saturday from 11am to 7pm. Great lunch specials as well!
Blowfish offers good quality sushi in a modern, upscale environment. The restaurant has a hip club vibe with large TV screens around the dining room and a DJ spinning the latest tracks. With beautiful plating, awesome deserts, and delicious plum wine, this place is sure to satisfy all sushi lovers. If you’re coming here for lunch make sure to come early or make a reservation as the place is usually packed. Also good to know is that from 2:30-5:30pm, Monday through Friday, it is siesta time. Open for dinner Monday, Tuesday and Sunday from 5:30 to 10pm, Wednesday and Thursday until 10:30 and Friday and Saturdays until 11pm. Located in the Mission at 2170 Bryant St.
Fresh, inexpensive, local – Reina’s has all the familiar Mexican menu items you are looking for, like nachos, enchiladas, tamales, al pastor burritos, and tacos, all made with the freshest ingredients at a really great price. Make sure to check out their beer and wine selection as well. Reina’s Taqueria makes for a great lunch spot and can accommodate large groups. Located on the corner of 12th St. and Lafayette at 1550 Howard, this taqueria is very convenient to get to. Stop in for lunch or call your order in at (415) 431-0160.
If you are looking for a low-key, Japanese restaurant in a small, quaint location then this is the place for you. Eiji offers a limited menu but the options are all signature dishes that are simply delicious, like great sushi, okra beef, homemade tofu, and more. Make sure to end your meal with their most famous dessert, the strawberry mochi. The staff is very knowledgeable and attentive to what you need, making this a great place for an un-fussy or casual dinner date night. Located in the Castro at 317 Sanchez. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 2pm and 5:30pm to 10pm.