Californian cuisine's roots are not in the bustling downtowns of San Francisco or Los Angeles, along the scenic coastlines of San Diego or Mendocino, or even in the world-famous vineyards of Napa Valley. That's not to say that those places don't have unique or tasty contributions to Californian cuisine, but Californian cuisine truly has its home in the Gourmet Ghetto.

What Is the Gourmet Ghetto?

Chloe Lee

The Gourmet Ghetto is a food district located in the quiet hills of Berkeley, the liberal university town often thought of more for its activist legacy than its contributions to the culinary world. It's a several-block stretch of Northern Berkeley, home to a number of iconic establishments, including the hallowed kitchen of Chez Panisse, the birthplace of farm-to-table cuisine. The Gourmet Ghetto represents the origins of a movement to provide people with access to healthy and sustainably produced food, but as is typical of many such efforts, it can be financially inaccessible to many.

I’ve set out on a mission to find a way for everyone to enjoy the culture, history, and, perhaps most importantly, the rich and sustainably produced food that defines the region. This article will do its best to provide you with tips, tricks, and insights on the hidden, wallet-friendly gems in Berkeley’s historic culinary region without blowing your savings. All options listed here are under $10 for a meal or dessert (and many options are substantially less!).

Cheese Board Collective

slice, pizza, cheese, corn, cilantro
Caroline Ingalls

An article on financial accessibility and the Gourmet Ghetto would not be complete without mention of the Cheese Board Collective: a bakery, cheese shop, and pizzeria. Cheese Board is best known for being a collective since the '70s, meaning that it is entirely worker-owned and operated. It serves one type of vegetarian pizza daily and—with slices not exceeding $3—is a great option for those looking to enjoy the iconic culinary offerings of the Gourmet Ghetto at a reasonable price.

Oriental Restaurant

Oriental Restaurant is a can’t-miss spot for wallet-friendly and flavorful food options in the Gourmet Ghetto. It serves a variety of traditional Asian dishes, ranging from Vietnamese shrimp pancakes to Mongolian beef. The most expensive menu options are just under $7, and most of the portions are huge, so you’ll likely be able to score two meals for under $7.

#SpoonTip: The Oriental Restaurant only accepts cash, which is something to keep in mind when you go.


soup, vegetable, cream, parsley, bread, herb
Maxwell Faucher

Soop is another great affordable option. It serves Vietnamese banh mi for less than $5 per sandwich and pints of homemade soup for less than $6. Flavors change daily; you can expect anything from classics like chicken noodle soup and broccoli cheddar to vegan “green” soup and Thai red lentil soup. If you stop by on a Sunday, you can pick up a pint of homemade pasta sauce for no more than $8 and use it to top your favorite pasta dishes throughout the week.

Love at First Bite

There’s no shortage of solid, reasonably-priced dessert options for when you’re craving something sweet in the Gourmet Ghetto. Love at First Bite is a cupcakery and bakery known for its innovative desserts. Pick up one cupcake for under $4, or get two for under $9. But with flavors like matcha and lemon pistachio, you’ll probably want more than one!


Elise Hayashi

While known more for its airy, $6.50 potato puffs, Gregoire also offers some decadent desserts for reasonable prices. Try the banana nut pudding with caramel sauce or the espresso mousse with white chocolate sauce for under $6 each.


Chloe Lee

When eating on a budget, there are a few general tips that you should consider. Typically, sticking to vegetarian options is a great way to save a few dollars, as meat is much pricier than most veggies. Many restaurants also have good happy hour deals for meals or appetizers. As a general rule, stay away from restaurants that don’t list their prices online, as those tend to be pricier. All the restaurants listed in this article have easily accessible online menus with prices listed.

While eating at Chez Panisse on a $10 budget may not be possible, there are plenty of equally—if not more—appetizing options within a few blocks of its famed kitchen that you can enjoy while saving money.