The Best Entertainment, Restaurants, and Shopping at the University of California, Berkeley

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Best Historical Place of Interest: Sather Tower

Yeah, its a 307-foot tall phallus stabbing into the sky, but it is an important phallus.

When architect John Galen Howard was hired to orchestrate the physical expansion of Berkeley in the early 20th century – a massive effort that brought us the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Wheeler Hall, Memorial Stadium and the Hearst Greek Theater – he made the Campanile the focal point of the campus’ architectural master plan.

Built in honor of the fallen Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy, the 13-floor granite structure is the most prominent part of Howard’s bold plan for constructing the “Athens of the West” in the foothills of Berkeley.

Since the massive tower went up in 1914, it has been visited by millions. Until metal bars were installed in 1981 it was also a popular suicide spot. In 1996, when Californians voted to ended affirmative action, 23 protesters occupied the tower as hundreds gathered outside.

In the century since Howard’s original vision was completed, the rest of the Berkeley’s expansion has been ad hoc, leaving Sather Tower as the premier symbol of the grandeur Berkeley’s founders were hoping to reach.

-Javier Panzar

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Best Sandwich/Salad: Cafe Intermezzo

Best Salad: Cafe Intermezzo

Dressing on the side. If those words don’t exit your mouth when you’re standing before the counter at Cafe Intermezzo, you’ve made a terrible mistake.

The chef’s salad – which is what you should be ordering – is huge. Think two-meals huge. Think plastic-takeout-box-filled-to-the-brim huge. If you have your dressing mixed in, your leftovers will be left a soggy mess by the time you get around to it. And no one likes soggy salads.

But what’s actually in the chef’s salad, you ask? First you have your standard veggie fare: lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and so on – normal salad stuff. But then you hit clusters of kidney beans and alfalfa sprouts, topped off with a sliced boiled egg and a generous sprinkle of croutons. Half an avocado is buried somewhere in the pile. Pick any sandwich meat and dressing, and your order is complete. (I prefer turkey and poppy seed.)

You’ll be greeted by a thick slice of honey wheat bread and a pineapple wedge on the side as well – if that doesn’t make you happy, then no salad will.

-Jack Wang

Best Sandwich: Cafe Intermezzo

There are a lot of mighty fine sandwich establishments in Berkeley. We are very lucky in that sense. Like, you could be the biggest sandwich Goldilocks ever and you would still always be able to find one in Berkeley that is just right.

Now, this isn’t to say that a sandwich from Cafe Intermezzo is always going to be the one, what with competition from Gregoire, Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen and the Coffee Spot running around. But Gregoire and Saul’s are sometimes a little on the steep side (both financially and geographically). Conversely, the Coffee Spot occasionally feels a bit quotidian.

Which means that a sandwich from Intermezzo will frequently be the perfect choice. Just right. Especially if you get the chicken salad sandwich. Oh god, the Intermezzo chicken salad.

I’m sorry if you’re a vegetarian (Intermezzo also makes a mean tofu sandwich, incidentally), but there actually might be crack in that chicken salad. I really don’t understand it. Plus, the honey wheat bread over there is seriously habit-forming. And, of course, the price is better than right for massive meals that are loaded up with everything that makes a sandwich delicious.

-Jill Cowan

Best Late Night Food: Top Dog

It’s 1 a.m. and you’re aimlessly wandering around Berkeley with your friends. Whether you’re drained from tirelessly working on a project or stumbling around in a post-party daze, you might find yourself drawn to the grilled, greasy goodness of Top Dog. With dogs ranging from the classic Top Dog Frankfurter to the smokey Linguica, Top Dog will satisfy any case of the late night munchies.

You want meaty? The hearty Bockwurst will fill your midnight munchies with its succulent combination of pork, veal, milk and egg. Feeling spicy? The Hot Link’s four different peppers will jolt your senses with a fiery pain that is still somehow pleasing. Hell, even nocturnal vegetarians can munch on the Wienie (note: it’s a veggie dog).

With a warm, toasted French bun encasing the juicy dogs like a crunchy blanket, its easy to see why Top Dog has become a staple favorite of Berkeley. Students have eloquently described the dog stand as “an adventurous treat for my mouth!” and “the perfect midnight calorie-fest.” Conveniently located at three spots around campus, Top Dog’s savory grub will please anyone in need of an after-hours indulgence.

-Ian Birnam

Best Coffee: Caffe Strada

This isn’t Caffe Strada’s first award in Best of Berkeley – in fact, it’s taken this category each of the last four years.

Strada’s success may not seem surprising – after all, it’s close to campus and student housing. But Berkeley has many cafes that share these benefits without the same success. There are at least 10 places on campus to buy coffee, and Cafe Milano has prime real estate across from Sproul Plaza.

But the welcoming atmosphere of Strada places it above its competitors, believes owner Daryl Ross. When Ross was a UC Berkeley student, he found some cafes intimidating. “The scene was so intense, and it was like cliques had formed within the cafe,” he said. With its outdoor seating and European ambiance, Ross feels Strada provides a more casual culture.

Of course, the coffee is held to a high standard. According to Ross, employees can make coffee drinks only after six months of observation. This commitment to quality, combined with Strada’s setting, has earned it seemingly irrevocable rights to the throne.

-Rajesh Srinivasan

Best Burger: Bongo Burger

Bongo Burger has three locations, so you’re never too far of a walk away regardless of which part of campus you frequent.

The menu – stocked with everything from breakfast options to fresh-squeezed juices to Mediterranean plates – doesn’t stick to In-N-Out-style minimalism, but the burger doesn’t really suffer for it. From the first bite, you can tell that this is something that was put together with a certain level of attention and care.

The patty – Niman Ranch, which purports to be “the finest tasting meat in the world” – is thick without being too absurdly large for your mouth. Shredded lettuce is an underrated feature that mixes in well with the standard mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. If you decided to get the mushroom burger, you find that the each little slice pops with juicy, smoky flavor. Toss in tomatoes and grilled onions, then sandwich it all between thick, toasty sesame seed buns.

For around $6 for the burger alone, there’s really no contest – at least within walking distance.

-Jack Wang

Best Class: Political Economy 100

In his course, political economy professor Alan Karras transforms himself from a Machiavellian Prince into a Hobbesian dictator and a pragmatist in the vein of Rousseau. He embodies Adam Smith, Hegel and Marx in turn, each with the command of a brilliant orator, all in attire that would convince any aesthetics aficionado that he’s stepped straight from the pages of The Sartorialist.

Professor Karras masterfully guides students through the canon of political and economic theories of the last five centuries. He challenges students to explore how the writings of this host of thinkers – largely dead, white, bearded men – have shaped the way we and our governments deal with the world and individuals.

Karras is a professor in the old school dealing with old schools of thought, but he will not accept old thinking. Your questions will be deflected back toward you. You’ll gain more than a repository of information – and bragging rights for conquering Hegel. Instead, students will question the assumptions and -isms that make up the modern world, and create their own.

-Noor Al-Samarrai

Best Place to Use Your Meal Points: Qualcomm CyberCafe

When you think of Qualcomm Cyber Cafe, you usually think of wraps. Custom-made wraps. Spinach, whole wheat, flour – the choice of flatbread is yours. Tucked away in a corner on the north side of campus in Sutardja Dai Hall, Qualcomm is one of the few cafes in or around the immediate area that offers quality wraps.

Most Qualcomm customers are en-“wrap”-tured by the wrap combo, which includes a drink and bag of chips to your liking. The food options don’t stop there, though. Have your pick of gourmet salads, mac & cheese, soup – or if you wanna go wild, try a breakfast wrap.

It even gets better than that: There’s a Peet’s Coffee inside Qualcomm, too! It’s the closest Peet’s you’ll find if you live right off of North Gate, and it’s one of three Peet’s locations in Berkeley that takes meal points.

You can leave Qualcomm with a pumpkin spice latte in one hand and a whole-wheat turkey wrap in the other. Bonus to spending meal points and time in Qualcomm: Every once in a while they’ll play Shakira’s Laundry Service album (ya know, the “Whenever, Whatever” one). What a deal.

-Dominique Brillon