berkeley bowl west sign

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Berkeley Bowl for years. I love it because it’s usually the only place I can find escarole, the produce department has 20 different types of onions and more varieties of pears than I knew existed, and I’ve never seen more tomatoes loaded up in huge gorgeous piles of red, yellow, purple and green anywhere. It also has one of the best fish markets in the area, a plentiful butcher counter with diverse cuts of meat, and more bin-food items than you could ever hope to scoop.

Unfortunately, the negatives are so overwhelming that I rarely step foot in the place. The parking lot alone is reason enough to run for the hills. It’s like demolition derby with aged Volvos trying to out-maneuver newer hybrids to stake their claims on the all too elusive parking spots. By the time I make it inside the actual store I need a valium, but am instead met with a melee of other crabby shoppers who are also irritated from their own parking lot experiences, sticky floors, and long lines. The whole place gives me a headache.

cheese counter

But after seven long years of planning, negotiating, and building, Berkeley Bowl has opened a new warehouse-style market just off Ashby in Berkeley near I-80. This is great news for anyone who loves what Berkeley Bowl has to offer but detests actually shopping there. With two large parking lots, a new and clean interior with pretty much everything the old store offers, plus a large café with ample seating, it’s the new go-to East Bay market.

Like the old store, Berkeley Bowl West has a vast produce section with plenty of beautifully ripe fruits and vegetables of all kinds abundantly laid out. The organic section, however, is a little different in that it is now set apart from the main fruits and vegetables area and shares a space with the bulk food aisles. This is somewhat convenient as it means you no longer have to discern which fruits and vegetables are organic while shopping. I must admit, however, that it’s sort of a pain to have to get your cucumbers weighed and the bag stickered with the price before you can leave the zone. Cemone, the woman who weighed my fruit, said they set up the organic section this way because the checkers had too many SKU numbers to memorize and this made the checkout area run more smoothly. She seemed very earnest and nice when telling me about their system, but I must say I’m skeptical about the merits of separately weighing and pricing everything only to have to get in line again later to check out. I will reserve judgment, however, until I’m there on a busy day.

produce dept

As with the original Berkeley Bowl, the prices are great. When I was there last week, heirloom tomatoes were available for about $2.50 a pound and organic Rainer cherries for under $1.50 a pound. The fresh local halibut was just under $10 a pound, a dozen organic eggs were $2.99, and I bought the most delicious locally-made ricotta for under $4. Nothing makes me happier than buying beautiful fresh foods at low prices.


The new market also has an abundant beer and wine section full of interesting choices, including two large shelves of sake, which I thought was pretty impressive. And like the old store, they have an extensive cheese selection. The food counter and deli will be a highlight for anyone wishing to purchase take-away food and has a notable array of items: fresh sushi, sandwiches, soups, salads, cooked dinner items, and anything else you could want, including an enormous collection of olives.

Overall, my shopping expedition to Berkeley Bowl West was enjoyable. We parked right away, our cart didn’t have a stuck wheel, and the store was clean. Best of all it wasn’t crowded and people were actually pleasant. Finally I could enjoy that amazing selection of food without wanting to rip my hair out.

Berkeley Bowl West
920 Heinz Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 898-9555
Store Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm

Berkeley Bowl West 6 August,2009Denise Santoro Lincoln

  • Anna

    Buddy! I know that it’s hard to write especially for blogs, but there is absolutely no reason to plagarize. I am not sure if you thought people would notice or not but here is your sentence about the Berkeley Bowl parking lot:

    “It’s like demolition derby with aged Volvos trying to out-maneuver newer hybrids to stake their claims on the all too elusive parking spots.”

    And here is, honestly a more elegant quote about the BB parking lot written a couple months earlier in the chronicle:

    “The parking lot is a gridlocked swamp of road rage, a demolition derby of Priuses and rusty old Volvos vying for parking spots.” By Carolyn Jones.

    I actually emailed that quote out to my friends because I loved it so much, but I don’t love it enough to claim as my own. Please give credit where credit is due (or delete the quote).

    Totally not okay…

  • Denise Lincoln

    Hi Anna — Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I in no way meant to imitate the sentence from the article you list in your comment. Any similarity was inadvertent and I hope you agree that all those other sentences in the piece are completely different in both structure and content. While Ms. Jones focuses on how the new Berkeley Bowl West neighborhood responded to the planning of the new store and details the other grocery stores available in the area, my article instead simply discusses why I personally like the new Berkeley Bowl West so much more than the old store. My inability to go to Berkeley Bowl for the last five years is 99% due to that parking lot and when I wrote my post I was trying to relay that. I didn’t refer to Ms Jones’ article while writing my post, although do read SF Gate often. I can only suspect that I read this article when it came out in May and the image of the Volvos stuck with me. Thanks again for your comment and I hope otherwise enjoy reading BAB.

  • david shimada

    the addition of the new berkeley west store has had a huge impact on the original store’s traffic, berkeley west has such better lines, no more waiting half an hour waiting at the register, but it still may be advised to park on the street vs. the lot

  • The old Berkeley Bowl was my living hell. My husband and I got fed up we boycotted it, but only managed 3 weeks before we slinked back in, their product offering and pricing was just too hard to resist. But I absolutely 100% hated every second of the experience. Parking was hellacious to say the least as well as all the other issues you mentioned. I drove by the construction on my way home every night for a year and anxiously waited for its birth. I nearly got down on my knees and kissed the sidewalk outside of the doors of Berkeley Bowl West on the first day it opened! I love it, everything is wonderful – I just hope it stays that way!

  • Mike

    Berkeley Bowl West is heaven on earth and you all should shop there.


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise’s Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

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