San Francisco is a city of the night. We like to go out late, stay out till early, and start our days when most other cities are half-finished with theirs. But if the city is ruled by the moon (and maybe some MDMA), the East Bay is ruled by the sun and not just because they actually get some. Sure, there are places in Berkeley and Oakland to go after dark, but our sisters across the water are places best experienced while clear yellow light is still shining through green trees onto wide streets lined with charming wooden houses or charming little breakfast spots. I won’t argue that the East Bay has better breakfast places than San Francisco does though the competition is formidable but I will say that if I’m in Emeryville or Alameda, the likelihood of me getting up in time to have breakfast is much, much greater than if I’ve spent the last hours of yesterday and the first of today in the Mission or Polk Gulch. And so here is a guide to my favorite places to enjoy that first meal of the day at a time when you don’t have to call it dinner, and in a place where being up that early is, well, worth it.
WAT MONGKOLRATANARAM (A.K.A. THE THAI TEMPLE)
There’s nothing that says Berkeley like Sunday brunch at the Thai Temple: ethnic food, an eccentric crowd, ridiculous prices, and a certain amount of in-the-know-ness that’s required to even find yourself there. Sure, the mango and sweet rice or spicy green beans and tofu are more lunch fare than what we’d traditionally think of as breakfast food, but the temple starts serving them at 9 a.m. and the delicious and just-oily-enough meat or veggie options are the perfect hangover cure for a night out in the city. A few extra hints: bring your own drinks, unless you want the stellar Thai iced tea; get there before 12:30 p.m., when they start running out of the good stuff; and, if in a group, use a divide-and-conquer, multiline approach to ordering. Then stretch out on the lawn of the library next door for a nice, sunny afternoon nap.
1911 Russell, Berk. (510) 849-3419
The name may be silly, but the Mexican-inspired fare at this Old Town Oakland eatery is serious. The real draw is the back patio, which manages with large umbrellas and red and white checkered tablecloths to be both classy and casual at the same time. But crispy potatoes served with sour cream, savory crepes with chicken-apple sausage, and an omelet made with slow-roasted pork would even make sitting inside worth it. Extra extra bonus points for including a Michelada (a beer and tomato juice cocktail, sometimes called a poor man’s Bloody Mary) on the menu, as most people have never even heard of it.
719 Washington, Oakl. (510) 465-5400, www.cockadoodlecafe.com
Don’t let the fact that you have to order at the counter fool you this is no fast-food bagel joint. It’s cornmeal blueberry pancakes and bacon-onion scrambles so deliciously and lovingly prepared that when you’re done, you’ll hardly remember that no one showed up at your table with a notepad. Plus, you can enjoy your meal either in the intimate dining room breakfast with your best bud, anyone? or on the back patio. Who needs table service too?
1235 San Pablo, Albany. (510) 526-6325
I love breakfast food. Always have, even if I’m eating it at midnight. So it’s hard to make me unhappy with an early-day menu. But it’s equally hard to impress me with every single part of a breakfast and Café Cacao manages it. You could argue I’m distracted by the aroma of chocolate wafting over from the Scharffen Berger factory next door, or that I’m charmed by the classy-yet-casual Eurostyle architecture. But I know it’s really that the eggs are poached to perfection, the levain toast has just the right combination of texture and taste, the rosemary brown butter is rich and flavorful without being too heavy, the accompanying salad is fresh and not overdressed, and the hot chocolate (made with real chocolate) is the best I’ve ever had in my life.
914 Heinz, Berk. (510) 843-6000, www.cafecacao.biz
How is it that Venus is both pretty and unpredictable? With breakfast haunts, usually you have to choose one or the other. But not at this lovely, less crowded alternative to La Note. Brick walls and a map-inspired (or maybe collage-inspired) menu give it a homey feel. Creative options from a framboise mimosa to Indian breakfast served with banana raita make the food distinctive. And true culinary virtuosity the fresh fruit and cashew, almond, and poppyseed brittle over yogurt could make me give up omelets forever make the establishment worth trying again and again. Plus, everything here is seasonal, organic, and sustainable: good for your body and your conscience.
2327 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 540-5950, www.venusrestaurant.net