The East Bay is one of the best places in the country to eat, but there's a lot of terrible food around campus, as is the case with most campuses. Yelp will become your best friend when you have too many options to choose between.
You can keep up with local restaurants opening and closing on the Berkeleyside Nosh.
Most people in the department eat lunch on Northside. There are also cheap options on Southside and Downtown. The hardcore food lovers among us may wander to the Gourmet Ghetto, where there are many wonderful places, at most of which we can't afford to eat on a regular basis. On a sunny day, it's nice to bring a brown bag lunch and eat in the grass outside.
Northside (Hearst and Euclid)
Stuffed Inn has the best sandwiches on Northside. For around $5, you can get a relatively healthy sandwich with all the fixin's. Hummingbird Cafe is a close second for best sandwich.
If you aren't too sick of eating pizza at all the department events, there's La Val's on Euclid. Pizzahhh makes custom pizzas for dirt cheap.
The food court on Hearst, which is filled with Asian joints. Chianglai (Thai) and Aki's (Japanese) are reliable, while T.C. Garden (Chinese) has a cult following for its dirt-cheapness.
La Burrita has Mexican food, and the best part is the free chips you get with your burrito. Urbann Turbann offers a large and tasty Indian version of Chipotle. Rice bowls or wraps are available, and nothing is too spicy. D'yar serves mediterranean food. All of these places have some seating but are better for takeout.
Brewed Awakenings has decent coffee, better sweet snacks, and several fresh fruit smoothies to charm you. Yali's on the first floor of the Stanley Hall and Village Grounds on Shattuck are the places to go if you only drink royal grade stuff. The Peet's Coffee & Tea on the west side of Sutardja Dai Hall offers nice coffee and large orange couches.
Northside Cafe is the only place for miles that offers a decent baked potato, well-balanced salads, alongside some more modern cafe fare.
Southside (Telegraph and Durant/Bancroft)
The food court on Durant, unfortunately known as the Asian Ghetto, has a slightly better average than the Hearst food court. Our picks are Thai Basil, painfully slow but with painfully good curries, and the decidedly non-Asian Gypsy's, an Italian place who do surprising good salads. Steve's Korean BBQ is not for the faint of heart; get ready for a mountain of meat.
There's a House of Curries on Durant. On the corner of Durant and Telegraph is Smart Alec's Intelligent Food, which would be as healthy as claimed except that we can't stop eating the cornbread.
Cafe Milano on Bancroft is a good spot to buckle down and work. On Bancroft and College, Caffe Strada has decent coffee and excellent people-watching. The I-House Cafe has rubbish coffee and extraordinary people-watching. There are several more nice coffee shops further down College Avenue to work in, like Sack's Coffee House, Espresso Roma, and the Beanery.
Downtown is where the food scene is at. You can find food at all price ranges and of all types of cuisine. Some favorites include Jupiter's for their pizza and beer, Angeline's Louisiana kitchen, Venus for brunch, and Sliver for pizza.
By Food Category
The Cheeseboard (Shattuck at Vine) makes one kind of pizza a day -- you don't get a choice. It's always vegetarian, and they prefer idiosyncratic toppings like eggplant and potato (potato!). They're only open five hours a day, and what little space there is inside is mostly filled by a jazz small group, so you'll probably have to sit outside on the median strip in the middle of Shattuck Ave. You will go back to the Cheeseboard again and again, because at $2.50 a slice, there's no better cheap food in Berkeley. It is also a co-op, which means that the staff all part own the business, and is why the working hours are so staff friendly as opposed to customer friendly. A definite Berkeley must-do experience.
If you want beer with your pizza, Lanesplitter (several locations, loving selection of microbrews) and Jupiter (Shattuck at Allston, nitro stouts and double IPA) are excellent choices.
Closer to Evans, La Val's (on Euclid) is better than Fat Slice (on Telegraph) is better than Blondie's (on Telegraph).
For something different, Zachary's (College, near the Rockridge BART) deep dish pizza has won over ten zillion best pizza awards with their flavour-bomb tomatoes and operatic use of basil. Two slices of the spinach & mushroom might fill you up for days.
Topping all of these is Pizzaiolo (Telegraph at 51st), but that's a hard restaurant to get out of for less than $30.
Downscale: Bongo Burger has 3 locations: Euclid on Northside, Dwight on Southside, and Center Street Downtown
In the Middle: Burgermeister (Shattuck and Kittredge), Eureka! (Center St)
Upscale (places we're not afraid to have a medium-rare burger): 900 Grayson (West Berkeley), Gregoire (Gourmet Ghetto)
Here in Berkeley, there aren't many good noodle shops and they're mostly clustered on Shattuck. There's Toss Noodle Bar where you can choose your meat, sauce, and noodles, Kaze Ramen, and a bunch of Thai places.
Ippuku makes their own soba noodles, but it's expensive. Save it for when your parents visit.
Further afield, there's Noodle Theory, Itani Ramen, and the Ramen Shop.
Chinese: Daimo (Cantonese, Pacific East Mall carpark in Richmond), Spices 3 (Taiwanese-Sichuan, Oakland Chinatown), Great China (Korean Chinese, Downtown Berkeley), Shanghai (Oakland Chinatown), China Village (Sichuan, Solano), Shan Dong (Oakland Chinatown).
Indian: Udupi Palace is awesome vegetarian, South Indian food. For Northern Indian, there's Taste of the Himalayas on Shattuck and Mount Everest on Telegraph. Other options are Vik's Chaat (West Berkeley) and House of Curries (various locations). There are buffets around, if you're into that kind of thing.
Mexican: Cancun Taqueria (Allston, Downtown), Comal (Shattuck), Guacamole 61 (Shattuck, Gourmet Ghetto), Cholita Linda (Temescal)
Thai: Ruen Pair (Albany), Andy and Cindy's at the Farmers' Market, Cha Am, Tuk Tuk Thai (mostly because it's open till 1 a.m.). The Berkeley Thai Temple is supposed to be good for Sunday brunch.
Korean: Pyung Chang Tofu House, Korean Kitchen
Middle Eastern: D'yar, Oasis Grill, Turkish Kitchen
Ethiopian: Cafe Colucci, Barcote
Chez Panisse is the birthplace of California cuisine and still the second-best restaurant in the country, at least according to Gourmet magazine. The fixed menu downstairs will set you back $70-110 a head if you don't drink; a la carte upstairs is slightly cheaper. Highest quality ingredients you'll find anywhere.