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Back to Berkeley: An Incomplete Guide to Local Pizza Joints By CASSIE NORTON

Tuesday August 23, 2005

Hello, my name is Cassie Norton, and I’m a college student. 

When my editors asked me about contributing to a “Back to Berkeley” edition of the Daily Planet, I thought for a few minutes about what information students need to know when they arrive at their college of choice. 

There are things you will only learn by asking, like the best place to do laundry on or off campus, the best bar for wasting a Friday night, and the easiest way to pass a particularly difficult class. These are the things freshmen discuss with sophomores and juniors, those who are in the know—and they make friends in the process. Or you can just go find out for yourself. 

But it’s easy to get in a rut after that first, exciting year. You found a bar you like, so you don’t go anywhere else. You do laundry in the basement of your dorm because it’s close and convenient, though maybe not the cheapest. And you ordered pizza one night when you were starving, and though it’s never tasted quite as good since that first time, that’s the parlor of choice for you. 

Wake up, people! There are dozens of pizza places in Berkeley and almost all of them deliver. It’s time to rediscover that staple of college life—and possibly save a couple bucks in the process. Keep reading for places that deserve your patronage and places to avoid. 


Domino’s Pizza 

I’m starting with Domino’s for one simple reason. It’s a chain, and as such, it sucks. If you have a particular attachment to their pizza, there are two in town, one on Adeline (652-8077) and one on University (849-9000). The only good thing about Domino’s is that they’re open fairly late—the stores are open until 1 a.m. and the last delivery is at 12:30 a.m. A large pizza (all large pizzas are 14 inches, unless noted otherwise) is $10.99. Minimum charge for delivery is $10.39 and there is a $1 delivery fee. 

There, now that we’ve addressed that point, let’s move on to better, more unique fare. 


La Val’s Pizza 

There are two La Val’s locations, and though the one on Euclid (540-9333) is closer to campus, I’m going to tell you about the one on Durant (845-1652), off of Telegraph, because that’s the one I went to. Also because I hear it’s better, atmospherically speaking. 

La Val’s is in the basement of 2516 Durant. It’s pretty large for a pizza place, which is good, since it also features an arcade complete with DDR and a pay-to-play pool table. There are booths and long, family-style tables upon which to consume your pizza and beer. A large cheese is $12.95 and a pint is $3.50. If you’re looking for atmosphere with your pizza, this is the place for you. The crowd is mixed and there are always a few biker dudes hanging around. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for great pizza, this is probably not the best place. The cheese pizza is so greasy, my dinner companion and I used 22 napkins to mop up the slices and our fingers. For comparison purposes, I ate a slice (or more) of plain pizza at every parlor—the pizza may or may not be better with the addition of toppings—but I’m talking about bare bones, brass tacks pizza. Also I don’t like stuff on my pizza. 

Anyway, La Val’s isn’t the best for value or flavor, but it is on What’s that, you say? is a website that allows you to order your food from local vendors online rather than picking up a phone and interacting with an actual human being. Vendors also offer specials that are not available elsewhere. 


Fat Slice Pizza 

Right around the corner on Telegraph is one of my favorite pizza places. Fat Slice (548-6479) lives up to its name—the pieces are big and thick, and if you insist on toppings, a fully loaded veggie pizza at $15 is just a dollar more than the plain. The pizza is pretty good—nothing to swoon over, but it’s certainly not going to kill you. They don’t deliver, but they are open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and are located smack in the middle of bustling Telegraph Avenue, just down the block from the popular night spot Blake’s. 

The pizza is expensive, but you get a lot for the money. If you’re in the neighborhood and hungry, drop by for a big, fat slice. 


Extreme Pizza 

Extreme Pizza (486-0770) is on Shattuck Avenue, conveniently in the same block as Blockbuster Video. They too have beer on tap. Happy hour specials from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. will get you a pitcher for $8 and a pint for $2. I have say, this whole pizza and beer in the same place thing is pretty smart. Where I go to school (Albany, New York, in case you care), you have to buy your pizza and take it with you to the bar. So props for that. 

Props for not much else, unfortunately. The pizza has a paltry amount of cheese and is fairly greasy. The crust is thin and crisp, which is nice, but not very tasty on its own. A large cheese is $12.45 and the last delivery is at 10:30. The décor is suggested by its name and features photos of people engaged in “extreme” activities. Also, there’s a bike hanging from the ceiling. Seating is fairly minimal, supplemented by an outdoor courtyard shared with High-Tech Burrito. 


The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective 

More frequently referred to as simply The Cheeseboard (549-3055), this is a venerable Berkeley institution. An offshoot of the neighboring Cheeseboard Collective, the pizza parlor has wonky hours (Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.–8 p.m.; Sat. 12 p.m.–3 p.m., 4:30 p.m.–8 p.m.) and offers only one flavor of pizza each day. It’s cash only, not much seating, and the lines are usually long. But they move quickly and there’s often live music to entertain you while you wait. 

A pie is $18 (which is actually a pie plus two pieces) and a slice is $2.25. There’s no delivery, so you’ll just have to go down there. I can’t tell you what the plain pizza is like, because they don’t make plain pizza, but here’s the amazing part. I ate the pizza they gave me, with tomatoes, red peppers, onion, mozzarella, parmesan, basil and olive oil. I didn’t pick any of it off, and that’s the highest endorsement I can give to a pizza. This is the place in Berkeley for gourmet pizza. 


Fiesta Pizza 

If you’ve made it this far, well done. Your reward is learning about my favorite pizza place, Fiesta Pizza on Shattuck Ave. 

Now the only reason I know about this place is that it’s right up the street from the Daily Planet office, but I’m very glad it is. Fiesta Pizza’s slices are thick and very big, with a crispy crust and a tangy sauce. And if you’re a cheese fan, this is the place for you. I think this is the only pizza parlor I found that uses only mozzarella—and there’s a lot of it. It’s not a traditional kind of pizza, but it’s pretty cheap and damn tasty. 

The seating is practically non-existent, so call them at 644-1222, and if you’re picking it up, don’t forget to grab a menu for all those weird people who want toppings on their pizza. Delivery goes to 10:30 p.m. and is free. A large plain is $9.95 and an extra large (16 inches) is $11.95. 

And so I say unto to you, “Good eating, my fellow pizza lovers!” Even if you choose to ignore my sage advice and eat at Domino’s, at the very least you’ll know where to find them. There are plenty of other pizza places in Berkeley, as a Google search will reveal, and I encourage you to broaden your culinary horizons by sampling as many of them as possible. College is a time for discovery and learning, and it will serve you well to know, for future posterity, whether you prefer Chicago or New York style pizza, and what kind of beer goes best with each.