I love to have breakfast out, and if I can perch myself on a stool at a counter in a workaday place with a newspaper and engage in a little repartee, so much the better.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Queens, New York, where going to a diner or luncheonette for the weekday breakfast special as a “regular” was part of my culture. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time at u-shaped counters in the Flushing Horn & Hardart restaurant as a child in the '60s, being offered egg sandwiches and cup custards by the servers, as my mother and grandmother worked elsewhere in the restaurant.
Even as a college student and then young married person with a toddler in the '80s, I’d be hunched over The New York Times at The Bel Aire Diner in Astoria at 7 a.m. enjoying a hot, budget-friendly breakfast. That same breakfast at The Bel Aire—a basic plate of eggs, home fries and toast with a small juice and coffee—is now, in 2011, $3.95, so that gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.
When our family relocated to San Francisco, I experienced breakfast sticker shock and was in a huff about paying extra for coffee. We didn’t go out for too many breakfasts until moving to the East Bay, where our options improved considerably. While I wouldn’t call breakfast in El Cerrito and environs cheap, exactly, you can do alright.
The restaurants I list offer two eggs, potatoes and breakfast bread of some kind for less than $6, exclusive of tax and tip. I provided the current price for that particular selection for each eatery, and ordered the list by price. These places are not fancy because I don’t want or need upscaling for a weekday breakfast, just a good plate of eggs, a continuous loop of decent coffee, and a little banter, if possible.
11740 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
Plenty of tables and a nice, long counter greet you at this laid-back place where it’s easy to read the paper and relax before work. You can select grits or rice instead of 'taters, and there’s a shared parking lot.
1300 4th St, Berkeley
Here we have an open, light space in Berkeley’s industrial area that packs them in. There’s plenty of seating, a small counter and a parking lot. A touch of hipness here, and they serve Acme Bread.
Broom Bush Café
2725 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley
This very small, old-fashioned, somewhat funky luncheonette-type joint has good eats. They’re very generous and there’s no pretense—and no parking lot. Grits and a biscuit may be subbed for potatoes and toast, respectively.
10841 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
A sliver of a room with orange 1970s lampshades hanging over the counter and one row of tables, Nibs leaves nothing to be desired—except space, because they do such a good business. A couple of breakfasts and you’ll be one of the family, and you certainly won’t leave hungry. Grits or rice may be selected, but the home fries are good.
1235 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley
Hip and friendly—and you must, absolutely must, order before taking a table. They turn out great eggs at this super-creative, popular restaurant, and the hunk of toasted baguette as your bread option is advised. Street parking can be painful, and they are cash only.
11900 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
You can watch the short-order cook work your 'fast if you sit at the counter. A tight space with a retro interior—and a parking lot.
6060 Central Ave, El Cerrito
$5.65 a la carte (“Two-Egger” combo with meat is only $5.95, though)
This small, local chain—headquartered in El Cerrito, by the by—offers up respectable breakfasts and is my go-to place during odd hours. The El Cerrito Nation’s is open 24 hours, and there are always customers present, even at 3 a.m., which allows me to scribble away on my yellow pad (this is actual paper, not a computer) with my fifth cup of coffee without feeling like I’m the last person on earth.
10064 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
Tucked in next to the , this artsy little restaurant has a counter that enables small-talk with the friendly proprietor as you eat your eggs—but feel free to sit at a table. Street parking is often difficult here.