Food

Yelp Says This Bay Area Pizza Place is the Best in America

In a list launched yesterday, popular restaurant rating company Yelp dropped a bombshell. Although the New York area is traditionally known for having the best pizza in America, Yelp departed from tradition and awarded that doughy honor to a Bay Area Pizza place: Cheese Board Pizza in Berkeley.

According to Yelp, the decision was made based on a mix of factors. These included the total number of ratings that different restaurants had received, the overall ratings awarded to each pizza joint, and other information derived from its army of users and Yelp Elites who rate restaurants all over the country.

Visiting the Cheese Board Pizza

Yelp said that at the Cheese Board, “Yelpers love to try out new toppings with the daily pizza menu.” That’s right: Cheese Board Pizza changes its pizza daily, and only offers one pizza per day. That means its selection is always changing, which keeps things fresh.

Pizza at the Cheese Board Pizza
Pizza at the Cheese Board Pizza. Credit Gado Images.

The popular Bay Area pizza joint is located on Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley’s famous Gourmet Ghetto. It’s across the street from Chez Panisse, one of the restaurants that launched the New American food movement in the 1970s, and remains one of the best-known restaurants in the world. The Cheese Board pizza shop is an offshoot of the Cheese Board Collective, a cheese shop that’s based on a collective governance model (some would call it an anarchist cheese shop).

Legend has it that Alice Waters chose to locate Chez Panisse in Berkeley in part because the Cheese Board would be nearby. That means that the collective largely started the Berkeley food scene. Selling enough cheese to make ends meet is hard, though. So in 1985, employee-owners of the Cheese Board started making and selling pizzas to the public.

Vegetarian Pies and Good Vibes

Today, the Cheese Board Pizza collective rotates in one pie per day. You can visit their website to see what’s on offer on a given day. Expect to stand in a long but fast-moving line, and then to receive your pie either to go or on a wicker holder to eat there. Top your pizza with the Cheese Board’s famous spicy green sauce.

The Cheese Board has a nice parklet jutting into Shattuck Avenue where you can sit and eat. Technically you can’t sit and eat on the nearby grassy median strip, but tons of people do. Pair your pizza with a coca-cola in a glass bottle and follow it with buffalo milk soft serve ice cream when it’s available.

People dine at the Cheese Board Pizza
People dine at the Cheese Board Pizza. Credit Gado Images.

Keep in mind that all of the Cheese Board’s pies are vegetarian, so don’t ask to add pepperoni. In fact, don’t ask to alter the pizza much at all–unless you’re buying a whole pie, modifications to the pizzas are limited. Check in advance, too, whether the Cheese Board is open on a given day. As a collective, the Cheese Board Pizza takes a lot of days off, and you don’t want to arrive and find that it’s closed.

The Cheese Board pizza is definitely worth a visit. Take a look the next time you’re in Berkeley. The Cheese Board used to have live music, but has suspended it until the pandemic abates (as have other pizza places in the Bay Area), so make sure to visit when they (hopefully) begin offering tunes with your pie again.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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