With the holiday season--including its rivers of booze and mountains of sugary treats--increasingly far behind us, people are already far along in their campaigns of aggressive healthfulness. Luckily, there’s no better way to atone for any number of booze and butter-related sins than with a 24 oz compostable cup full of liquefied greens--and even luckier for you and your liver, the East Bay has no shortage of places to get green juices and smoothies. (As for the contentious question of whether or not juicing is actually good for you? That’s for you to decide) Here are six favorites in Berkeley and Oakland. And if we missed yours, let us know in the comments.
Piedmont Ave’s unpretentious Cafe Crush has a list of rules on its wall, and one of them states that “Happiness and healthfulness are meant to be fun.” It’s a rule that’s carried throughout the store, from it’s calming blue walls (and random decorations like a vintage fridge door), punny drink names and the cheeky sign on the door: “It’s not like drinking a salad: it is drinking a salad.”
Their menu is vast, encompassing juices, vegetable and fruit smoothies, and their combinations are interesting: ingredients include red cabbage, passion fruit juice and hemp seeds. Inspired by a recent Bay Area Bites post, I tried a juice with beets--the Radical Radiance, which along with beets had cucumber, celery, green tea and acai. I’m not sure if it reduced my “body and skin stress” like it claimed, but it was pleasantly vegetal and not too sweet. A Kalein’ It smoothie had a tropical flavor from the banana and passionfruit, with a subtle bite of coconut. The cheery service--I noticed a worker delivering a customer’s smoothie to their car while it was raining--is another plus.
The Gourmet Ghetto’s Juice Bar Collective is an institution--the worker-owned collective has been in business since 1976. And it still holds a central place in the community. On a recent weekday, there was a line out the tiny shop’s storefront that spilled onto the sidewalk. One customer took in the shop’s mail for them. Another asked about a collective member that had recently passed away.
Their enduring success suggests that they haven’t felt the need to keep up with recent trends. The small collection of smoothies and juices mainly focus on the old guard of fresh squeezed juices: carrot, orange, beet, with nary a quirkily named spinach juice in sight. The Veggie Patch (carrot, beet, celery, ginger and orange) was a beautiful burgundy color and tasty, if assertively beet forward. A JBC Kale smoothie with banana, kale, apple and carrot and orange juices was easy to drink, and the taste of kale was well-hidden behind an army of fruits. In keeping with the neighborhood--and to be fair, the cost associated with ensuring everything is organic--prices are exorbitant. The Veggie Patch was $8.50 for 16 oz. A banana smoothie--simply a banana blended with milk and nutmeg is $5.75. But with a place like this, you’re not coming for the deals. You’re coming for the purity of their ingredients, its history, or even just to admire the impressive output of their minuscule kitchen: a steady stream of grain salads, vegan pies, and vegetarian banh mis.
Just a few blocks away from the bustle of downtown Oakland, Marana Cafe is tucked away on 19th between the Fox Theater and Henry Kaiser Park. It’s a pleasant, unpretentious space--there’s a hand-drawn illustration of Steph Curry by the napkins--with an extensive food and beer menu (and a lengthy mimosa menu). Like many juice bars, the names serve as both health claims and wrestling names: Iron Fist, Hypertension Destroyer, Day Charger. There are a few unique pairings like the Collagen Blues (daikon, spinach, blueberry and cucumber), which was aggressively vegetal and cucumber heavy. The smoothies seem to be primarily designed for taste, not health: they’re very fruit focused, and only a few have veggies. There’s even a Nutella smoothie! If you’re willing to cheat on your detox, they’re pleasant: an Almond Strawberry Joy, with just almond milk, almond butter, banana and strawberry, was balanced, sweet and entirely satisfying.
Of all the juice bars I tried, Uptown Juice Company is the most explicitly health conscious--and the most hip. The decor is tasteful, the shelves packed with interesting items (barrel-aged sriracha, Oakland onesies), and the juice names are more often than not pop culture references (Gin-ger and Juice, Bonita Apple-BOMB) Since the company sells several premade cleanses (as the hand-lettered sign on their window reminds you, it’s clease month!), the cold-pressed juices, made from mostly organic and local produce, come pre-bottled (which you can return for the $2 deposit). A “Greenie in A Bottle,” with romaine, kale, chard, celery, cucumber and parsley, was so mild, it was almost tasteless. I craved anything--lemon, ginger, even kale’s bitterness--to cut the blandness of the romaine. They offer a handful of smoothie options, spiked with add-ins like flax and bee pollen. A turmeric smoothie, with turmeric, ginger and chia, was pleasantly spicy and sweet. Their cheerful staff and paleo-friendly food (from Berkeley’s Mission Heirloom) makes it an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon. They also have a happy hour on Fridays, making it an ideal spot to live out your #dryanuary goals as you avoid the cocktails at Dogwood two doors down.
Uptown Juice Company
1629 Broadway [map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 858-3735
Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-6pm; Sat 10am-2pm, Closed Sunday
Facebook: Uptown Juice Company
Price Range: $ (Beverages under $10)
Downtown Berkeley’s Juice Appeal is a small, cash-only shop where workers dance around each other to get to the juicer, Vitamix or patch of wheatgrass. Given the tininess of their space, it’s remarkable how many items they manage to carry (Gluten-free cookies, pepperoncini Kettle chips) and how extensive their menu is (Acai bowls, Numi teas, algae shots). But the bulk of their menu is smoothies and juices, a sprawling collection that includes four types of smoothies, probiotic juices, a selection of lemonades and traditional green juice blends. The juices, which are made with all organic produce, are fairly straightforward combinations of celery, spinach and apples. Most juices include ginger, which gave the Berkeley Greens juice (kale, spinach, lemon, ginger and celery) a welcome shot of flavor and spice. Say yes to the offered sprinkle of cayenne: like most vegan food, juices are greatly enhanced by as much spice as possible.
Their smoothie list is less pious, focusing on sweet, kid-friendly and Jamba Juice-esque fruit blends. Many of them include frozen yogurt. But one of the most popular is the Energizer, a tasty banana strawberry smoothie with wheat germ and bee pollen. Strawberry-banana is classic for a reason, and this drink showed why. It was balanced, and thankfully not too sweet. And if you feel like being extra virtuous you can add kale or spinach for a dollar more.
Fresh and Best 2 (the first is located in the Berkeley Hills) is the studious urbanite’s dream: a clean, quiet, space with plenty of seating and a varied menu. In other words, an ideal study spot. While the menu includes everything from cafe staples like club sandwiches and grilled chicken wraps to more interesting options like tofu skin bahn mis or shrimp rolls, a good chunk of their menu is focused on juices and smoothies, all of which can be made with with almond or soy milk, or be supplemented with extra greens. The mango-y Tropical Green smoothie was pleasantly fruity and had no spinach or parsley flavor. A Green Power Juice, with spinach, kale, ginger and apple was surprisingly sweet, with a very strong apple flavor and a nice amount of ginger spice. The drinks could have been blended more thoroughly but the relative affordability (20 oz for less than $6!) more than makes up for their lack of Instagram potential.