We’ve spent the last year touring different neighborhoods in the East Bay looking for the best bites and sips around. Instead of dropping into the typical dining meccas — the Gourmet Ghetto, Temescal, Rockridge — we’ve taken a look at areas that are a little off the radar. We’re currently spending lots of our time eating and drinking in Oakland. Three of our favorite neighborhoods? West Oakland, Old Oakland and KoNo (Or Koreatown. Or Northgate.). Take a look at our round-up of picks below, and find our full guides by following the links.
Stretching from Interstate 580 in the north down towards Jack London Square in the south, West Oakland is a sprawling neighborhood. Small restaurants and cafés have slowly been opening up alongside established diners, taquerias, and fried fish joints. Some offer re-imagined versions of the area’s historic soul food cuisine, while others bring new ideas and flavors. Most operate in harmony with the diverse neighborhood, celebrating the homey goodness that is Oakland cuisine.
We like to stop into Tamales la Oaxaquena for some of chef Rosa Oliva’s artful banana-leaf wrapped tamales filled with rich, earthy, chile-filled moles. Nearby, Brown Sugar Kitchen serves up delicious chicken and waffles, plus other reimagined soul food classics like smoked mashed yams and pulled pork sandwiches. Or, if we’re feeling feisty, we like to head to FuseBOX for some of the best chicken wings you’ll ever eat. We chase them with gooey, hot bacon-wrapped mochi. Down the street, we stop in to Kilovolt Coffee for a cup of Joe and a bagel. (There’s also now a location of Trouble Coffee, for those who want grapefruit juice, coconut water and $4 toast with their coffee.) Both Pretty Lady and 10th and Wood make mean a mean breakfast or brunch destination. And the Mandela Foods Cooperative is a fresh vegetable oasis next to the West Oakland Bart. Grab a short-rib sandwich to-go from Zella’s, the soul food joint inside the co-op, before you leave.
Just a few short years ago, a trip to Old Oakland wouldn’t include much more than a jaunt through the farmers market or a stop into La Snackeria (RIP) for tamales and tortillas. But following the opening of The Trappist and revitalization of Swan’s Marketplace, the neighborhood situated between the Convention Center and the 880/580 interstates has become a boomtown for good eats.
Galeto Brazilian Grill gets props for both its abundant meat selection and its overflowing salad bar. Nearby in Swan’s Marketplace, Cosecha slings killer shrimp tacos and excellent green chicken pozole. Next door, Hen House and its neighboring wine bar, Deep Roots, serve up seasonal pizzas with locally-made wine to match, all from the tiniest restaurant you’ve ever seen. Dig into a generous “Oakland-style” oyster po’boy at The Cook and Her Farmer. Eat a kale salad on the side if you’re feeling virtuous. Or venture to AS B-Dama for udon soup, crisp karaage, picturesque sushi and, if you’re lucky, a special bowl of uni chawanmushi. Outside of the Swan’s food court area, Rosamunde grills a staggering number of different sausages. Enjoy one on the patio with a cold craft beer. For an even more indulgent meal, consider the fried chicken at Miss Ollie’s. It’s laced with jerk seasoning, expertly fried and served with abundant portions of braised greens and tangy potato salad. Down the street, Caffe 817 offers a homey, low-key spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, and Desco prepares an affordable Italian-inspired happy hour, complete with house-made salumi. Finish off an Old Oakland visit with a stop into The Trappist for a Belgian beer or two, and then take a quick jaunt into Umami Mart to pick up Japanese culinary supplies — and sake.
While some may bicker over the name, Oakland’s KoNo (Koreatown-Northgate) neighborhood is certainly a dining destination. Oakland’s First Friday celebration has moved towards KoNo in the last year; the regular nighttime bar scene is also growing in popularity. There are, of course, still Korean restaurants in the area. However, newer, hipper spots seem to opening every few months and will likely define the growth of the neighborhood in the coming years.
Oasis Food Market offers both freshly baked pita to-go and pretty darn tasty falafel and shwarma sandwiches. Across the street, Black Spring Coffee pours a unique low-acid coffee called Monsoon Medley, which is made from an Indian coffee bean. (It’s also one of the few Bay Area coffee shops without wifi.) Down the street, grab a pint of local (or British) beer and a Scottish egg while watching soccer at Commonwealth Café. Sunday night trivia is also a good entertainment choice. More adventurous diners should head to Dan Sung Sa (a.k.a. “Porno Palace”) for Korean bar food and absolutely zero actual porn. Or venture across the street to Gogi Time for real, live fire Korean barbecue. You will smell like smoke for weeks afterwards, but it’ll be worth it. Ethiopian food fans go crazy for the injera across the street at Café Dareye, and cocktail lovers flock to The Double Standard, the newest bar in the neighborhood. The three towering redwood trees in its backyard are a pleasant surprise. Dinner and a movie is a great option at The New Parkway; we like to gamble on the “Mystery Meal.” Grocery shoppers have many options between Koreana Plaza and The Good Hop Bottle Shop — after all, what good is house-made kimchi without a good beer to wash it down? Further down Telegraph, we like to get dinner at the always-friendly Kingston 11. (Jerk chicken for the win.) And later, we always debate between grabbing an after dinner dink at Telegraph Beer Garden or Lost and Found. You really can’t go wrong.