By Emily Laskin
Among all the other great things they do for local farmers and communities, our East Bay farmers markets have a workaround to the grocery-shopping-while-hungry problem: a diverse and awesome array of prepared food stalls where you can grab a quick, fresh meal.
A bunch of local favorites have gotten their start at farmers markets before moving into brick-and-mortar locations (looking at you, Cholita Linda), which makes our local markets great places to scope out adventurous and up-and-coming establishments. There’s some wild stuff available out there — even duck and chicken balut (fetal eggs) from Doan Farm’s stall at the Old Oakland Market on Fridays.
Here are seven of our (slightly less adventurous) favorites, but there are tons more stalls and trucks. Let us know about your favorites in the comments below.
Andy and Cindy’s Thai Cuisine, various locations
Andy and Cindy’s Thai Cuisine is a farmers market fixture, turning up weekly at all the major East Bay markets and beyond. There, Andy Szachnowizc and Cindy Yang serve up Thai street food with a few more polished dishes. Every item on their small but varied menu is worth a try, but if you just one thing, make it the steamed red snapper in a banana leaf. For veggie lovers, don’t miss the tofu and vegetable curry — as long as you have a place to sit down and it eat! Crispy egg rolls and chicken satay are perfect for snacking-while-shopping. Andy and Cindy’s Thai Cuisine is at the South Berkeley Market on Tuesdays; Grand Lake on Saturdays; Downtown Berkeley on Saturdays; and Temescal on Sundays.
Reem’s Traditional Arab Street Food, Old Oakland
Reem’s Traditional Arab Street Food offers that perfect blend of familiar and surprising flavors. The operation specializes in mana’eesh — traditional flatbread that are cooked to order on a special rounded griddle, filled with toppings and rolled into a wrap-style sandwich. Mana’eesh have all the Middle Eastern flavor and heat you’d expect from your local falafel shop, but with more variation and subtlety in ingredients. One recent Friday, both the Crazy Spicy Cool (cheese, chile and sweet pepper paste, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, mint) and the Pali-Cali (chicken, sumac, arugula) hit the spot. Also check out Reem’s hibiscus rose cooler — only available during the summer. Reem’s Traditional Arab Street Food is at the Old Oakland Market on Fridays. Connect with the business on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Gyros, Grand Lake
It’s easy for this unassuming spot to get overshadowed by its Grand Lake neighbor — the ever popular dim sum stall (see below) — but don’t overlook it! Named for its main dish, the beef and lamb gyro, this stall offers up no-fuss, no-muss portable food. No surprises on the menu here, but everything is done just right, with gyro meat that’s juicy but not greasy, chewy lavash wraps, and super fresh produce. The real star of the show in this writer’s opinion is the baklava, made with pistachios and raw honey. It’s some of the best I’ve tried! The gyros stand is at the Grand Lake Market on Saturdays.
Tamales la Oaxaquena, South Berkeley
Tamales la Oaxaquena, a relative newcomer to the South Berkeley Tuesday market (the stall replaced Flaco’s Tacos at this market this year), makes seriously excellent tamales. Wrapped in a banana leaf, the surprisingly flavorful masa surrounding with a variety of fillings that are way more exciting and saucy than expected, these might just be a perfect example of the genre. The stand also serves up a few plated meals and other Mexican dishes, but trust me here — don’t miss the tamales. Tamales la Oaxaquena is at the South Berkeley Market on Tuesdays. Connect with the business on Facebook.
India Gourmet, Temescal
India Gourmet has a serious following at some of the more far-flung Bay Area markets, but in the East Bay, this stand makes only one weekly appearance on Sundays in Temescal. Yelpers go crazy for the first menu item, a chicken tikka masala wrap that’s labeled “OMG” and often called a “naan burrito.” This writer was more impressed by the less-famous menu items: samosas that stayed crisp despite an unexpected long phone call and circuitous bike ride home, as well as the impressive selection of made-from-scratch curries and chutneys. Cool bonus: India Gourmet makes its naan in an outdoor tandoor oven that you can observe while you wait. India Gourmet is at the Temescal Market on Sundays.
Café Zambala, various locations
Never had Himalayan food? Head to Downtown Berkeley or Grand Lake to sample from Café Zambala. This has got to be one of the most polished market stalls around, serving (in addition to the usual portable foods like wraps) full plated lunches with protein, vegetables and a beautifully seasoned side of lentils and rice. It is also committed to local and organic food, using a number of ingredients that you can find in the market. The main attraction here is the Himalayan plate, which features tandoori-like chicken in a tangy sauce. Momo, deliciously chewy dumplings with both spiced beef and veggie filling, come in a close second. Cafe Zambala is at the Downtown Berkeley Market and the Grand Lake Market, both on Saturdays.
Tru Gourmet Dim Sum, Grand Lake
If you’re in the mood for both a farmers market visit and brunch, check out Tru Gourmet’s selection of local and sustainable dim sum, made from produce sourced from farmers market stalls. This stand isn’t the cheapest prepared food option, but it does offer an impressively large selection of dumplings, plus a few other dim sum standbys like scallion pancakes, sticky rice and pork buns. On a recent Saturday, service was super fast despite a pretty long line, and the har gow (wild shrimp) and mushroom dumplings were especially delicious. Bonus points for having all of the appropriate sauce options available and easy to access — something not every stall we sampled had considered. Tru Gourmet Dim Sum is at the Grand Lake Market on Saturdays. Connect with the business on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Berkeley Ecology Center runs three farmers markets: in South Berkeley, at Adeline and 63rd streets on Tuesdays from 2-6:30 p.m.; in North Berkeley, at Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.; and in Downtown Berkeley, at Center Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Connect with the center on Facebook and Twitter.
The Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association runs two farmers markets in Oakland: in Old Oakland, at 9th Street and Broadway, on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and in Temescal at Claremont Avenue and Cavour Street on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Agricultural Institute of Marin runs the Grand Lake farmers market at Lake Park and Grand Avenues on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Connect with the Grand Lake Market on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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