Beer Baron in Rockridge is the restaurant’s fourth location. Photo: Benjamin Seto Credit: Benjamin Seto
Beer Baron in Rockridge is the restaurant’s fourth location. Photo: Benjamin Seto Credit: Benjamin Seto

The Oakland neighborhood of Rockridge has been a food destination in the East Bay for years, with institutions such as Oliveto and Zachary’s Chicago Pizza drawing diners for more than 30 years to College Avenue.

But in the last five years, the neighborhood has been eclipsed during the Oakland restaurant boom by districts such as nearby Temescal and current boom favorite Uptown — where it almost seems like a new restaurant opens every few months. Sure, Rockridge has seen its notable newcomers (A16 and Ramen Shop both opened in 2013; Smitten’s Ice Cream arrived a year later), but the growth has typically been slow and steady.

In the last six months, though, a flurry of changes has remade the storefronts of Rockridge in a blink of an eye.

Holy Basil Pho is the Vietnamese makeover of Restaurant Chu. Photo: Benjamin Seto

New Rockridge restaurants include:

  • La Boulangerie de San Francisco (the remake of Pascal Rigo’s La Boulangerie concept he sold and then reacquired from Starbucks) opened in January in the former Pasta Pomodoro location.
  • The Hideaway, serving up burgers and cocktails, opened in February, in the spot of the former Bourbon & Beef (whose owner closed because of personal reasons).
  • Bangkok Garden is a reimagination of Sabuy Sabuy Thai restaurant near the California College of the Arts on Broadway. Sabuy Sabuy’s owner, after years of running the business, was looking for a partner to help run the business, so he teamed up with longtime friends and owners of the former Bangkok Thai in the Emeryville Public Market. The restaurant closed briefly to refresh the look and reopened earlier this year with pretty much the same menu.
  • Beer Baron, a gastropub serving up craft brews, opened in March in the former Toast Kitchen and Bar.
  • Judoku Sushi took over the former Christopher’s Burger spot (which was briefly Wingman), opened in February.
  • Holy Basil Pho is the Vietnamese makeover from the owners of Restaurant Chu, which rebranded the restaurant in March. It is located next to the Oakland Library’s Rockridge branch.

While some of the changes are refreshes, like Holy Basil Pho and Bangkok Garden, the other newcomers reflect the economics of doing business in a high-rent spot like Rockridge. Many of the new restaurants are from established restaurateurs who have another location (or more) that is funding the new one, and in some cases, have taken over from owners struggling with doing business in the Bay Area.

The second location of Judoku opened on College Avenue in February 2018. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Judoku Sushi Rockridge, for example, is the second location for owner Connie Ko, whose Judoku Sushi on Piedmont near Broadway Auto Row has been serving customers for more than three years. Ko is friends with the people behind Wingman Chicken and Tea, who briefly opened in the space last year but soon realized running a chicken wing spot in the tiny space wasn’t feasible.

“My friend told me a lot of good things about Rockridge,” Ko said, referring to when her friend approached with the idea of taking over the lease. “So I say why not? We have to try it.”

The 28-seat sushi restaurant doesn’t have a sushi bar, but the friendly service and menu of specialty sushi rolls give it an automatic neighborhood sushi vibe. “There’s lots of sushi restaurants, but we have a different concept,” Ko says, referring to the menu’s mix of traditional sushi with specialty rolls, with crudo plates and chicken nuggets thrown in (to appeal to the family crowd). “I think people will like it.”

Winter vegetable tagine at Beer Baron in Oakland. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Beer Baron, which has the prime corner patio space on College Avenue and Chabot Road, is the fourth location for the group (other locations are in Pleasanton, Santa Rosa and Livermore). Peter Singh, who runs operations, says the location was a natural choice for him since he lives nearby.

“I live in the neighborhood and we wanted to share our brand with this community,” he said.

With more than 22 beer options on tap and 300 whiskeys and cocktails, Beer Baron offers up a unique menu that includes what you’d expect from a pub, like burgers and fries, and the unexpected, like Indian-inspired butter chicken or a winter vegetable tagine.

The grilled ahi burger at The Hideaway in Rockridge. Photo: Benjamin Seto

The Hideaway hopes to distinguish its menu by offering up meats from ranches that are part of the “Never Ever” program, which denotes natural beef ranchers that don’t use growth implants or antibiotics.

“Our meats come from ranchers who are certified humanely raised,” said Katherine Schiele, a partner at the Hideaway, which also owns Nico’s 1508 in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (it was previously called Nico’s Hideaway but the new Rockridge location took the Hideaway nomenclature). “We have a deep appreciation for great food and cocktails, all offered at comparable prices.”

La Boulangerie opened its first Oakland outpost in January 2018. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Many of the new restaurants recognize the competitive environment of the neighborhood, but they hope to offer a more approachable price point to dining out that’ll be especially attractive to young families in the area. Amenities such as the patios at Beer Baron, Bangkok Garden and La Boulangerie have proven to be popular, especially on warm, sunny days.

“We are going to take care of our neighbors and listen to their feedback,” said Beer Baron’s Singh. “If we take care of our neighbors, we will be successful.”

Hideaway’s Schiele said she and main partner Nick Masarweh were attracted to the high-traffic location near BART. She added: “And the energy of the neighborhood is so electric. There’s so much positive energy.”

Bangkok Garden, 5231 College Ave. (near Broadway), Oakland
Beer Baron, 5900 College Ave. (at Chabot), Oakland
Holy Basil Pho, 5362 College Ave. (between Manila and Bryant), Oakland
Judoku Sushi, 5295 College Ave. (between Clifton and Manila), Oakland
La Boulangerie de San Francisco, 5500 College Ave. (at Lawton), Oakland
The Hideaway, 5634 College Ave. (between Keith and Ocean View), Oakland

Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.

Freelancer Benjamin Seto has worked as a reporter and editor for various newspapers around the country, and is currently a communications professional and food writer based in Oakland. Ben is also the...