The city of Oakland has an incredibly diverse population and an abundance of independent cafes, bars, and restaurants to make it a destination for any food lover. There are many hidden gems scattered throughout the city and its unique neighborhoods, some of my favorites including: Brown Sugar Kitchen (southern food with a gourmet twist and superb for brunch - opening a second location downtown Oakland and in the SF Ferry Building in 2019); Miss Ollie’s (Caribbean soul food) and Cosecha (fresh Mexican) both inside the old Swan’s Market building in downtown Oakland; TrueBurger (killer milkshakes) and Umami Burger in Uptown Oakland; and good spots in Chinatown for dim sum and hand pulled noodles (Shan Dong).
It’s increasingly important to me to support businesses owned and operated by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. If that’s important to you too, please see these guides: Keep It Female map by the Keep It Oakland - Oakland Indie Alliance and the Bay Area Organization of Black Owned Businesses.
Here are a few standout restaurants I strongly recommend (organized by neighborhood):
Nyum Bai - The name means “let’s eat,” and you will. Heartily. Featuring Cambodian cuisine and 1960s pop rock and roll, Chef Nite Yun takes a nostalgic journey to the foods of her family’s homeland who fled the Khmer Rouge and raised her in a Thai refugee camp. Chef Yun visited Cambodia in her early 20s and felt an immediate connection to the country and its food and wanted to share it back in her home - the Bay Area. She spent four years in the La Cocina program before launching Nyum Bai - opening to immediate critical success, earning a spot on the Bon Appetit Hot 10 list in 2018. You must order the prahok ktiss for your starter: fresh veggies in a porky-fishy sauce that will delight and surprise you.
Reem’s - Reem Assil started this casual Arab Bakery in 2015 after graduating from the La Cocina program and bringing the flavors of Lebanon and Syria to the Bay Area. There is so much love in this place - especially if you love gluten. Flatbreads are the star - either baked in the hearth and served open-face (Mana’eesh) or griddled on the Saj and wrapped around your stuffing of choice. And the Fattoush salad is a marvel - with fresh herbs, veggies, and pita chips to energize you.
GRAND LAKE & LAKESHORE
Bay Grape - This is no fusty old wine shop. Owned by Stevie Stacionnis (a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and founder of Bâtonnage) and her husband Josiah Baldivino (Advanced Sommelier Certification), this bright, airy shop makes wine shopping fun and educational. Tune into their Instagram feed to see the couple rap about wines featured at one of their many tasting events throughout the week including Friday night bubbles, Sunday school, and Monday Blind Tastings.
Boot & Shoe Service - Serving outstanding pizza and cocktails, it’s the perfect place to go before or after a movie at The Grand Lake Theater. As of 2018, the restaurant has served its ties with original owner and pariah Charlie Hallowell.
Shakewell - Get your paella fix here or just pop in for some Spanish tapas and happy hour at this convivial spot helmed by Top Chef Alum Jen Biesty.
JACK LONDON SQUARE
Belcampo - Meat lovers, rejoice. Belcampo Restaurant & Butcher Shop serves its own sustainably raised meat and farm products. With extensive outdoor seating, you can enjoy your burger with a view or procure some premium cuts from the butcher shop to throw on the grill at home. Bonus: woman-owned by Anya Fernald, Co-Founder & CEO.
Dyafa - Sensational Arabic cuisine served by La Cocina alum Reem Assil of Reem’s Arab Bakery in partnership with Daniel Patterson in a beautiful waterfront spot. Bright flavors and warm design elements will bring you back again and again.
Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine - Opening in 2018, Farmhouse Kitchen is the latest of now five Thai restaurants in San Francisco, Oakland, and Portland owned by Kasem “Pop” Saengsawang (including Daughter Thai - below). This location offers a waterfront patio and a festive interior design. Bonus: a great place for birthdays and large groups.
Minimo - Italian for “minimal,” Minimo features small producers and minimal intervention wines that “follow sustainable practices in their farming, sourcing, winemaking and workforce.” Right on. On Wednesday nights and all day Saturday, Minimo offers wine tasting flights. Bonus: woman-owned.
Daughter Thai Kitchen - I could eat at Daughter Thai every single day. The Thai dishes here exude love of the chef-owner and they are served in a casual modern setting with a festive flair (like the patterned umbrellas on the ceiling or the colorful dishes). My favorites include “Mieng Kum Kung” - super crispy-crusted Tiger Prawns served atop a leafy green and a bed of lime, ginger, onion, roasted coconut & peanuts with Tamarind sauce and the Rice Salad “Nam Khao Tod” - Thai fermented Pork Sausage, crispy red curry rice, ginger, chili, and peanuts with a mound of fresh Thai herbs. Spicy means spicy here and it’s so so very good.
Kakui Sushi - My go-to sushi spot in the East Bay, Kakui has all of the usual sashimi and sushi with a large selection of innovative rolls, like the JP (shrimp tempura, tuna, salmon, white tuna, avocado wrapped with soy bean paper) or the Alicia Roll (tempura asparagus, avocado, seared spicy tuna, jalapeño, French sauce topped with tobiko).
Perle Wine Bar - Co-owners Chef Rob Lam and Certified Sommelier Marcus Garcia bring elegance and destination dining to the sleepy little hillside village of Montclair. Go for the outstanding wines by the glass and the classic French dishes or comforting dishes like the Mushroom “Cappuccino” Soup or the French Dip Angus Beef Burger. But be sure to stay for the Hot Chocolate Pot de Creme and a glass of Tawny Port.
This charming neighborhood has several blocks of retail shops and a lovely local grocery store, aptly named Piedmont Grocery. Sadly Kronnerburger suffered a fire and has not reopened its debut Piedmont Avenue location, but you can still get their goods at Henry’s at The Graduate in Berkeley. There are several great restaurants along Piedmont Avenue, including:
Commis - Executive Chef James Syhabout earned Two Michelin stars (2016, 2017, and 2018) for his splurge-worthy Commis.
The Wolf - Taking over Bay Wolf’s location in 2017, The Wolf serves “French forward California cuisine” in a warm and relaxed environment. I was bound to love The Wolf since I have always adored Rich and Rebekah Wood’s first restaurant, Frascati, in San Francisco (under new ownership now) as well as Wood Tavern in Rockridge. You can feel the couple’s love in the food and the environment they create at each of their restaurants.
A16 - This East Bay outpost is just as lively and inviting as the San Francisco (Cow Hollow) original. A16 serves rustic, yet refined, Italian cuisine and Neopolitan pizzas from their wood-fired pizza oven. I love the food but also enjoy studying (and ordering from) the extensive selection of Italian wine, amaro and inventive cocktails - like the Carcioppo aperitif with Cardamaro amaro, Aperol, Prosecco, and grapefruit juice.
Oliveto - This place is an Oakland institution since the days Paul Bertoli graced its kitchen. Some of its shine has worn off, but it’s still a lovely place. Dine upstairs for classic Italian food in a classically laid back California fine dining. Or pop into the café downstairs for a quick bite before shopping at Market Hall or the lovely home goods stores across the street (Maison d’Etre and Nathan & Co.)
Ramen Shop - My mouth waters just thinking about Ramen Shop. I cannot get enough of it. The menu is constantly changing, but the one thing that remains the same is that they offer three ramen options each night, along with at least a half dozen appetizers and salads and a donburi and fried rice option. I am addicted to the Veggie Shoyu Meyer Lemon ramen broth. Always order the pickle plate - a varying mixture of pickled vegetables; the ramen is so rich and filling, you need some acid for balance and digestive magic.
Wood Tavern - Wood Tavern is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, and everyone loves it. It is always busy. Always. Book ahead or drop by for lunch. And be sure to stop by La Farine boulangerie next door. It is one of the East Bay’s best bakeries with incredible morning buns, baguettes, tarts, and cookies.
If you’ve never explored Temescal before, go on a First Friday and peruse the boutiques in the pedestrian alleys off of 49th Street between Telegraph Avenue and Clarke Street. There you can find local artisans and their fineries – my favorites are Marisa Mason (hand made jewelry) and Crimson (horticulture and related products).
Doña Tomás - This upscale Mexican restaurant is a neighborhood institution. The indoor dining room is spacious and lively, but the outdoor patio seating behind the restaurant is idyllic on a nice day. Note: same ownership as Tacubaya in Berkeley. Bonus: woman-owned.
FOB Kitchen - Though it was sad to see Chef Preeti Mistry close Juhu Beach Club, the owners of FOB. Kitchen filled that space with more positive energy and delicious Filipino cuisine. Chef Jami Dulce and her wife, Brandi, created FOB Kitchen “FOB Kitchen grew out of our love, for each other, for friends, for family, for community, for food, and for celebration.” Bonus: woman-owned.
Hawker Fare - Billed as a Lao Issan Eatery, Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s homage to the food he loved from his childhood. It’s a festive spot serving delicious food. My favorite dish is the Khao Man Gai – Hainanese style chicken & rice served with a ginger & fermented bean sauce, cucumbers & cilantro - and the best part: it’s served atop chicken fat rice. That is some soul-nourishing comfort food.
Calavera - A bustling Mexican restaurant and agave bar (excellent selection of tequila and mezcal).
Curry Up Now - I fell in love with the Paneer Tikka Masala burrito at the Fort Mason Off the Grid many years ago before any brick and mortar locations existed. Now there are six, including this one in Uptown, plus a food truck you can always find on Bush Street in San Francisco’s financial district on weekdays. Super fun, delicious, and casual Indian Street Food.
Dosa by Dosa- This is the fast casual spinoff of the sexy Indian supper club Dosa locations in San Francisco. Dosa hail from South India. These giant savory rice and lentil crepes are stuffed with your filling of choice (like butter chicken or masala potato) and served with fresh coconut and tomato chutneys and sambar, a lentil and vegetable dipping soup.
Kingston 11 - A lively and casual atmosphere, as well as the spicy Jamaican cuisine and rum cocktails, make this a great spot to visit. You can also try Chef Owner Nigel Jones’ new Kaya restaurant location in San Francisco where he partners with Daniel Patterson of Alta Group. Bonus: Black-owned business.
Liba Falafel - Serving only lunch and only Monday - Friday at this former food truck now has a brick and mortar in downtown Oakland and its fresh, bright, and healthy veggies and chickpea fritters will make you swoon. Apropos since “lib” means love or romance in many languages. Bonus: woman owned.
Mua - Situated inside a two story loft space with art abounding, Mua has the energy and excitement of a rave. And you will rave about the food on its extensive menu and cocktail list. So much fun and so delicious.