ICYMI, the East Bay city of Oakland is having a moment when it comes to its food scene.
This Northern California city sometimes sits in San Francisco’s culinary shadow and we think that may be the way the locals prefer it because it means that it’s all that much easier to get a table at these their favorite joints.
With everything from hole-in-the-wall cafes to Michelin-starred joints and what may be the most culturally diverse food scene in Northern California, it’s got a lot to talk about. The only problem is having enough time to eat it all.
Among food lovers, Oakland gets so much attentino these days, Oakland Restaurant Week needed its week to include two weekends (January 11 to 20) to give you enough time to explore the more than 100 participating restaurants.
Here is our hit list of what to eat when you travel to Oakland and where to eat it:
Farm To Table
If you want a taste of seasonal local food, our pick is Limewood at the Claremont Club & Spa. The menu highlights the best from Northern California’s food scene from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, bakers, artisans to wineries.
Chef Travis Spear has created a mix of healthy and indulgent dishes and our favorites our the roasted bone marrow with the herb gremolata as well as the beet salad with whipped goat cheese and puffed quinoa. Oh, and if you’re looking for a top notch brunch spot with a great view, this is it!
Oakland has one of the best soul food scenes in California thanks to the fact that the city has had a strong African-American representation since its founding. These days you can find a mix of classic comfort spots, new creative joints, and even alternative diet options all centered around soul food.
The classic spot we love to visit is Lois The Pie Queen. While Lois is no longer with us, her son runs the joint and serves up everything from meatloaf to pork chops and, of course, the lemon icebox pie that is on everyone’s list. For something more contemporary, we recommend hitting up Top chef Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen which will be opening in a new location shortly. And if vegan eating is more your style, then you’ll want to head to Souley Vegan where the fried okra is a must!
We had to make fried chicken its own category because it’s just that popular. Bakesale Betty is arguably the most well-known outside of Oakland thanks to its fried chicken sandwich with spicy slaw. Over in Old Oakland Miss Ollie’s has a Carribbean slant on their skillet fried chicken and for as classic as it gets, you can’t go wrong with the smothered chicken with candied yams at Lena’s Soul Food Cafe.
Southeast Asian Food
We’re pretty sure you could go a month straight and only eat Asian food in Oakland because there are just that many quality options. However, we’re particularly big fans of the Southeast Asian food scene.
In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood the recently opned Nyum Bai is getting all the attention thanks to it’s delicious cambodian food options like garlic-ginger fried chicken, and amok, a steamed catfish dish. Or, for Burmese food, head to Teni East Kitchen that was started by Burma Superstard alum. The salads and curries pull in people from across the Bay from foodies to hipsters.
Ramen, Ramen, and More Ramen
Another Asian cuisine we love to hone in on when we’re traveling to Oakland? Japanese food and, more specifically, ramen. You can’t go wrong with the seasonal ramen bowls at Itani Ramen though we’re partial to the miso pork ramen in particular. The space is super cheery and the most fun is that the desserts come out of a vending machine!
Over in the Rockridge neighborhood, you can get your ramen with a dash of street cred since the team behind Ramen Shop brings their knowledge from having worked at Chez Paniesse. People go for the garlic shoyu ramen but stay for the cocktails and small bites!
Just as impressive as the Southeast Asian food restaurant options in Oakland are the Middle Eastern food. And you can’t talk Middle Eastern food in Oakland these days without mentioning chef Reem Assil who had such success at Reem’s California that she opened Dyafa with chef Daniel Patterson. Located in Jack London Square, the modern spot has everything you want for legit Middle Eastern food from shakshuka at breakfast to limonada at lunch and a mezze sampler that may have the best muhamarra we’ve ever had. Definitely order the musakan (sumac chicken confit) and a cocktail or two too!
Another great option for contemporary, fresh Middle Eastern food? The Kebabery that the crew behind Camino brought to North Oakland. As the name suggests, they focus on kebabs (the herby lamb and the trumpet mushroom are tied for our favorites) but there are tons of other options including fresh salads and seasonal produce-forward sides like the carrot salad or smashed beets.
As you know we have a thing for all things Mexico so we, of course, have recommedations for where to get the good stuff when you’re visiting Oakland. Head to Agave Uptown for mole negro that’ll make you wish you were in Oaxaca. Get seriously good pozole verde at Cosecha; go to Cholita Linda for Baja-style fish tacos; and to Nido for barbacoa tacos.
Michelin Star Quality Cocktail Lounge
One of the sweethearts of Oakland for the past several years has been Chef James Syhabout Michelin-starred restaurant, Commis where we’d eat on the regular if we had an endless amount of time and money. So we’re just as excited about the opening of the more casual cocktail lounge and sister restaurant called CDP where you can get thoughtfully-executed bar bites (including the popular slow-poached egg dish from Commis) as well as wine, bubbles, beer and, of course cocktails.
Classic Bay Area Seafood: Cioppino + Dungeness Crab
It’s not clear exactly how cioppino came to be as a dish but it’s clear that it’s a mainstay in the Bay Area food scene on par with sourdough. When you’re in the East Bay, get your cioppino fix at The Cook and her Farmer.
From November to late Spring, it’s Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area and we cannot get enough of it. If you’re in Oakland during the season, head to Camino where you can get a half a local Dungeness crab grilled in the wood-burning fireplace.
Those are our picks for where to eat when you visit Oakland. Any other recommendations we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
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