Separated by the 12-mile Bay Bridge, Oakland, Calif., has long been the commercial and manufacturing hub to San Francisco’s art and culture mecca. Although farm-to-table goddess Alice Waters is just a few miles away at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the notion that Oakland might be a dining destination in its own right was laughable until a few years ago. But visit Oakland today, and it’s clear that the food scene has spread all over town.
The reasons are varied: Sky-high real estate across the bay pushed many artists, including chefs, to the East Bay during the dotcom boom. Many chefs who made a name for themselves in San Francisco or trained under Waters live in Oakland and like the idea of working closer to home and cooking for loyal locals. They also find inspiration in the city’s tremendous ethnic diversity, which means that customers are open to new tastes. Urban renewal projects begun under Jerry Brown’s eight-year mayoral term are another driver, turning a once desolate urban landscape into the bustling Uptown Entertainment District.
Eating by neighborhood
It takes 10 minutes to get just about anywhere in Oakland. The city is compact and easy to navigate. Start with these tasty spots, and come hungry.
Temescal This middle-class area is experiencing a revival along Telegraph Avenue, a business corridor bustling with shops and restaurants. Modern Mexican rules at Doña Tomás, a neighborhood gem in a former industrial space. Pizzaiolo, at the forefront of the restaurant renaissance, delivers authentic Neapolitan pizza along with terrific homemade doughnuts at breakfast. Seriously authentic Barlata serves real deal tapas and a great wine selection. Lines form out the door for the chicken and egg salad sandwiches at both Bakesale Betty locations. Burma Superstar serves fresh Burmese cuisine, spicy fare influenced by Cambodia, China, Laos and Thailand. Get the tea leaf salad.
Uptown Just two years after the Fox Theater reopened, this area is stretching up to 25th Street, between Broadway and Telegraph. Michael LeBlanc’s Picán is terrific, a fresh take on Southern comfort food in a stylish setting. Daniel Patterson’s Plum is a gutsy homage to all things local with addictive bites such as seared squid and chilies on toast and braised pork shoulder served with roasted escarole, peaches and homemade spaetzle. Located in a former garage, Mua’s 6,500-square-foot space is all grit and artsy industrial. Great small plates and cocktails. Adjacent to the Fox, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café is a rock ’n’ roll-themed diner co-owned by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt.
Grand Lake Located near the northeast corner of Lake Merritt, this area includes a surprisingly serene downtown lake. Boot & Shoe Service, is another gem from Pizzaiolo owner and Chez Panisse alum Charlie Hallowell, with an emphasis on inventive pizza toppings. Nettles anyone? Camino, with its communal tables, wood-burning oven and open kitchen, delivers very good, eclectic, seasonal California cuisine. Another creation from San Francisco chefs crossing the bay, Sidebar offers creative bistro fare in a cozy neighborhood setting.
Jack London Square This busy tourist destination has shopping and dining along the waterfront. Bocanova, Rick Hackett’s sister spot to his Market Bar in San Francisco, offers creative Pan-American cuisine and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Chop Bar is the rare neighborhood spot in a touristy part of town, offering affordable and tasty locavore fare and a smart wine list. Yoshi’s has been around forever, and it’s still good. Great bar scene, sushi and jazz.
Piedmont Avenue This upscale residential neighborhood is home to Bay Wolf, a pioneer of California cuisine. Commis and chef James Syhabout received a Michelin star for his beautifully composed foraged fare after being open only a few months. He has since opened Hawker Fare for Thai street food uptown. Dopo and James Beard Award-winner Adesso are owned by chef Jon Smulewitz and offer some of the best Italian in town.