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First Bite: Memorable Cafe Umami

This little café packs a punch in Oakland.


Nicholas Boer

Any spot serving meals this delicious, healthy, and beautifully presented is worth bookmarking, but with its focus on umami—the gloriously satisfying, rich mouthfeel imparted by glutamate-rich foods (like Parmesan on pasta)—the affordable Cafe Umami deserves best-seller status.

Narrow and coffee shop–simple with a community picnic table and a smattering of café seating, Umami’s personality lies with its modern lighting, hanging plants, and welcoming service.

The seven brown rice bowls with creamy ginger-tahini sauce are outrageously good and as substantial as ramen yet not as daunting. The Balanced Bowl brings an umami-laden mix of avocado, mushrooms, burdock root, kale, and a shower of cotija cheese. The seven toasts—utilizing thick slices of Acme bread—are equally generous. Stick with Aleppo pepper–topped avocado toast, or top it off with sardines and miso brown butter.

As an added bonus, try bone broth, mushroom coffee, fantastic teas (including chocolaty Aztec Spice), and treats from Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery.

2224 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, (510) 646-2394, cafeumami.com. Breakfast and late lunch Mon.-Sat.