Dining Destination: Jack London Square
Jack London Square is hip, delicious, and fun.
If you haven’t been to Jack London Square lately, you haven’t been to Jack London Square. What started as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad is now fun central—whether you’re taking the kids out for arcade games at Plank or slipping away for date night.
With plentiful alfresco dining, it’s a perfect place to bring friends and relatives throughout the holiday season and into warmer weather. My buddy, who lived in Oakland for 20 years, was gobsmacked when I recently gave him a tour of the restaurants.
Once upon a time, Jack London Square might have been a tourist trap, but the story line has changed—and we’re dining happily ever after.
This new 50,000-square-foot restaurant and entertainment center—the square’s anchor tenant—has all kinds of dining options, including an ultralong outside bar with 30-plus seats. The menu is casual, but the kitchen takes its food seriously: Even the pizza and batter-fried pickles are expertly done. After you enjoy a hands-on lunch of killer Cuban sandwiches and skirt steak tacos, get in touch with your inner child—and competitive spirit—with Skee-Ball and marathon air hockey (enough to break a sweat for less than a buck). You’ll have a ball here: bocce ball, arcade basketball, and bowling balls included. (510) 817-0980, plankoakland.com.
Stripped-down industrial on the inside and light-hearted fun on the outside, Forge specializes in seriously decadent pizzas such as the Fat Boy, topped with bacon, sausage, pickled pepper, and cream. Our go-to choice is the garlicky mushroom pizza with house-made sausage. Start with some cheese curds and a cocktail such as the racy pomegranate- and ginger-spiked Pink Fang.(510) 268-3200, theforgepizza.com.
Jack’s Oyster Bar and Fish House
Expect seriously good seafood, including a must-order smoky take on Boston clam chowder. The deeply flavored cioppino comes with prawns so tender, they’re velvety. And the free basket of jalapeño cornmeal muffins is priceless. The hip-casual atmosphere includes a 20-seat raw bar with around a half-dozen varieties of oysters. (510) 271-7952, jacksoakland.com.
With its coastal Italian theme, Lungomare is perhaps one of the most comfortable—and classiest—restaurants on the square. We’re torn between the sexy seafood dishes—especially the raw starters and grilled octopus—and the plates of comfort food, including rotisserie chicken and house-made pasta. And in the morning, don’t skip the coffee and pastries. (510) 444-7171, lungomareoakland.com.
Steel Rail Public House and Cafe
This friendly, affordable, and modern indoor-outdoor café, which opened in October, is the square’s most casual restaurant. Look for fantastic hand-pulled espresso with morning pastries, imaginative midday salads and sandwiches, and grazing-style dinners of cheeses and salumi—best enjoyed with one of eight on-tap brews. (510) 823-2345, steel-rail.com.
Choose the soothing dining room, with its meticulously prepared, prix fixe, family-style meals; or the relaxed lounge, featuring rustic house-made pastas and charcuterie. The prix fixe is flawless, but it’s hard not to give the $15 bar burger a sidelong glance. (510) 663-4440, havenoakland.com.
The menu starts in South America, moves up through Central America, and lands in the Bay Area. There’s something raw about the Bocanova experience, and not just the assertive Peruvian ceviche. The service, food, and decor (the restaurant is cut in two by a full bar) lacks all pretense. (510) 444-1223, bocanova.com.
It’s not just the music that keeps drawing crowds to Yoshi’s after 18 years. We enjoyed our Japanese meal—miso-marinated black cod, please—in a handsome and expansive dining room that’s wholly separate from the pack-’em-in concert room. And the sushi bar—with its sleek lines, distressed wood, and pristine fish—is stunning. (510) 238-9200, yoshis.com.
Overland Country Bar and Grill
If you’re looking to party, Overland delivers. It’s a new and charmingly gritty country-western bar offering live music and line dancing—and if you come on the right (or maybe wrong) night, you can screech out some karaoke. (510) 419-0594, overlandoakland.com.
We almost overlooked Miette, but when a woman with a fancy ice-cream sandwich walked by, we sniffed this little bakery out. We’re kind of jaded on the cute cupcake craze, but we were seduced by Miette’s coffee-frosted version. Turned out to be the best cupcake we’ve ever had. (510) 663-1300, miette.com.
And More . . .
There are also three wine-tasting rooms close by: Cerruti, (510) 550-2900, cerruticellars.com; Rosenblum, (877) 478-9467, rosenblumcellars.com; and Jeff Cohn, (510) 465-5900, jeffcohncellars.com. Foodies should stop by Baia Pasta, an artisanal pasta factory with a small retail shop. (510) 336-6044, baiapasta.com. And don’t miss out on Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, the funky and crooked 132-year-old haunt of Jack London himself. (510) 839-6761.