Oakland's Restaurant Boom
Insider's guide to the best of Oakland's great new restaurants.
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Maybe there’s something in the water, but there’s definitely something in the food. Oakland, a perennial also-ran to foodie neighbors Berkeley and San Francisco, has been experiencing a restaurant renaissance, attracting a dizzying range of high-quality dining spots. Fueled by cheap rents and labor, sympathetic landlords and city officials, and changing demographics, this gourmet boom is sprouting up like chanterelles throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Here’s our guide to the cream of Oakland’s new restaurant crop.
Click on the neighborhood to see that story
Page 1: Jack London Square Old Oakland
Page 2: Uptown Piedmont Avenue
Page 3: Temescal Grand Lake
Jack London Square is still a work in progress, but several great dining options have already opened in anticipation of the new Jack London Market. Due this year, this long-awaited food mecca will be hip, green, and the largest of its kind on the West Coast.
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The revitalization of Jack London Square started when Yoshi’s moved to the Oakland waterfront in 1997. It’s been slow going attracting newer restaurants to intersperse with the area’s old-school haunts, but the anticipated opening of the new Jack London Market is accelerating that process. The star of the upcoming market is Bracina from Daniel Patterson, avant-garde chef of Coi in San Francisco, with famed cocktail king Scott Beattie behind the bar. Also planned is Pizzeria Zanna Bianca, by another S.F. chef, Richard Corbo. jacklondonmarket.com.
While you’re waiting for Jack London Square to turn into a world-famous foodie hang, plant yourself on the patio at Miss Pearl’s Jam House, a restaurant reincarnated from San Francisco’s funky, celeb-rife Phoenix Hotel. Developed with the help of chef Joey Altman, Miss Pearl’s serves frosty drinks and island cuisine. misspearlsjamhouse.com.
If you love to eat by the water but hate tourist traps, Bocanova is for you. This Nuevo Latino restaurant has way more going for it than the smell of salty air. Order a cucumber gimlet as you relax and enjoy the water view. Then, get adventurous with the quinoa, shrimp, and beet salad, or the steak with its big grilled flavor and killer chimichurri sauce. bocanova.com.
A short walk from the square are two of the newest lights on Oakland’s downtown map. The small but mighty Encuentro makes a high art form of vegetarianism. We loved winter greens with a blood orange vinaigrette, hazelnuts, and Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Chop Bar is a good place to visit the tattooed denizens of downtown. It cranks out a chicken sandwich—with avocado, queso fresco, and ancho chilie sauce—that’ll have you considering a tattoo that says, “I love the grilled chicken torta.” And, you might go for it, once you’ve tried the six wines on tap and short but sweet beer selection. encuentrooakland.com; chopbar510.com. —By Michaela Jarvis
Hip Eats: Chop Bar puts out a 21st century vibe, which includes some of the coolest music ever assembled on an iPod.
Coffee Central: Blue bottle, the standard-bearer of gourmet coffee, opened its new roastery and headquarters in Jack London Square late last year. Sample fresher-than-fresh beans at the attached cafe, open daily. bluebottlecoffee.net.
Left: Miss Pearl's Jam House (photo by Clay Mclachlan/claypix.com) Right: Chop Bar (photo by Cody Pickens)
Hip, edgy, and consummately cool hits classic elegance in the nine or so blocks known as Old Oakland. Built as the original downtown Oakland, buildings from the late 1800s now provide a graceful backdrop for this neighborhood’s restaurants.
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Levende East is as dramatic as a stage set, with its soaring ceiling, old-fashioned storefront glass facade, and meticulously chosen world music soundtrack. Discuss the art of mixology with the experts behind the bar, and try one of their killer cocktails. A block away, Levende’s owners opened Liege, a “spirits lounge,” with quirky fare that includes broth-based fondue and a small-plates menu that changes its influence every two months: It’s Latin inspired through May 16. levendeeast.com; liegeoakland.com.
For dinner, we’re giving you two choices. B Restaurant & Bar feels like a Brooklyn hang, with its exposed brick walls, translucent tables, and a chandelier made of antlers. The best thing on the menu? The pork chop, roasted in a wood oven—juicy and tender on your plate. boakland.com.
Or check out the muy glamorous Tamarindo. Try the super-hard-to-find sopes, topped with carnitas, shredded chilies known as rajas, or black beans. Another good choice? The smoky chipotle chicken tinga poblana tostaditos. But, do not even take a bite of those sweet, spicy, rich creations until you’ve sipped a shot of tequila. Chamucos was our favorite because of its mellow flavor, roasty smoothness, and long finish. tamarindoantojeria.com.
And for late night? Pull up to a cozy corner of The Trappist Bar, and order from an out-of-this-universe lineup of beers on tap—25 by our count—ranging from a Chimay Cinq Cents Triple to a Scandinavian Mikkeller Black. thetrappist.com.
If you go back the next day, Caffe 817 is the place to hit for breakfast. Prosciutto and eggs; Italian toast with artichokes, ham, and cheese; a creamy cappuccino. You could always stay for lunch, and do the Old Oakland thing all over again. cafe817.com. —By Michaela Jarvis
Liquid Fire: The margaritas at Tamarindo have a fine but incendiary dusting of chili salt on the rim of the glass.
Fine Food on Tap: The Trappist recently started serving hot sandwiches such as prosciutto with fig and arugula. Or, try the Trappist plate: duck salami, duck rillettes, coppa Americana, and Three Sisters Serena cheese.
Pretty in Pink: Levende’s French 69 layers Schramsberg sparkling rosé, elderflower liqueur, and gin into one souped-up cocktail.
Left: Tamarindo (photo by Cedric Glasier ) Right: The Trappist (photo by Colin Burke McClure )