The food and restaurant scene in Oakland is a phrase that may have caused Californians to already skip the rest of what you’re about to read, based on Oakland’s notoriety alone. For those without preconceived notions and those now have their interests piqued, Oakland has some of the best restaurants in California you would be remiss to not dine at. While the Oakland food scene has grown exponentially over the years, the diversity has always been at Oakland’s core.
This post is sponsored by Visit Oakland. All opinions are my own. #VisitOakland #OaklandAndILoveIt
Visit Oakland reached out for me to visit and embark on a culinary journey in the beginning of December. I was to explore the food scene and share some photos with my followers on Instagram [Post 1] [Post 2] [Post 3] [Story Highlights]. I had never before explored Oakland with such focus and I must say – I love Oakland. The entire city, the people, and of course, the food, are all full of so much love and generosity and good vibes.
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A note on the restaurants listed below: I went to quite a few, and did not have a single bad experience. I felt exuberant and excited about every meal I tried in Oakland. With that said, I tried to not say after each restaurant visited how amazing it was. The Oakland food scene is on point.
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Oakland Restaurant Week
The annual Oakland Restaurant Week is happening from January 9th through 20th, 2020. This event is an exceptional way to experience the Oakland food scene for yourself. Restaurants will be providing special menus and bringing their A-game to your plates, bowls, and glasses. I was able to get a preview with multiple restaurants.
Visit Oakland Restaurant Week Official Website for up to date info on which restaurants are participating.
The Best Places to Stay in Oakland
While I visited Oakland with purpose, there are plenty of cool things around Oakland as well – you’ll probably want a break from all the eating. As I walked around the city, I noted some ideal locations.
I stayed at the Best Western Bayside Plus. If you note the location, you’ll wonder what I’m thinking. A big selling point for me – on top of some really nice rooms, as pictured above, was the shuttle service. Within 30 minutes, I could be on a shuttle to one of several locations in Downtown Oakland. Then, I could call for a pickup when I was done. This ended up saving me a ton on rideshares. Some of the dropoff/pickup locations included BART and Amtrak.
In fact, I was able to take the train from Sacramento to Oakland and get around without a car, which made the whole trip a lot less stressful without having to worry about parking or driving. This link has a 30% off deal on travel to Oakland for Restaurant Week.
If I were to stay in a more central location, my next choice would be one of the hotels near Broadway and 11th in the Downtown district. There is also a neaby BART station which can quickly get you into San Francisco for some additional sight seeing.
Having spent not nearly enough time in Oakland, I highly recommend booking a hotel for several nights and thoroughly enjoing this city’s rich culture.
Disclosure: Book your hotel using the deals widget below and I receive a small commission.
Oakland’s History with Food
Oakland, California has always centered itself around being an epicenter of transportation. From its beginnings in the 1860’s, Oakland was home to the western terminal of the transcontinental railroad, to now being one of the busiest ports in the United States.
Around the massive transportation going through the city, the flatlands offered spectacular agricultural opportunities. Between multiple transportation centers and the canning industry in the Fruitvale neighborhood, Oakland found itself teeming with a diverse array of food culture. It should come as no surprise that Oakland is currently the most ethnically diverse city in the United States (Source).
Oakland Dining Experiences
My first dining experience of this trip to Oakland began with a very informative conversation with one of the staff at my hotel. He gave me a lowdown of some of the best food trucks, what to expect in walking around the various neighborhoods, and some suggestions on some restaurants which embody the soul of Oakland.
Everett & Jones Barbeque was my first stop. Barbecue with southern sides, the whole vibe of this restaurant was fun. Big giant plants, stretched over the entryway, with church pews on each side for restauranteurs waiting to be seated. I said I wanted to try everything, and I must say, they obliged beautifully.
The table next to me seemed bemused at all the food in front of me. They inquired, and I told them about my trip to check out the restaurants of Oakland. Then, I had an idea. I asked them to help me pose with the food.
We had a lot of fun getting some shots for my Instagram, and as it turns out, their involvement was crucial in me learning something really amazing about this restaurant. All leftovers are kept until closing. Then, they are all reheated and repacked into togo containers for the homeless. The homeless know this happens every night and line up. What an incredible thing to do to both reduce food waste and help the community.
From here, I was feeling pretty full, so I decided to walk to one of the farther restaurants away, giving my stomach some time for round two.
Agave Uptown had mentioned Oaxacan cuisine and mezcal in their description, which was an immediate interest for me. Luckily for me, the restaurant was on the slower side, so I was able to talk to multiple staff and get a lot of fun information about the food. If you apprecoate good mole, you absolutely must come here. The mezcal is also the real deal and super high quality.
The soul food from E&J must have done the trick for me, cause my photos at Agave ended up on the exceptional scale, considering I had mere seconds to take a quick photo before the plate was brought to its respective table.
With two dinners under my belt – I feel full just typing that out – it was time to check out a bit of the nightlife on my way back to the hotel. On my way to Agave Uptown, I noticed an a-frame sign which read “Villains Welcome” and had made a mental note to return. I moseyed on back down Broadway and found the A-Frame once again. I opened the door, and walked into First Edition.
Themed to be a comic book bar, the decor, drink menu, and entire vibe was quite comical. I think this is the only instance where comical is used as a genuinely positive compliment. I sat down with the manager and we had a very enjoyable conversation about menu development for First Edition and the choices of alcohol for the very cool and unique twist on their cocktails. First Edition has an outstanding non-alcoholic menu. The ingredients are top notch and I savored them just as much as their alcoholic counterparts.
For my final destination of the night, I checked out Here’s How. Naturally, I ordered a Here’s How. One cool thing this exquisite cocktail lounge does is can some of their cocktails. They do a good job – and a canned cocktail is certainly not something I thought I needed in my life, but here we are!
For my second day of exploring the Oakland food scene, I started with a meetup with one of the Visit Oakland people at Hopscotch in the Uptown neighborhood. We shared some lovely beignets, split a few lunch entrees, and discussed what made Oakland food so incredible.
From here, we walked back over to Agave Uptown. Yeah, the food was so good I went twice. Actually, this time, we met with the Chef where he talked about the family mole recipe and presented us with what Oakland Restaurant Week attendees could expect.
I’m always looking at plates, bowls, flatware, and glasses of restaurants to see how things are presented. I really enjoyed the plating at Agave Uptown and the use of wood and pottery to accentuate the vibrant food.
Downtown Wine Merchants was next on my list. With a fun, diverse wine menu and incredibly well thought out menu, I was given a sampling of their own Oakland Restarant Week menu. Talking to the Chef provided exceptional insight to how much care goes into preparing their dishes. Some of the ingredients are so local, they came from the owner’s backyard!
For my final dinner during this trip to Oakland, I embarked to the Tribune Tavern. An expansive restaurant with a beautiful cocktail list and an array of dishes which amazed my tastebuds with each bite.
While this was my last dinner, I still had lunch the next day before I returned home via Amtrak. If the last set of pictures was any indication, it should come as no surprise to you that I had two lunches.
My first lunch was at Cosecha.
My second lunch took me back through Chinatown to Tay Ho. It had started raining, making this the perfect time for some of the best Pho in Oakland.
With a warm full belly, the rain had died down to a gentle mist and I made my way back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, and snagged a ride back to Amtrak for a smooth ride home. I had a ton of fun traveling from Sacramento to Oakland without a car. I able to gorge on incredible food, sip on innovative cocktails, and walk all all over downtown Oakland with ease. It was such a great way to renew my knowledge of the city and explore so many gems.
Slow Food in Oakland
As a big supporter of Slow Food Nations, I reached out to the East Bay chapter for some recommendations. For those not yet privvy to the wonders of slow food, the movement supports local food culture and rekindles the passion for people’s interest in the food they eat. Everyone should have access to good, clean, and fair food. I had a brief exchange with Willow, whom provided me an exceptional list of restaurants.
I tried to get to a decent amount of the recommendations of slow food restaurants, but unfortunately was unable to get into one, based on wait times, my schedule, and restaurant open/close timing. Some of these restaurants will be at the top of my list upon my next eating-expedition to Oakland.
I was able to make it to TayHo and Cosecha out of this entire list. I know, I know – I’ll promise to do better and visit more.
Some hidden gems throughout Oakland:
- TayHo – Vietnamese in downtown Oakland.
- El Huarache Azteca – Mexico City focused cuisine with a brick & mortar in Fruitvale.
- Crystal Wahpepah only does catering, but is an Indigenous chef based in Oakland that travels widely to cook for native tribal gatherings.
- Delage – Thoughtful Japanese in downtown Oakland.
- Cambodian Street Food – Cash only, take out only, family run – yum!
- PieTisserie – Amazing pies from an African American chef.
- Bahn Mi Ni – A creative bahnmi popup at the Copper & Spoon space on Broadway & 40th.
- El Potrillo – Birria to die for!
- Homestead – A lovely husband & wife run place with nothing mind-blowing, but always a focus on good food and a welcoming space.
- BelCampo – The founder, Anya Fernald, was a Slow Food leader for many years and they source, process, cook and serve animals from beginning to end.
- Shewhat – Tiny Eritrean in North Oakland.
- Kingston 11 – Fun, yummy Jamaican food in Uptown run by an amazing man, Nigel.
These restaurants receive a ton of press and are incredibly popular already.
- Nyum Bai
The Neighborhoods of Oakland
In exploring the various restaurants, food trucks, food of Oakland, you’ll find
As you might have guessed by the name, this is where the Oakland International Airport is. Amelia Earhart departed from this airport in 1937. There is also the Oracle Arena and O.co Coliseum Complex where a ton of events from sports to music take place. While there are plenty of quick-eats and fast options here, you can also check out some of these local restaurants:
- Yoshino Sushi – Japanese/Sushi
- HegenBurger – Burgers and terriaki plates
- Royal Kitchen – Indian
- Andale – Mexican
With fresh produce lining the streets, street signs in Mandarin, and Chinese symbolism all over the place, it should come as no surprise that this is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States. One of my favorite finds in Chinatown was not actually a restaurant, but a Library! Come on, don’t look too shocked that MK Library might be intrigured by another library. The Oakland Public Library Asian Branch specializes in 8 Asian languages of books.
Some of othe over 45 restaurants, 9 tea shops, and food establishments to check out:
The Fortune Cookie Factory – Opened in 1957, Oakland Fortune Cookie Factory is one of the oldest fortune cookie makers in the Bay Area, stretching back three generations. There are only a handful of factories producing fortune cookies in original bay area locations. On top of that, The Fortune Cookie Factory is one of the very last places in America that still makes fortune cookies entirely by hand. You can join a short tour to learn how fortune cookies are made, or stop by the shop to get some cookies and know your fortune. Website
Tay Ho – Vietnamese cuisine with locally sourced ingredients.
Vien Huong – For specialty dishes from China and Vietnam, this is the place to go for noodle soups.
Shandong – Fresh noodles and dumplngs prepared Mandarin style.
Sobo Ramen – Ramen
Golden Peony Seafood Restaurant – Dim Sum
Jack London Square
Uptown / Downtown
Encompassing Jingle Town and Fruitvale, East Oakland is