Oakland is quickly building up a culinary reputation that is beginning to rival the renowned food scene that its foggy neighbor to the west has. As someone who lived in the East Bay for almost two years, I can confidently say that one of the culinary highlights of this region is Oakland no doubt. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the country and that translates into a wide variety of delicious restaurants. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start, so here’s a list of places to eat in Oakland that caters to a diverse range of tastes.
Located in one of the Victorian houses in scenic Preservation Park, this Brazilian-inspired restaurant has a global menu that reflect the flavors of the owner’s home city. There are traditional Brazilian dishes like fejoiada, a hearty stew of meats and coxinhas (fried chicken croquettes). A crowd favorite is jerk chicken that’s tender and flavorful and comes with a salad that has a dreamy cilantro dressing. Best of all, the owner always stops by to ask how everything is no matter how busy it is. The outdoor patio is ideal for Oakland’s mild-year round weather. Only open for lunch and breakfast.
Two words: fish tacos. All the other tacos are delicious as well (including the tofu), but the baja fish is king. There are other options like a cubano for the taco-adverse. Make sure to get an aqua fresca in whatever the daily flavor is to wash it all down. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland, because it has such a welcoming vibe with a lively interior that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the Caribbean in the middle of Temescal. It makes a good lunch stop before heading to nearby Temescal Lake.
Tian Jin Dumplings
Oakland’s Chinatown isn’t as popular as its counterpart across the Bay, but it definitely has some hidden gems like this tiny storefront window that is known for serving delicious savory crepes (mung bean flour mixed with egg, wrapped around a Chinese donut). It use to serve some memorable homemade dumplings, but they sadly took this item off their menu. Their wonton soup is great for a lighter meal when you want something comforting on a chilly day and the tea eggs make a filling snack. There are only a few tables to eat at, but a better option is to take your food to-go and eat in the spacious courtyard between Franklin and Webster Street.
There’s a sizable Laotian population in the East Bay, and this restaurant should not be missed if you’re craving Laotian food. It’s located in a residential neighborhood, and you cannot miss it since there’s usually a line spilling out the front. Try the Champa sampler, which has Lao sausages, fried spring rolls, and nam khao (crispy rice salad). For those who like a little spice, the papaya salad hits the spot. For a classic Lao comfort dish, order the larb, a meat salad mixed with fragrant herbs.
Located in the historic Swan Market in Old Oakland, this tiny Japanese restaurant has an impressive menu that includes sushi, noodle soups, and bento boxes. They also have karaage (fried chicken) that is unexpectedly light, with an addictive umami seasoning. For a cold day, their hot udon soup hits the spot. There are daily lunch set specials, where you can get a bento box meal for a reasonable piece, as well as a selection of sushi rolls.
I’ve walked past this unassuming Cambodian restaurant’s exterior many times before I actually went to eat inside and I regret not going sooner. The warm, beautiful interior and welcoming staff complement the delicious array of dishes like the beef skewers and battambang noodles (a personal favorite). The menu can be overwhelming, but it’s hard to go wrong with hearty veggie curry or fried rice with a side of crab meat. They have an extensive selection of lunch options that are worth going for earlier in the day.
I’m always on the search for a memorable bakery, and this French one on the border of Rockridge/Elmwood doesn’t disappoint. Stepping inside, you feel transported into a bakery somewhere in the French countryside. There is a wide selection of freshly baked bread, and baked goods both sweet and savory. The puff pastry filled with ham and béchamel cheese is a solid choice. For sweets, the almond croissant and the fruit tart are always a wise decision. Come early to snag one of their buttery morning buns that tend to sell out, especially on the weekends.
For those who are gluten-free, this entire bakery is dedicated to creating a menu of items that rival its gluten counterparts. There are many excellent lunch options to choose from, including Reuben sandwiches to homemade empanadas. The baked goods selection is impressive from cinnamon rolls to matcha cupcakes. There is also an array of breakfast sandwiches that are worth a second look.
Grand Lake Kitchen
I’m usually not one to wait patiently for breakfast, but this place is worth it. Brunch runs from 9-3pm and on the weekends expect a lengthy wait. The restaurant is right next to Lake Meritt, so you can always take a quick pre-breakfast stroll or wander through the nearby Grand Lake farmers market on Saturdays, while you wait for them to text you that a table is available. I gravitate towards anything with smoked salmon on it (hello salmon benedict), but the savory French toast should also not be missed. They have an excellent dinner menu as well, if you don’t want to deal with the brunch crowd.
A great place to grab brunch before heading over to Jack London Square. Get the chicken and waffles if you’re craving something both sweet and savory. For a huge dose of protein, try one of their giant crab omelettes with a side of homemade salsa. Wash it all down with delicious strawberry mimosas. This place is hard to beat with generous servings and a cozy atmosphere.
This classic ice cream shop has been around for generations and churns out both classic and unique seasonal flavors. If you want to go all out, the huge sundaes are great for splitting. There is also a diner menu with burgers and fries, but its nothing to write home about. Fentons is very family friendly, and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. With so much change going on in Oakland, it’s always nice to have nostalgia-filled institutions like this one.
The Chicago deep-dish pizza is where it’s at in this East Bay institution. There are delicious signature pizzas or you can customize your own, with plenty of veggie and meat options. It may take noticeably longer than the thin crust version, but believe me it’s worth the wait. Speaking of waiting, the line can get unbelievably long on the weekends, so plan accordingly. If you want to skip the long wait, order a 1/2 baked pie, which you can bring back to your home and pop in the oven.