5 Locals Share the Best Things to Eat in Oakland, California

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

If you are a food-lover, chances are you are familiar, at least in passing, with Oakland, California. Perhaps you’ve flagged the East Bay city as a day trip, a single-day diversion from the main attraction, San Francisco, which is rightly renowned as a mecca for food-lovers. But you’d be wrong to relegate Oakland to the sidelines.

That’s not to say that if you hop on the BART, hitch a ride on the ferry, or drive over the Bay Bridge, you’ll be disappointed in your short-lived foray. No, the opposite is true. This East Bay charmer will have you wishing you’d allowed more time to explore its multi-faceted (and seriously delicious) dimensions.

Here, five Oakland locals share their very best bites in their hometown.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

If you’re a regular at Kitchn, then Dana Velden needs no introduction. She’s been a contributor for as long as we can remember, sharing her thoughtful and measured approach to life in the kitchen. She’s the author of Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook and also our tour guide for this month’s Bite-Sized Guide to Oakland.

Dana’s 5 Best Bites

  • Starline Social Club is a bar/music venue by night, but they host the Oakland Tea Parlour by day (Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). The chai is my favorite — milky and smooth, with just the right amount of spice and hum.
  • FuseBox is a bit of a destination restaurant, as it’s located in a warehouse neighborhood in West Oakland. But you should definitely seek it out, especially for their Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) which is super crunchy and tossed in a spicy and not-too-sweet sauce.
  • There are lots of great sandwiches at Pal’s Takeaway, but I love Aunt Malai’s Almost Famous Lao Sausage the best. They deep-fry the Laotian sausage and serve it on a roll with cucumber-cilantro relish.
  • Swan’s Market is worth a visit for their many top-notch places to eat, but if I had to pick one, I’d make it B-Dama for the katsu curry rice.
  • Homeroom draws lines for their mac’n’cheese, but I skip the restaurant and go to their take-out kiosk to order their homemade oreo cookie, which is made with dark chocolate cocoa powder and has a touch of crunchy salt sprinkled on top.
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

The founder of Broth Baby, an Oakland-based bone broth company, Cassandra Gates is a newcomer to the Bay area — she moved out west to study holistic nutrition at Bauman College — but has quickly made the Grand Lakes neighborhood her home. Take a peek at her kitchen, a rental that she’s transformed with smart upgrades, and see her top picks for eating out.

Cassandra’s 5 Best Bites

  • The meat quiche from the Starter Bakery stand at the Saturday Grand Lake Farmers Market is to die for!
  • Another pick from the Grand Lake Farmers Market: The plate of chicken curry with yellow rice at Andy and Cindy’s Thai tent.
  • Margherita pizza from Boot and Shoe Service with glass of red when I want to treat myself.
  • Sourdough english muffin from Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore. Pro tip: Ask them to heat it for you and eat it there with plenty of butter and a drizzle of honey (both available at the condiment counter).
  • Happy meal burger and fries with beer and shot for $25 at Plum Bar — after a long shift at the kitchen, this is just what I need!
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Bryant Terry is an Oakland treasure. An award-winning chef, educator, and author, Bryant is currently the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco, where he creates programming that celebrates the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art, culture, and the African Diaspora. We’ve been privileged to feature Bryant before on Kitchn, and today he shares with us his five favorite bites in Oakland.

Bryant’s 5 Best Bites

  • The cacao moon smoothie at Super Juiced Oakland in Old Oakland’s historic Swan’s Market.
  • The biscuits at Sequoia Diner, a newish spot in our neighborhood, The Laurel; my daughters love them!
  • The veggie combo lunch special from our go-to Ethiopian spot, Ensarro, near Lake Merritt; I often get two and then we have them for dinner.
  • When it’s cold outside the spicy vegetarian tofu soup at Pyeongchang Tofu House in Temescal is fantastic!
  • On the 2nd and 4th Mondays, Tacos Oscar does a pop-up at Starline Social Club; most of the time he has a really good vegetarian or vegan option.
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan / @ramenshop)

Alice Erb is the owner of the Tail of the Yak, or the Yak for short, a magical, eclectic, jewel-box of a shop with one-of-a-kind wares. The shop is just over the Oakland border in Berkeley, but Alice’s home is in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood (in a wonderful Queen Anne Victorian). Here are her favorite local haunts.

Alice’s 5 Best Bites

  • The tea leaf salad and the roti at Teni East Kitchen; we recently had a beef shank curry there that was also really delicious.
  • The grilled pork banh mi sandwiches at Cam Houng. They have two locations: one in Chinatown on Webster and one on International Boulevard.
  • The jook at Gum Kao in Chinatown. We call it the jook joint! But their wonton soup and their BBQ pork are also fabulous.
  • I always get the fried rice at the Ramen Shop. It’s some of the best in the area.
  • The menu changes daily at Penrose so it’s difficult to recommend one thing, but I love their North African and Middle Eastern flavors in general, and it’s a beautiful space.
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Nik Sharma is a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and his beautiful blog, A Brown Table, was named Best Photo Based Culinary Blog by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in 2015 and 2016. He’s currently working on his first cookbook, due out in 2018, from his home in Oakland’s Glenview, where he lives with his husband, Michael, and his two fur babies. These are his best bites.

Nik’s 5 Best Bites

  • The pan-roasted octopus with potatoes and olives at Marzano is perfectly charred and seasoned; I could eat it every day with a chilled glass of rosé.
  • The dosa waffles at Juhu Beach Club. It’s out of the box in the right way! There are very few Indian chefs that do fusion food right and Preeti Mistry belongs to that group of people.
  • The croissants from La Farine Boulangerie. And, if you get a chance, you should take a peek at the back of the bakery to see the bakers in action!
  • The huevos rancheros at Sequoia Diner (and they make their own sourdough too!)
  • The food is always great at Penrose, but this is also one of my favorite places to get a cocktail. The Old Cuban and the Ellhorn are two of my favorites.
(Image credit: Rotem Raffe)

Do you live in Oakland or have you visited? What’s your favorite bite?