The best part of the East Bay food boom is that it is happening all over the place, not just in already popular neighborhoods like Oakland’s Temescal or Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. In that spirit, we are launching a new series on NOSH focused on specific neighborhoods in the East Bay. Think of it as your own online neighborhood food tour. We start in West Oakland.
Stretching from Interstate 580 in the north down towards Jack London Square in the south, West Oakland is a sprawling neighborhood. But, despite its size, the largely residential area has historically lacked food options. A few organizations and developers are raising funds and writing plans for full-service grocery stores in the area, but there are several smaller changes taking place. Small restaurants and cafés have slowly been opening up alongside established diners, taquerias, and fried fish joints. Some offer re-imagined versions of the area’s historic soul food cuisine, while others bring new ideas and flavors. Most operate in harmony with the diverse neighborhood, celebrating the homey goodness that is Oakland cuisine. Don’t know where to pop in for a bite in West Oakland? Here are our picks. We’ve included a handy map so you know just where they are.
B-Side Baking Company
Fans of Tanya Holland‘s brisket were sad to see her shutter B-Side BBQ earlier this year. But the restaurant did not stay empty for long. B-Side Baking Co. opened up earlier this month under the supervision of Celeste Scott, the pastry chef at Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen (see below). Right now, the bakery has a pastry-centric menu — there are savory puffs filled with vegetables or ham and cheese, plus treats like peanut butter cookie sandwiches, strawberry scones and salted caramel brownies. The bakery has held on to B-Side BBQ’s liquor license; it’s got beer and wine on the menu in addition to coffee, tea and juice. Eventually, Holland and Scott plan to extend hours and add more substantial items like sandwiches to the menu. B-Side Baking Co. is at 3303 San Pablo Ave. (at 34th Street), Oakland.
Tamales la Oaxaqueña
Other neighborhoods in Oakland may be better destinations for burritos and tacos, but West Oakland is home to the finest tamales. At Tamales la Oaxaqueña, chef Rosa Oliva crafts artful banana-leaf wrapped tamales filled with rich, earthy, chile-filled moles. There’s a dark mole negro made smoky with charred tortillas and chiles and a cinnamon-spiced mole rogo, sweetened with plantains and raisins. The moles can be paired with either pork or chicken. Vegetarians need to order off the mole menu — there is a corn and zucchini offering or a roasted poblano and jack cheese tamal. Oliva prepares her tamales in the Oaxacan style, wrapped in banana leaf rather than corn husk, which add a hint of sweetness to the masa. Tamales la Oaxaqueña is at 2608 Market St. (at 26th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
Brown Sugar Kitchen
Take 26th Street west to Mandela and you’ll land at Holland’s consistently crowded Brown Sugar Kitchen, her new-school take on old-school soul food. Since its opening in 2008, the restaurant has been providing a beacon of delicious eats on the otherwise empty block. Some patrons slip in for a cup of coffee soon after it opens its doors, others brave the long lines for a brunch of fried chicken and waffles, and still others come in for a late lunch of gumbo or pulled pork. Holland’s newest cookbook, Brown Sugar Kitchen, paints a portrait of her restaurant and the surrounding neighborhoods; it contains bios of regular customers in addition to a recipe for just about everything on her menu. Brown Sugar Kitchen is at 2534 Mandela Pkwy (at 26th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Further south, near Mandela and Grand, is FuseBOX, a joy of a restaurant that’s tucked away in an old warehouse next to industrial artist studios. Sunhui Chang and his wife Ellen opened the Korean-ish restaurant in May 2012 and have since garnered a legion of fans. Depending on who you ask, the best item on the menu is the unbelievably crisp KFC, or Korean Fried Chicken. Or the gooey, decadent bacon-wrapped mochi. Or else it is one of many seasonal vegetable skewers. Or maybe the best dish is the platter of kimchi and pickles that comes with every meal. To make the pickles, Chang makes use of every part, or “the offal” of vegetables. No two visits to FuseBOX are exactly the same, and that’s just the way we like it. FuseBOX is at 2311A Magnolia St. (at 24th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Continue down Mandela for coffee at Kilovolt. The Sightless Coffee pouring, Baron Baking bagel-slinging coffee shop opened up shop near 18th street last spring. Kilovolt is owned by Ethan Ashley, and electrician who built out much of the cafe space himself. It’s located in the office part of a former steel equipment warehouse, and Ashley, who did much of the build-out himself, has run with the electricity theme for the décor in addition to the name, using old insulators from high voltage power lines as chandeliers, for instance. The opening of the third-wave coffee shop has not come without critique; a week after Kilovolt opened, someone graffitied the outside of the building with the words, “Eat Shit Yuppies.” Kilovolt Coffee is at 1829 Mandela Pkwy. (at 18th Street), Oakland. Connect with the coffee shop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Pretty Lady Restaurant
FuseBOX isn’t the only restaurant serving housemade kimchi in West Oakland. At Pretty Lady, a greasy spoon-style diner around the block from Kilovolt on Peralta, owner Sung Son offers her own spicy pickles (plus a fist-bump) alongside her omelettes and inside her breakfast burritos. The diner has been around since the 1950s; Son and her husband took it over 10 years ago. Diners love Pretty Lady for its no-frills fare, cheap prices and friendly service. Much of the menu is made up of diner staples like eggs, pancakes, and deli sandwiches, but there are a few fusion-y touches: that kimchi can be added to any order and fried noodle and rice dishes make an appearance. Pretty Lady is at 1733 Peralta St. (at 18th Street), Oakland.
10th and Wood
This cafe spot is tucked away in the mostly residential Prescott neighborhood near the West Oakland BART. 10th and Wood calls itself a “very eclectic neighborhood cafe” that specializes in “Oakland cuisine.” What does that mean? It’s an affordable, soul inflected sandwich spot. The sandwich highlights on its short menu include a fried fish fried or grilled chicken, pulled pork, each with a slightly Southeast Asian inflection. 10th and Wood also ferments and bottles its own kombucha in house. 10th and Wood is at 945 Wood St., (at 10th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Mandela Foods Cooperative and Zella’s Soulful Kitchen
Right across from the West Oakland BART in the Mandela Gateway development is the Mandela Foods Cooperative, the only successful health-focused grocery store in this part of Oakland. Founded by a group of local women in 2009, the worker-owned co-op sells organic produce, bulk products, and staples of the Whole Foods variety. Its mission, according to the co-op website, is “to build community health and wealth through cooperative business ownership, nutrition education, and increasing access to affordable, locally grown food.” Last fall, the co-op welcomed Dione Knox’s soul food business, Zella’s Soulful Kitchen, to the deli area. Zella’s specializes in healthier versions of soul staples like barbecue chicken, breakfast sandwiches, and entrees like meatloaf and shrimp and grits. Mandela Foods Cooperative is at 1430 7th St., (at Mandela), Oakland. Connect with the store on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with Zella’s Soulful Kitchen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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