We know that there’s more to East Bay dining than Temescal, Rockridge and the Gourmet Ghetto. Nosh’s neighborhood guides explore the best of the rest. This week, we explore Oakland’s Fruitvale district.
For those of us who believe tacos aren’t just a Tuesday special and weekends are made for menudo, Fruitvale is a special place filled with hyper-regional Mexican and Central American specialties, chile-dusted fruit and more taco trucks than you can shake a stick at. But we get it — not everyone seeks out a neighborhood just for its quality of homemade tortillas. Not to worry, Fruitvale also has a growing set of restaurants, bars and cafés that scratch a different itch. From craft beer to Middle Eastern man’oushe, we’ve got you covered.
Here are our picks for the best of the Fruitvale neighborhood, from 29th to 42nd, all along International Boulevard, Fruitvale Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. All of the bars and restaurants are listed roughly in order moving from West-ish to East-ish, and as with our other Neighborhood Guides, we’ve provided you a handy map at the bottom of the post. Finally, in case you’re wondering, we’ll have even more to show you in the rest of East Oakland in the coming weeks.
It’s really hard not to like Ale Industries. The Fruitvale-based brewery has something for everyone, whether it’s a “hella hoppy” IPA or a sweet-tart, cherry-laced and hop-less gruit. Its staff is at once old-school, with bearded, jolly founders, and diversity-conscious, with more bartenders of color than we’ve seen at any other local brewery. And the tasting room itself is decidedly chill — dive deep into a conversation with the folks pouring your beers, or relax on one of the couches with a book — no one will look askance in your direction. Ale Industries really shines when it comes to barrel-aged beers; we love the Pink Drank and the spontaneously fermented Niña Fresca that bursts with tropical pineapple flavors. (There’s a solid IPA or two on tap every day, too.)
3096 E. 10th St. (between Fruitvale and Derby), Oakland
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It should go without saying that Fruitvale is practically overflowing with taco trucks. While it’s hard to pick favorites (and we’re sure some of you may disagree with ours), our best bet is the truck in the parking lot of Guadalajara Restaurant: El Novillo. The tripas, frizzled and fried pork intestines, exhibit that wondrous crunchy-chewy tug-of-war characteristic of the best calamari, all laced with rich porkiness. The cabeza tacos are also a fine choice. Soft and buttery, they are coated in enough rendered fat to be supple, but still go down surprisingly easy. Non-offal lovers will also find plenty to eat; don’t miss the flavor-packed al pastor and tender carne asada. (Want a different truck? Check out our other favorites here.)
1001 Fruitvale Blvd. (at 12th), Oakland
If you’ve tapped out on craft beer but are still looking for a drink or two, the long-running dive bar Aloha Club down the street boasts the “longest bar and coldest beer in town.” It’s an ego-free, no-frills spot with plenty of televisions to watch the A’s, Warriors and, er, Las Vegas Raiders. Aloha’s outdoor area is also quite pleasant once the sun comes out, and pool tables offer non-television entertainment. Hop on over to El Novillo in the Guadalajara parking lot for a post-drink nibble.
952 Fruitvale Ave. (at San Leandro Street), Oakland
Los Cocos Salvadoran Resturant
For those who are craving cheesy stuffed masa, Los Cocos is your spot. Specializing in Salvadoran fare, the restaurant has a wide variety of pupusas — everything from chicharron to loroco (a flower similar to a squash blossom) — topped with a tangy, refreshing curtido (cabbage slaw). Los Cocos also offers up a wide variety of larger plates and soups, such as caldo de res and breakfasty chorizo and eggs. Pro-tip? Service can be hit or miss, but the pupusas are worth a bit of patience.
1449 Fruitvale Ave. (between International and 15th), Oakland
Reem’s Traditional Arab Street Food
Reem’s got its start as a farmers market vendor, but owner Reem Assil is soon to open her first brick-and-mortar restaurant right near Fruitvale BART. While it’s under construction, she’s popping up in her new location every Tuesday (Reem’s is also at the Friday Old Oakland market and Saturday Ferry Plaza market in San Francisco). The operation specializes in man’oushe — traditional flatbread that are cooked to order on a special rounded griddle, filled with toppings and rolled into a wrap-style sandwich. Man’oushe have all the Middle Eastern flavor and heat you’d expect from your local falafel shop, but with more variation and subtlety in ingredients. On one recent visit, both the Crazy Spicy Cool (cheese, chile and sweet pepper paste, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, mint) and the Pali-Cali (chicken, sumac, arugula) hit the spot.
3301 E. 12th St., Ste. 133 (at 33rd), Oakland
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The Half Orange
Tucked into a slip of a space near the Fruitvale BART is The Half Orange, a beer, burger and sausage joint. The restaurant is the brainchild of Jay Porter, who famously owned a tip-less sausage restaurant in San Diego before relocating to the Bay. The Half Orange’s bombastic burgers and borderline insane salchipapas (fries topped with sausage, chorizo, kimchi and THO sauce) are best enjoyed on the restaurant’s patio on a Saturday afternoon, when you can wash down all that fried goodness with a couple of local beers. As Yelper Kelly C. put it, “Shared the fries with the kimchee on top. Had a burger with chicken chicarones [sic]. Felt like I was nine months pregnant and don’t regret a minute.” Exactly.
3340 E. 12th St. (at 33rd), Oakland
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Nieves Cinco de Mayo
Nosh first fell for the ice cream from Nieves Cinco de Mayo at the short-lived North Oakland restaurant Salsipuedes, where it was served as dessert. (Yes, we were late to the game). Lucky for us, the Fruitvale ice cream shop is still churning out delicious classic and creative flavors like coconut, arroz, rose petal and cinnamon. But ice cream isn’t the only reason to stop by the stall in the Fruitvale Public Market — there’s also the mangonada, a towering cup of shaved ice, fresh mango slices, mango sorbet, chile powder, Chamoy sauce and a tamarind straw. It’s a refreshing and filling dessert-slash-afternoon snack that will keep you coming back for more.
3340 E. 12th St. (near 35th), Oakland
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Situated almost directly under the Fruitvale BART station, Obelisco serves Mexican classics with an eye towards health and sustainability. It sources its meats through Niman Ranch and Mary’s Chicken, offers brown rice, and whips up plenty of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Both the pozole and the crispy tacos get extra-high marks from visitors, as well as the veggie burritos that include actual vegetables, not just beans and rice. Meat-eaters should order any of the weekend specials, such as cochinita pibil.
3411 E. 12th St. (near 35th), Oakland
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Two Mamma’s Vegan Kitchen
For a break from all the al pastor and carnitas in the neighborhood, consider heading to Two Mamma’s, a restaurant specializing in vegan twists on American brunch and lunch dishes. Fan favorites include benedicts and florentines made with tofu, soy sausage and animal-free hollandaise. A “chicken” salad and kale sandwich is also a popular choice for an afternoon meal. Bonus for those with restricted diets: The restaurant recently underwent a management change, and is in the process of adding more gluten-free and raw dishes.
3700 International Blvd. (at 37th), Oakland
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El Huarache Azteca
If you’ve yet to try a huarache, put El Huarache Azteca on your list for your next Fruitvale trip. There, you’ll find the restaurant’s namesake dishes — large, oblong fried masa cakes topped with everything from salsa to cactus to chicken tossed in mole poblano. Other dishes unique to the restaurant include quesadillas filled with huitlacoche (also known as corn fungus — trust us, it’s good), tlacoyos (smaller stuffed masa cakes) and weekend-only barbacoa. We hear El Huarache also offers five different types of mole in the weeks around Cinco de Mayo, so now is the time to go.
3842 International Blvd. (between 38th and 39th), Oakland
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This Mexican restaurant has been serving up some of Oakland’s favorite chile rellenos for over three decades. Fried and smothered in a deep, ruddy red sauce, the stuffed peppers come served with excellent beans and rice. Add a side of homemade tortillas to sop up all of the sauce (or to just eat them plain, smothered with butter) and you won’t be disappointed. La Mexicana also generates raves for its chicken in mole, as well as its enchiladas and just about everything else on the menu.
3930 International Blvd. (between 39th and 40th)
Last fall, Taqueria Campos changed hands and names to La Casita. Luckily for fans of the original restaurant’s soups and handmade tortillas, La Casita has picked up where Taqueria Campos left off. Its pozole, menudo and birria are all worth a stop in; our favorite is the pozole, with perfectly tender meat and hominy, and a side of thin, fluffy homemade tortillas. But even if soups aren’t your thing, La Casita’s menu is full of hits: burritos, beans and even its (orange) hot sauce generate legions of fans.
3659 Foothill Blvd. (at Harrington), Oakland
Runners up: 4 Caminos Restaurant, Cabalen Sweet and Savory, Cafe Platano 2, Canchola’s Restaurant, Emil’s Burger and Breakfast, Guadalajara Restaurant and Tequila Bar, Las Autenticas/Piprin, La Torta Loca, Mariscos La Costa, Mi Grullense Restaurant and Tequila Bar, Parra’s Restaurant, Tacos El Gordo, Taqueria 16 de Septiembre, Taqueria El Farolito, Taqueria La Gran Chiquita, Taqueria San Jose