We know 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 head to Oakland’s Dimond and Laurel districts in the lower hills.
Breakfast sandwiches. Fried chicken. Dive bars. Vegan comfort food. Pizza. Nigerian stew. There’s one street in Oakland where you can find each of these things in abundance: MacArthur Boulevard. Snaking up and down the rolling lower hills, MacArthur makes its way along the 580 through the Dimond and Laurel districts, which are home to a surprisingly diverse array of cuisines. (Or maybe it’s not surprising — lower hills residents, you tell me.)
In this installment of the Nosh Neighborhood Guide, we’re taking a look at the best we can find on this stretch of MacArthur, all the way from Fruitvale to High Street. As always, we’ve included a handy map at the bottom of the page.
For a seriously gut-busting meal, visit the Dimond’s Southern Café on a Sunday for its all-you-can-eat $29.95 buffet. It may sound like a fair amount of cash to throw down for a meal, but just think of this as the most affordable prix fixe option in town. (And it comes with bottomless mimosas.) You’ll able to try everything from collards to meatloaf, fried chicken to “Cajun spaghetti,” plus plenty of other Southern favorites, along with salad and dessert. You’ll likely not have to eat again all day.
Southern Café, 2000 MacArthur Blvd. (at Canon), Oakland
Taqueria Los Comales
The Dimond’s best burrito can be had at Taqueria Los Comales, a low-frills Mexican spot with a particular skill at composing “wet” burritos doused in red chile sauce. Customers can build their own burritos to a very specific T: a little guacamole here, an extra big scoop of black beans there. A well-stocked and fresh salsa bar adds the finishing touches. For non-burrito eaters, the ceviche tostadas (served only on Fridays) are always a good choice, as is the carnitas plate.
Taqueria Los Comales, 2105 MacArthur Blvd. (at Dimond), Oakland
Right next door to Taqueria Los Comales is the first of a few neighborhood dive bars we love in the the area — 2101 Club. Like all good dives, it keeps things simple with a few beers on tap and basic, cheap and strong cocktails. 2101 will do it up for Warriors and A’s games with plenty of televisions, and, on non-game days, will play easy-drinking classic rock from its jukebox. Bartenders are friendly and fast, and you’ll see a large cross-section of (older) Oaklanders on any given day.
2010 Club, 2101 MacArthur Blvd. (at Dimond), Oakland
Hive, the Place to Bee
For coffee in the Dimond, head to Hive, the Place to Bee, the small café with the long name. In addition to Highwire coffee and tea, Hive serves all-day breakfast, plus panini, toast and salads, all made with organic ingredients. Gluten-free sandwich lovers can even substitute Mariposa rolls for ciabatta. Pastries come from local bakeries Starter and Tart. And, as a bonus to the new families in the area, Hive has a special kids’ corner, complete with books, toys and coloring supplies.
Hive, the Place to Bee, 2139 MacArthur Blvd. (at Fruitvale), Oakland
Another option for a solid, hearty breakfast sandwich is Dimond Café, just around the corner on Fruitvale. Said breakfast sandos come filled with everything from turkey sausage to pastrami, plus scrambled eggs and cheese. Easy to eat breakfast burritos are also a popular choice, along with fluffy French toast. Dimond Café is less new and shiny than the Hive, but it’s just as friendly and owned by local residents — a win win.
Dimond Café, 3430 Fruitvale Ave. (at MacArthur), Oakland
The Veg Hub
A brick-and-mortar location for this mobile vegan sandwich and soul food restaurant opened in a former McDonald’s in the Dimond district early this year. The Veg Hub offers a completely animal-free menu of soul food plates and classic American sandwiches. Think: vegan fried “chicken,” cheesesteaks made with yuba, and cashew-based macaroni and “cheeze.” Diners particularly love the fried chicken, as well as the vegan quesadillas and the friendly, chill service. Owner and chef GW Chew plans to add cooking classes for both adults and kids in the area in the near future.
The Veg Hub, 2214 MacArthur Blvd. (at Fruitvale), Oakland
Olive and Oak
Another one of the newer additions to the Dimond district, Olive and Oak has brought a bit of Mediterranean flavor to the neighborhood. Sure, the café and deli also offers more American-style sandwiches like the ginormous Italian Dagwood (salami, pepperoni, mortadella, mozzarella, tomato, onions, garlic aioli), but its strengths lie in its falafel, lamb shawarma and tabouli. Pastries, tea, coffee and smoothies are all also on deck for morning meals and snacks.
Olive and Oak, 2224 MacArthur Blvd. (at Fruitvale), Oakland
About halfway in between the Dimond and Laurel districts’ main drags sits Café 3016, which serves —as the other cafés in the area — breakfast sandwiches galore. The favorites here are the spicy egg bagel (egg, cream cheese, tomato and a secret spicy sauce) and the works (egg, cream cheese, tomato, bacon and avocado with more of that spicy sauce) but any of the bagel sandwiches, served on Authentic Bagels, are a great choice. To drink is Wrecking Ball Coffee, which is a little harder to come by in the East Bay and totally delicious.
Café 3016, 3016 MacArthur Blvd. (at Maple), Oakland
While it may look a bit night-clubby from the outside, Lounge 3411 is far more of a neighborhood bar. Yes, it does have a pole-equipped dance floor and live music, but its biggest draws are its friendly bartenders and affordable prices. That, and the bar’s taco Tuesday specials that happen every, uh, Tuesday, as well as beer pong Mondays and karaoke Wednesdays. Non-singers can also try out the old school video games or watch the Warriors or A’s on TV.
Lounge 3411, 3411 MacArthur Blvd. (at Midvale), Oakland
The Laurel District’s Sequoia Diner takes the American diner concept to the next level. There, owners Sequoia Broderson and Andrew Vennari serve a roster of classics like two-egg plates, bacon and killer mile-high biscuits, all made with local ingredients. Everything — from the English muffins and jam to the sausage — are made in house. Oakland-based Highwire coffee is on hand, but served out of an old-fashioned glass pot. Mismatched flatware and vintage red leather booths add to the ambience. Plus, Sequoia Diner often throws evening pop-up-style events like spaghetti suppers, so it’s not always out of the question to come by at dinner time.
Sequoia Diner, 3719 MacArthur Blvd. (at Loma Vista), Oakland
In addition to its other cuisines, the Laurel is home to Oakland’s only Nigerian restaurant, Miliki. Miliki offers up a unique, if somewhat challenging, menu of dishes like egusi, a spinach, tomato and meat stew thickened with melon seeds; iyan, a thick roll of dough made from pounded yams; suya beef skewers; and akara bean fritters. In the early hours, Miliki also offers traditional American breakfast food, all cooked by the former chef from Full House Café, which is now Sequoia Diner.
Miliki, 3725 MacArthur Blvd. (at Brown), Oakland
Gerardo’s Mexican Restaurant
A long line may not be the most obvious selling point for a restaurant, but, in a city where Mexican food is abundant, popularity is a sign you’ve hit on something good. At Gerardo’s, two menu items draw the daily line: fried tacos, which take a turn in hot oil after being filled instead of before, and gigantic burritos that can be served wet as at Los Comales. The rest of the menu — nachos, quesadillas and enchiladas — is also worth a try if you’re looking for something (slightly) lighter. Note: Gerardo’s is cash only, so come prepared.
Gerardo’s Mexican Restaurant, 3811 MacArthur Blvd. (at Brown), Oakland
Phnom Penh House
If you’ve never had (or even heard of) stuffed chicken wings, make a plan to head to Phnom Penh House. These wings — called slaap moarn borg — come de-boned and filled to the gills with an aromatic mixture of lemongrass, bean thread noodles, chicken, mushrooms, onions and spices. They’re likely one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, along with stuffed Cambodian crepes, papaya salad, fish soup and, honestly, just about any fried or skewered dish on the menu. (Phnom Penh also had a long-running location in Chinatown, which closed this spring to move over to Alameda.)
Phnom Penh House, 3912 MacArthur Blvd. (at Patterson), Oakland
Self-described as the “East Bay’s latest good reason not to cross the bridge,” the Laurel Lounge is definitely a dive lover’s dive bar. Beers are cheap, sports are plentiful on the televisions and every regular has their favorite bartender. Sure, this place has zero-frills, but if you’re lucky, you may wander in on barbecue night or while the staff is offering free jello shots (or, better yet, hot dogs) during a game day.
Laurel Lounge, 3932 MacArthur Blvd. (at 38th), Oakland
#1 Seafood and Chicken Restaurant
If you happen to have a craving for fried chicken, put the small, nondescript #1 Seafood and Chicken Restaurant on your list. While the restaurant offers both fried fish and poultry, its strength lies in its chicken wings, which come coated in a thick, expertly-seasoned crisp crust. Alongside, opt for hush puppies (Southern fried cornbread fritters) over french fries — yes, it’s a fried on fried kind of meal, but it’s worth it.
#1 Seafood and Chicken Restaurant, 4014 MacArthur Blvd. (at 38th), Oakland
Another great place to get your American comfort food fix is Communitē Table, a casual café of sorts serving homestyle classics for lunch and dinner. All of the soups and salads — especially the kitchen’s kale and feta combo — are popular to eat in or take to-go, and dinner specials like fried chicken and vegan chili are deeply satisfying. Communitē Table also has a freezer case filled with an extensive line-up of easy-to-heat dishes (chicken pot pie, ftw) to help solve that mid-week “what’s for dinner?” question.
Communitē Table, 4171 MacArthur Blvd. (at Maybelle), Oakland
Fist of Flour Doughjo
Self-taught pizzaiolo James Whitehead opened Fist of Flour as a mobile pizza company in 2010. Since then, he’s grown the restaurant (and oven) from a one-person business with a tiny hand-built wood-fired oven to a brick-and-mortar pizzeria cooking a full menu of pies out of a larger wood-gas combo oven. (He’s still got the small one for outdoor gigs and catering.) Whitehead’s pizzas are smaller and a bit lighter than average, but they’re all made with local ingredients and lots of care. Pro-tip: Come on Tuesdays, when he offers two pies for $32 (or $34 for those with specialty toppings) to get the best bang for your buck.
Fist of Flour Doughjo, 4166 MacArthur Blvd. (at Maybelle), Oakland
Runners up: Everett and Jones Barbecue, Flower Lounge, Galvan’s Taste of Louisiana, Happy Garden, Kasper’s Hot Dogs, La Hacienda Restaurant, Loard’s Ice Cream, Lucky Donuts, Ole Ole Burrito Express, Soon’s Cocktail Lounge