Nosh Neighborhood Guide: Upper Fruitvale, Allendale and beyond

The nam kao appetizer — deep fried rice mixed with ground pork and coconut, served with lettuce and mint leaves — is not to be missed at Vientian Café in Oakland. Photo: Emilie Raguso

We know that there’s more to East Bay dining than Temescal, Rockridge and the Gourmet Ghetto. Nosh’s neighborhood guides highlight the best of the rest. This week, we visited places to eat further into East Oakland, up Fruitvale Avenue and then east towards San Leandro.

East Oakland is a sprawling place and, once you step away from the larger shopping districts like Fruitvale, Laurel and Dimond, you’re much more likely to find hidden gems of restaurants tucked away in residential neighborhoods. Others appear on more industrial stretches of International Boulevard or inside convenience stores. And while you’ll find plenty of (excellent) taquerias and comfort food restaurants, there are many other cuisines represented if you know where to look. West African jollof rice, deeply flavorful Indian curries, Egyptian breakfast fare — it’s all here.

In today’s neighborhood guide, we’ll move from upper Fruitvale Avenue, east, touching neighborhoods like Allendale, Fairfax and Castlemont on our way towards San Leandro. As always, you can check out the map at the bottom of the post to keep track.

Lucky Three Seven

Photo: Lucky Three Seven/Facebook

After opening in spring 2013, Lucky Three Seven has quickly become a popular neighborhood joint serving up flavorful Filipino comfort fare. The family-owned business cooks up a rotating menu of daily specials — check Facebook before you go unless you like surprises. Recent specials include beef mechado (a tomato-based stew), sisig (tangy and spicy pork that has been braised and crisped) and coconut chicken adobo. Other favorite dishes include “G fire wings” and extra-large fried lumpia rolls made with either pork or chicken.
Lucky Three Seven, 2868 Fruitvale Ave. (at Brookdale), Oakland


Vientian Café

Another favorite amongst neighborhood residents and destination diners alike, Vientian Café features a mix of Lao, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine at reasonable prices in a casual atmosphere. It serves several don’t miss dishes: Laotian sausage, scored and baked to maximize crispiness; nam kao, aka “rice ball salad,” made with deep-fried rice balls, pork sausage and herbs; and just about anything else on the “Lao Specialities” menu (be sure to ask for it).
Vientian Café, 3801 Allendale Ave. (at 38th), Oakland 

King’s Coffee Shop

King’s Coffee. Photo: Google Maps

Nearby, no-frills King’s Coffee Shop offers up diner classics like all-day breakfast, broiled burgers and club sandwiches stacked high with turkey, ham, cheese and bacon. Both the diner’s pancakes and waffles get high marks from Yelpers, and milkshakes make for a popular afternoon treat. A short but sweet Mexican menu rounds things out with tacos, flautas, enchiladas and burritos.
King’s Coffee Shop, 3000 38th St. (at Penniman), Oakland

Pyramids Restaurant and Grill

For an entirely different breakfast experience, venture over to Pyramids Restaurant for an Egyptian meal of fuol medames, a fava bean stew made tangy with tomatoes, onions and vinegar. Slather the whole mess on warm pita bread and you’ll forget that you’re usually digging into a pile of scrambled eggs right now. Of course, if you’d rather go American with your breakfast, Pyramids also serves a standard short-order menu of familiar classics like eggs Benedict, omelets and French toast. Lunch and dinner swing more Middle Eastern, with wraps and kabobs dominating the menu. The “mazza” plate, piled high with hummus, babaganoush, salad, falafel, tahini and pita bread, is your best bet for trying the most the kitchen has to offer.
Pyramids Restaurant and Grill, 3100 High St. (at Virginia), Oakland

Lena’s Soul Food Café

Photo: Lena’s Soul Food Cafe/Facebook

Now with locations on High Street and Foothill Boulevard, Lena’s is becoming the dominant place to find soul food in the area. The original spot, on High, offers its fare cafeteria style, while the new full-service restaurant on Foothill has a more extensive menu including sandwiches and appetizer dishes. At both, however, you’ll find rich oxtails, creamy macaroni and cheese, and tender collard greens. Lena’s also offers a short but sweet $0.99 menu; on it you’ll find single pieces of fried chicken or fish, baked chicken and a bowl of rice and gravy.
Lena’s Soul Food Café, 1462 High St. (at Bancroft) and 6403 Foothill Blvd. (at 64th), Oakland

El Paisa@.com

If you’re the kind of eater who actively follows taco trucks around town or spends days sussing out your next taqueria crawl and you haven’t yet been to El Paisa@.com (not a typo), you’d better make your way to 46th and International, stat. This curiously named taqueria serves the best tacos you’ll find in the Bay, no matter the filling. El Paisa does specialize in offal cuts — cabeza (head meat), lengua (tongue), tripa (beef tripe) — but you won’t go wrong ordering suadero (muscle meat similar to carne asada) or carnitas. Chile heads should know to ask for the extra hot salsa kept behind the counter, and for those who want a little more than onions and cilantro on their tacos — you can ask for grilled cipollini onions and nopales (cactus) as well. Whatever you do, though, stick to the tacos. The meat is truly where the restaurant shines; no need to cover it up with a burrito’s extra rice and beans.
El Paisa@.com, 4610 International Blvd. (at 46th), Oakland


Ruth’s Buka

Plantains and rice from Ruth’s Buka. Photo: Ruth’s Buka/Facebook

Ruth’s Buka quietly opened in 2015, joining the Laurel’s Miliki as one of the few West African restaurants in town. Chef-owner Ruth Ogbe serves up a short menu of stewed meats and vegetables with rice or pounded starches like fufu, along with whole fried fish and a few side dishes. Ogbe has met nothing but raves from her customers, who find the food authentic, boldly flavored and “full of natural loving energy.”
Ruth’s Buka, 5250 Foothill Blvd. (at Congress), Oakland 

Mill’s Hoagie and Deli Shop

If you’re looking for a fancy, vegetable-laden sandwich, Mill’s is not your place. But if you’ve got a craving for a good steak and cheese, look no further than this small, old-school sandwich shop near Mills College. It serves the best steak hoagie around — thinly sliced and griddled meat served practically overflowing out of a large, squishy white roll. You can get it decked out with everything from pickles to jalapeños, and for $10 it’ll come with thick-cut fries and a drink. Plan your afternoon nap accordingly.
Mill’s Hoagie and Deli Shop, 5930 MacArthur Blvd. (at Seminary), Oakland

El Salvador Taqueria y Pupuseria

Only about a year old, El Salvador has earned raves for its Salvadoran tamales and made-to-order pupusas. The pupusas come crisp on the outside and filled with everything from cheese to shrimp. Other Salvadoran specialities of the house include yucca con chicharron and chilate con nuegados (a warm, savory corn drink served with fried dumplings). Of course, El Salvador also serves fairly standard burritos and tacos, but we feel it’d be sad to stop in without trying dishes from further south.
El Salvador Taqueria y Pupseria, 6520 Foothill Blvd. (at Havenscourt), Oakland

Genny’s Fire Pit

Photo: Genny’s Fire Pit/Facebook

It’s certainly not barbecue, but the oxtail plate from Genny’s Fire Pit is worth the trip alone. Cooked until almost spoon tender and falling off the bone, and served in a thick, savory gravy over rice, these oxtails are pure comfort food. And the sides — like candied yams, collards and cornbread — also make for good, if a bit sweet, eats. Of the barbecue, the ribs are the most popular choice, but beware, the cook (and cut) of the ribs can be hit or miss.
Genny’s Fire Pit, 6637 Bancroft Ave. (at Havenscourt), Oakland

Masala Cuisine

It may not look it from the outside, but Masala Cuisine is one of the best Indian restaurants in the East Bay. Much of the menu is vegetarian, but owners Rooplal and Sushil Masih do offer a few chicken and lamb curries as well (the chicken tikka masala is particularly popular). The tiny, family run restaurant is basically only a kitchen — seating is on folding tables right inside the pantry area — and the only staff are the Masihs, but it’s all the better to watch them at work, chopping vegetables and assembling curries to order. Of course, this process takes time, so come to eat with patience in mind. It’s worth the wait.
Masala Cuisine, 7912 International Blvd. (at 79th), Oakland


Estrellas de Sinaloa

Right near the coliseum you’ll find some of the best tortas in Oakland. Estrellas de Sinaloa specializes in the oversized sandwiches loaded up with grilled or fried meats, cheese and toppings. You can build your own or order a special, like the Italian, with sausage and pork leg, or the Hawaiian, with breaded steak and ham. Bring one into an A’s game for extra points.
Estrellas de Sinaloa, 8119 San Leandro St. (at 81st), Oakland

Corners Café

Avocado toast from Corners Cafe/Facebook

Twelve-year-old Corners Café is more than just a health-focused breakfast and lunch spot. It also functions as a social enterprise arm of Youth Uprising, offering culinary and management skills training for the youth and young adult members of the organization. The café itself is now being managed by Christina Harrison (previously of Flora), who has revamped the menu. It now boasts a lineup of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, burgers all made from locally-sourced ingredients.
Corners Café, 8711 MacArthur Blvd. (near 88th), Oakland 

Runners up: Big Momma’s Kitchen, Caffe Nonna, Churros Guerrero Cart, El Taco Zamorano, El Torero TaqueriaFish King, Fong’s CafeHeavenly Eyes, Hegenburger, Jolly Rogers DinerLe Bistro, Masterminds Cafe, Old Weang Ping, Royal Kitchen Indian RestaurantSalah Smokehouse Market, Sam’s Carryout, San Francisco Restaurant, Santo Coyote, Sushi Go Go, Tasty Pleasures, Tortas Ahogadas Mi Barrio