5 restaurants to try in Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville

Pork leg and grilled chicken sandwiches from Brazilian Bread café in Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Han

With the seemingly endless number of restaurants in the East Bay, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices when deciding where to try next.

While it’s always fun to check out the newest, most buzzy restaurants out there, I wanted to bring your attention to five eateries that aren’t brand new, but might be new to you. These are all spots I’ve been to recently and to which I give the Nosh seal of approval.

Brazilian Bread

This tiny Brazilian café on upper Solano Avenue that opened in February often has a line spilling out the door on the weekends. And for good reason. Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) is the signature offering here. These round little balls of goodness are made of tapioca flour, eggs, milk and cheese. They’re baked fresh daily at the café and are offered in a variety of flavors, like four cheese, garlic and rosemary and guava jelly, if you’re looking for a sweet option. I tried the plain and four cheese and liked both. At $1 each, they’re not cheap, but they made a tasty snack while I waited for my sandwich.

Speaking of sandwiches, I got the Pernil de Porco (oven roasted pork leg, marinated in white wine, lemon and garlic) sandwich with a side of yucca fries and tasted a bite of my friend’s Frango (grilled chicken breast marinated with lemon and herbs). Both were well-seasoned, and even though the chicken was not dry like chicken breast can be, the pork leg won my favor (Pork always wins over chicken, in my book). Sandwiches come with a side of lightly dressed greens and can be ordered on ciabatta rolls ($9) or with the toppings stuffed into a cheese bread ($6). I’m not usually a fan of ciabatta, but I tried it because the slider option seemed a little too small for me. I was glad I did; the sandwich is more than double the size of the cheese bread, and the ciabatta roll was the right amount of soft and giving, with good flavor and structure too. Next time I will try the Picanha, the beef sandwich made with sirloin cap.


Other offerings at Brazilian Bread include açaí bowls, coxinhas, yucca fries, tapioca crepes, bolo cakes, soups and salads.

Brazilian Bread’s summer hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday; 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday.

Brazilian Bread, 1707 Solano Ave. (at Tulare), Berkeley

Mexi-Bowl with Carnitas at Chica in Oakland. Photo: Sarah Han

Chica

A true neighborhood café, Chica shares a building with a nail salon, and is the only restaurant on this residential stretch of Oakland Avenue. The fare here is a mix of Mexican and Latin American, with a California slant towards seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. Its founder Maria Esquivel is from Oakland, but she opened the first Chica, a takeout window in Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco in 2015. A year later, she opened this Oakland outpost.

I stopped in on a recent weekend for brunch, where I ordered the Mexi-Bowl ($9.75), which is on the regular all-day menu. The bowls are served with a variety of mix-and-match toppings. I chose carnitas (slow braised pork in an achiote marinade) over Mexi-rice and added a scoop of black beans for an extra $1. A side of escabeche (pickled jalapeños and onions) and sliced cucumbers add acidic brightness and freshness to balance out the dish. The bowls also come with your choice of several housemade sauces. Not sure what to choose, I asked the woman taking my order, who suggested the creamy Huacatay sauce, with the caveat that it’s not a good choice for mayo haters. Fortunately, I like mayo so I gave it a try. The sauce came on the side, which I liked because I could control the amount to add. Other Mexi-Bowl toppings and additions are baked chicken or a medley of seasonal vegetables, fried egg, and guacamole. I also tried the special horchata of the day, which on my visit was fresh strawberry garnished with a mint leaf.

My partner ordered a brunch special, the huevos rancheros ($12.95). Two corn tortillas are topped with poached eggs, cooked vegetables, Oaxaca cheese and a generous dousing of red enchilada sauce. This is a vegetarian-friendly dish, but for $1 extra, you can replace the veggies with a carnitas hash.

A few caveats: Chica seats about 25 people, so it can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. Because it’s so small, it’s not a good spot for large groups — keep this one on your list for solo dining excursions or with one or two others. Parking in the area is not great (aka horrible); if you’re not within walking distance, consider taking public transportation or riding your bike.


Chica Oakland’s summer hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday;  closed on Mondays.

Chica, 303A Oakland Ave. (between Fairmont and Pearl), Oakland  

Rosemary fried chicken, mac and cheese and cornbread from Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement in the Public Market Emeryville.

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement

This Southern soul food joint was opened in March at the Emeryville Public Market by Fernay McPherson, a San Francisco native and La Cocina alumna. Minnie Bell’s serves some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. And yes, I’ve been to Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans.

The secret to Minnie Bell’s chicken is the mix of rosemary in the batter, which packs a punch of herby flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm with the perfuminess that rosemary can sometimes have. The chicken was perfectly browned and crispy on the outside, and tender and succulent inside, a result of the hot sauce and buttermilk brine. I ordered the two-piece meal ($9.75), which includes one small side (I chose mac n cheese, naturally) and a square of butter-slathered cornbread. My meal came with a drumstick and a breast piece, but next time, I’ll make sure to request two dark pieces of meat. The four-piece meal is $18 and includes an extra side. Other sides are braised collard greens, pickled veggies, red beans and rice, or house salad, which can also be ordered a la carte. If you’re still hungry, you can order chicken by the piece for $2.50 each.

I washed my meal down with a sweet tea, but other refreshments include Kool-Aid and bottled water.

Minnie Bell’s is found in the turnkey pop-up kiosk at the Public Market, which is a revolving space reserved for vendors who eventually plan to move on to a more permanent space. McPherson hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in SF’s Fillmore District, where she grew up. So if you’ve waiting to try this spot, don’t tarry and miss out.


Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement is open 11-3 p.m. daily; 5-8 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 5-7 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed 3-5 p.m. every day to clean the fryers.

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement will be at the Public Market Emeryville, 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville

Korean soondae (blood sausage) soup at Moo Bong Ri in Oakland. Photo: Sarah Han

Moo Bong Ri

If you love Korean food and you’re ready to graduate from soon dubu, bibimbap and bulgogi, you may be enticed by this new-ish restaurant tucked within Temescal’s Koryo Plaza. Moo Bong Ri is a chain that has locations in Santa Clara and Los Angeles. The specialty here is soondae, or blood sausage, which it offers in a soup, casserole, as a sauteed dish, or served on a platter, sliced into medallions.

OK, soondae isn’t for everyone. It’s made with pork blood, dangmyeon (glass noodles) and glutinous rice, which give these sausages a gummy, almost mochi-like chew. I grew up eating the dark black sausage, so I’m not squeamish. My mom served it sliced, to be dipped into salt seasoned with pepper. I had never had it in soups or stews before, so at Moo Bong Ri, I tried the blood sausage soup ($12), which comes in a milky bone broth that you add sliced green onion, salt, hot pepper paste and other toppings provided. Next time, I will try to spicy soondae stew, which comes topped with fresh  gaenip (perilla leaves), a fragrant herb which is similar to Japanese shiso.

Other specialties here include the bossam (steamed pork belly), kalbi tang (short rib soup), gamjatang (pork bone soup). Banchan offerings are three types of kimchi, made with napa cabbage, daikon radish and buchu (chive) kimchi; the perfect complement to these comforting Korean dishes.

Moo Bong Ri is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Moo Bong Ri, 4390 Telegraph Ave. (between 43rd and 44th), Oakland

The Pibil Chicken Sandwich at Oeste Café in Old Oakland. Photo: Sarah Han

Oeste Café

Nosh has recently written about Oeste, the Latino-Southern bar-restaurant in Old Oakland that opened in December 2017, but I wanted to bring your attention to the daytime café space next door, which it also runs. At the café you can get grab-and-go breakfast, sandwiches and salads that are a cut above most readymade fare.

Chef Peter Jackson, who also cooks next door at the restaurant, created the café menu. The meats are made in-house, from cured bacon, olive oil poached tuna and housemade chaurice (a Creole-style sausage that’s kind of like a Southern chorizo). You’ll find chunks of the spiced chaurice, red with paprika, in the non-vegetarian version of the Spanish tortilla ($4.25, or $7.75 with salad and soda).

I enjoyed the tuna Nicoise salad ($8.95), made with generous chunks of house-poached tuna I mentioned above. It’s made with crisp little gem lettuce, Yukon gold potatoes, tomato, olives and boiled egg. For an even heartier salad, I recommend the chicken confit and lentil salad. The combination of the two proteins, seasoned with a pomegrante vinaigrette, is both filling and delicious.

Sandwiches are prepared with Acme bread. My favorite of the bunch is the Pibil Chicken ($9.95), made with slow-roasted chicken seasoned with a savory achiote sauce and topped with creamy avocado and acidic pickled onions.

Oeste Café is a small place, but it’s bright and welcoming with a few seats inside. If you’re not hungry for a meal, there are also pastries from Starter Bakery, housemade bread pudding, and a menu of coffee drinks made with Oakland’s Roast Co.

Hours are 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday.

Oeste Café, 730 Clay St. (at Eighth), Oakland