Oakland and San Francisco are connected by a small body of water and a bridge. But that’s about all the two Bay Area cities have in common, and longtime residents will tell you Oakland pride runs deep. After all, we gave the world Zendaya, Mark Hamill, and “hyphy.” Just don’t ask us to use the word “hella” for your amusement or refer to the city as “The Brooklyn of the Bay.”
Now that we have that out of the way, we can also tell you that Oakland is an incredible place to eat. The largest city in the East Bay is also one of the most diverse in the country - and that’s reflected in the diversity of its restaurants. If you want to get to know Oakland through its food (and you should), use this guide. It’s our list of restaurants and bars we think are most essential to the city. We wouldn’t send an out-of-towner to a new Oakland spot without sending them to one of these places first. And you shouldn’t either.
Perfect for: Dinner
We field a lot of questions from people who visit Oakland for the first time. Like, can I swim in Lake Merritt? (Absolutely not.) Do you ghost ride? (Rolls eyes.) Should I try Chicago-style pizza while in town? OK, that’s not a question that comes up, but we have to tell you - a thousand times, yes. While deep dish in Oakland may sound counterintuitive, you’ll want to push those feelings aside or risk missing out on some of the best pizza in the city. This East Bay institution was founded in 1983 and makes Chicago-inspired pies (it’s actually stuffed, not deep dish) with flaky, buttery crust, and a sweet, chunky tomato sauce. Zachary’s has five locations, but we like getting our favorite mushroom and spinach pizza at the original spot on College Ave.
You can find good Chinese food all over Oakland. But if you want great - like 2014-2019 Golden State Warriors great - head to Shan Dong in Chinatown. The big draw is the thick, chewy hand-pulled noodles that are made fresh behind a glassed-in counter at the front of the restaurant. We especially love them in the sesame paste noodles - the Rickey Henderson of Oakland dishes - and the Shan Dong dumplings with chicken and dry-braised green beans should also be at the top of your order. Just prepare to wait outside in a line longer than the DMV.
Oakland residents take pride in their city, which is understandable - we’re the home of the oldest bonsai and the children’s amusement park (Fairyland) that inspired Disneyland. Champa Garden is another spot Oaklanders proudly claim. This small restaurant is located on a residential corner in East Oakland’s Ivy Hill and focuses on Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties. Come with a group and order the Champa Sampler (a name we’d get tattooed on our left rib), which shows off the restaurant’s star dishes - Lao sausages, fried rice ball salad, crispy spring rolls, and lettuce wraps.
Whether you live in Oakland - or a $350,000 minimalist tiny home parked in the driveway of your friend’s rental apartment in San Francisco - Nyum Bai should be on your personal hit list. This place serves incredible Cambodian dishes like stir-fried rice noodles and pork belly stew in a colorful, welcoming space with pink and blue walls, a ’60s Cambodian rock playlist, and a twinkly-light-covered patio. Don’t be surprised when you finish a meal here and find it hard to leave - or make plans to come back tomorrow.
If you make only one good decision today (aside from not texting your ex back), go eat Japanese fried chicken at Aburaya. A second good decision: ordering it with dry seasonings like the umami salt or garlic miso. This counter-service izakaya is one of the busiest places in downtown Oakland for lunch or dinner, and you’ll have to employ some strategy to get a seat. But given how good this chicken is, and that Green Day or the Offspring will be playing from the speakers, you’ll probably walk away from Aburaya composing rock songs about chicken.
When we want a very California take on ramen, we go to the Ramen Shop in Rockridge - which serves bowls with things like mustard greens, sunchokes, and creamed leeks, and excellent donburi with wild nettles or brussels sprouts. Like most places that are designed like a Scandanavian dry sauna and attract people who probably go home to a dog named Ringo, Ramen Shop isn’t cheap (the bowls of ramen start at $19.50). But you won’t mind - the Ramen Shop is just that good.
Oakland is a casual sushi city, and our favorite spot for it is Geta. All of the rolls are under $9, and the chef’s choice sashimi combo is $20 - a great value considering you get around 10 pieces. Timing is important here: you’ll want to get to Geta by 5pm to secure a spot on their waitlist (it tends to fill up for the night by around 7:30pm), and don’t bring more than three people. There are walk-in closets in Piedmont bigger than this place.
This order-at-the-counter Caribbean restaurant is one of the most inviting places in the city. With its bright pink walls, turquoise plates, and family portraits hanging everywhere, Miss Ollie’s feels like an extension of a living room - if that living room also served family-style jerk shrimp, corn fritters, and the best skillet-fried chicken we’ve ever had. Whenever we’re in the mood for friendly faces, plantains, and a rum cocktail, we head straight for Miss Ollie’s.
Burma Superstar originated in the Richmond in San Francisco, but has been blessing Oakland with incredible Burmese dishes - and a life-changing tea leaf salad - since 2009. The spicy, salty, sweet flavors keep us coming back again and again, and enduring the ridiculously long waits (this location doesn’t take reservations).
Living in the Bay Area means all your money goes to rent, gas, and $15 elevated mocktails made of 50 percent seltzer. When you’re on a budget but you still want an excellent lunch or dinner, head to Vientian Cafe - a Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese spot in East Oakland. We come here for the flavorful nam kao ($7.95), the fresh papaya salad ($7.95), and the angel wings ($6.95) with a side of sticky rice. You’ll also want to ask for the menu of Lao specials, which includes a tangy fermented sausage ($3 a piece).
Enssaro is deservedly one of the most popular restaurants in Adams Point - and all of Oakland for that matter. This family-run spot serves some of the best Ethiopian food in the city - like perfectly sautéed or simmered chicken, lamb, and lentils plated over spongy injera bread. Get the meat or vegetable platters, so you can mix and match dishes, trying all the different spices and textures that make Ethiopian food so incredible. Everything at this casual restaurant is meant to be shared, which is why you’ll always see tables of big groups and, at dinner, a line out the door.
This Japanese restaurant is more peaceful than a casual picnic at Mountain View Cemetery (yes, that’s a thing, and the city view from there is beautiful). The minimalist space is covered with light wood, and a large glass window lets you look inside the room where buckwheat noodles - Soba Ichi’s specialty - are kneaded, rolled, and cut each morning. This spot is one of the only places in the country that makes soba by hand, and we’re lucky they do so here in West Oakland. The noodles are perfectly soft and chewy, and are served hot in a delicious dashi soup, or cold on a plate with a small cup of dipping broth. When you’re done, your server will pour hot buckwheat water into it for you to drink. If this wasn’t already clear: you should be making a reservation immediately.
When you need to merge Friend Group One with Friend Group Two, remember Kingston 11 - an Uptown Oakland Jamaican restaurant that’s ideal for groups. DJs, live music, and a dedicated rum bar create an energetic backdrop for slow-cooked jerk chicken, excellent oxtail stew, and saltfish fritters. Though we can’t guarantee all your friends will get along, we can guarantee you will leave here full and happy.
Oaklanders love a good party: block parties, bike parties, and First Fridays - our monthly excuse to drink heavily in Uptown Oakland for the sake of local art. When you want the party experience, but in restaurant form, head to Farmhouse Kitchen in Jack London. Yes, it’s one of the city’s more recent additions, and, yes, the original is in San Francisco - but the Thai food is that delicious, and no one wants to sit in 20 hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic crossing the Bay Bridge anyway. At Farmhouse Kitchen, servers frequently sing the Happy Birthday song while banging loudly on gongs and drums, cocktails look like tropical desserts, and plates of rice, curries, and noodles are garnished with flowers and served on banana leaves. This is the colorful dinner party you want.
We always feel like we’re hanging out at home with our aunts and uncles and our fifth cousin’s cousin whenever we go to Lucky Three Seven. This casual Filipino takeout spot on Fruitvale is a family-run operation, which means friendly service and classic adobo, pork and chicken tocino served with a fried egg over rice, garlic-y chicken wings, and the longest lumpia we’ve ever seen. Walk up to the outside window to order (it’s cash-only), and grab a stool at the bar. All dishes are made to-go, but you should absolutely stay awhile.
Some nights, we just want to pretend like we’re a permanent resident of the Claremont Hotel. And that’s when we go to Wood Tavern. Every dish at this upscale American restaurant feels like it was made with more care than a miniature replica of the Tribune Tower. You’ll want the cheese board, the charcuterie, the pappardelle, the juicy pan-roasted chicken, and the coffee pot de crème for dessert. Despite the fancy food, this place feels more like a casual bistro, or a cozy ski lodge - but one with perfect service.
PERFECT FOr: BREAKFAST, BRUNCH, & LUNCh
Lois The Pie Queen was a real person, and now it’s also a true Oakland classic. This family-owned restaurant in North Oakland is an essential gathering spot of the East Bay community, and has been serving classic Southern food at its current location since the ’70s. The restaurant is especially packed on weekends, with longtime residents eating chicken and waffles, biscuits, pancakes, pies, and the Reggie Jackson special (a hearty meal of two fried pork chops and two eggs, and named after the legendary Oakland A’s player). Lois’s lemon icebox pie is also near-mythical, and probably partly why there’s an impressive collection of local celebrity photos on the wall - like Danny Glover, Damian Lillard, and Boots Riley. Head’s up, it’s cash-only.
Anyone who says the Bay Area doesn’t have good bagels has never been to Beauty’s. This Temescal spot specializes in wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels that are crispy, chewy, and come with your choice of spreads like chopped liver and hummus. Beauty’s is also walking distance from the MacArthur BART Station, so you can meet your friend here for an everything bagel with lox cream cheese before doing Temescal Alley-type things up the street, like scoring a 100-page book on the medicinal properties of fermented air plants.
Oakland has more fried chicken sandwiches than life-sized elephant statues. (If you run into one on the street, his name is Stomper, and he’s the Oakland Athletics mascot.) But the best fried chicken sandwich in the city - if not the world - is at Bakesale Betty’s. The buttermilk chicken is crispy, the jalapeño coleslaw is tangy and slightly spicy, and overall, this sandwich will change your life - you’ll just have to work for it. The line sometimes stretches down the block, but it moves fast, and if you get there before they open at 11am, you’ll be ensured first pick of their homemade cookies and a seat at the ironing board tables outside.
There are only a few reasons we get out of bed early on weekends. One is to move our car on street sweeping days. Another is to have breakfast at Reem’s. This casual counter-service Arab bakery and restaurant serves an incredible shakshuka (on Saturdays and Sundays only), pastries, and coffee, in a bright, sun-filled space we’d hang out in all day. They also have excellent chicken wraps, oven-baked flatbreads, and hummus. Like Nyum Bai, Reem’s is right off the Fruitvale BART Station, so you have no excuse not to make it here.
Old Oakland was the city’s original downtown before the 1906 earthquake forced businesses out of the area. The historic neighborhood has slowly made a comeback and is now home to cool boutiques, well-preserved Victorians, and Swan’s Market - a former marketplace that’s now one of the city’s best food halls. Our favorite reason to go Swan’s is for the tacos at Cosecha, served on homemade tortillas and garnished with cilantro and jalapeño. You may slip into a mild panic when trying to find a seat in the busy communal dining area, but know that tables always free up.
You drank too many mezcal margaritas last night in Uptown Oakland, and now you’re hungover - and wondering why your friend has so many grainy iPhone videos of you rapping along to “Blow the Whistle.” Time to go to Hopscotch. This upscale diner does Japanese-inspired takes on classic American dishes - soba biscuits, tonkatsu sandwiches, and braised pork belly benedict with jidori eggs. Brunch here won’t erase those videos of you screaming Too Short’s favorite word, but it will make you feel a lot better.
California loves In-N-Out. But if you’ve lived in Oakland long enough, you know another burger joint commands more respect: TrueBurger. This fast-food style spot has mastered three simple things: burgers, fries, and shakes. You don’t come here for herbed goat cheese or sous-vide egg toppings. You come here for juicy grilled patties with tomato, lettuce, and garlic mayo on slightly-toasted egg buns, for thin fries that are perfectly crispy, and for not-too-thick milkshakes that evoke more joy than the Bay views from Grizzly Peak. There are two TrueBurger locations, but we like the newer, bigger one on Broadway.
Brown Sugar Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner, but our favorite meal at this Southern restaurant in Uptown Oakland is weekend brunch - especially when we want to spend quality time with people (and foods) that we like. Everyone else in this place seems to have the same idea - and a craving for flaky biscuits, buttermilk fried chicken, and incredibly light cornmeal waffles - so prepare for crowds and a wait. Service tends to move at a slower pace at Brown Sugar Kitchen, but when you’re having mimosas and beignets in this light-filled space, you won’t want to rush.
At this butcher shop and restaurant, slabs of raw, marbled beef, pork, lamb, and charcuterie are presented behind shiny glass cases like they’re 50-year-old bottles of single malt scotch - in other words, this counter-service place takes their meat seriously. The burger comes with two thick patties, the fried chicken is glazed with a caramelized fish sauce, the cheesesteaks are extra cheesy - and everything is big (like, Pacific Ocean big). So get your nap bed ready. Nothing productive ever happens after lunch or dinner here.
PERFECT FOR: LATE-NIGHT EATS
Tacos Mi Rancho is better known as “the taco truck by Lake Merritt” or “the taco truck to hit up when hungry at midnight.” It also serves some of the best Mexican food in the city. No matter what time or what state you’re in, rolling up to this permanently parked, cash-only spot is an absolute must - especially if you’re craving al pastor tacos or a 15-inch super burrito late at night (they’re open until 2:30am or 3am nightly). And don’t forget the red or green sauce - they’re on another level.
This Korean pub is open until 2am, which is a rare thing in a city where most restaurants shut down by midnight. While you could go home after a few drinks and warm up your two-day-old half of a burrito before passing out, you should go to Dan Sung Sa instead. Affectionately called Porno Bar or Porno Palace (raunchy magazine spreads used to cover the bathroom walls), Dan Sung Sa serves dishes like kimchi fried rice and BBQ galbi in a dark, energetic space that will make you want to keep eating, drinking, and talking well into the evening. This is where you come to watch late-night Oakland unfold.
PERFECT FOR: COFFEE, PASTRIES, & ICE CREAM
If you grew up in Oakland, you’ve celebrated many birthdays at Fentons Creamery. If you didn’t, you probably know the ’50s-inspired ice cream parlor from Pixar’s Up. Either way, a visit to this century-old spot is an important experience - even if the crowds here can rival those on a morning commute on BART, and the screaming kids can make it feel like an echo chamber. You’re dealing with all of that for the big banana splits, sundaes, and shakes - along with good burgers, onion rings, and fries, if your sweet tooth has limits. We should note that parking in their small lot is near-impossible, so park elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Oakland drinks coffee like water. And while there are so many spots serving quadruple-shot cappuccinos in stark, minimalist spaces, we wish more were like Red Bay Coffee. It’s just as much a hangout for local residents as it is a place to get a very good iced coffee, charcoal latte, and pastries. Depending on the day, you can pop in to the public roastery in Fruitvale for a movie screening or a live performance, or to check out a pop-up shop. If you’re looking to get work done or catch up with a friend, the large, beautiful warehouse also has lots of sunlight, and plenty of chairs and benches.
PERFECT FOR: Drinking good cocktails
Starline Social Club is a bar, a restaurant, a concert venue (Solange once performed here), and a place to dance to everything from R&B to pop to EDM, depending on the night. It’s also the spot where everyone knows everyone - where you learn that Oakland is big, but can feel very small. There are so many ways to use Starline: you could stop in for a really good cocktail and corn dogs in the big, airy bar during Happy Hour, or work up a sticky dance sweat in their ballroom upstairs. Starline is whatever you want it to be, and more importantly, it’s still one of the most culturally-diverse places in the city.