Oakland is becoming a foodie destination thanks to its exciting mix of upscale restaurants and welcoming cafes

​​Fruitvale has one of Oakland’s best public markets — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

While people west of the San Francisco Bay refer to Oakland as “The Town” and East Bay dwellers refer to Frisco as “The City,” Oakland is nearly twice the size of San Francisco in terms of square miles, it’s just less densely populated. And while both cities are as efficiently connected as Jersey City and Manhattan thanks to the BART and ferries, San Francisco is the more internationally recognizable food and tourist destination.

So, if Oakland is the B-side city, does that mean it has nothing to offer? Absolutely not! “We Will Rock You” and “Revolution” were both B-sides, and those are still karaoke-level songs today, and the Oakland A’s claim more World Series titles than the San Francisco Giants. There are also practical things like more affordable hotels and a mix of dining options. For this piece, we’ll focus on the latter.

ACRE Kitchen and Bar

Start with this burrata appetizer at ACREStart with this burrata appetizer at ACRE — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: Rockridge

People often compare California to the Mediterranean, and ACRE is where the two meet in a bi-level restaurant on the Oakland side of the Berkeley border. Here, the menu offerings are a reflection of where chef and partner Dirk Tolsma has traveled to.

A rotating list of menu items, the combination of fresh ingredients, and a neighborhood feel (Dirk’s partner is veteran San Francisco restauranteur Pete Sittnick) are three reasons to frequent this place as opposed to trying it once.

Braised lamb sugo, in which the lamb is slow-cooked for 48 hours, is a popular entrée, and the kitchen staff does amazing things with burrata. Coconut sunchoke soup is also a must-try.

Aman Cafe

Enjoy one of Aman Cafe's roti optionsEnjoy one of Aman Cafe’s roti options — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: MacArthur

Oakland doesn’t have a proper Malaysian restaurant, but you can get Southeast Asian-style roti six days a week for brunch at Aman Cafe. It’s a small spot, with a handful of savory options and some sweet as well. Nobody does coconut ice cream like Thai and Malaysian restaurants, so you can’t go wrong with the Sweet Oakland. That’s the standard fresh fruit option with a large scoop of sweet coconut ice cream on top.

Battambang

Try the Fish Amok from Battambang in Oakland's ChinatownTry the Fish Amok from Battambang in Oakland’s Chinatown — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: 12th St

One of few Cambodian restaurants in the Bay Area and conveniently located in Chinatown, Battambang is named after the province the original owners came from. They opened this unassuming space in 1993.

The current owners are from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. It’s not a fancy place, but the Zagat and Michelin stickers on the entrance door are visible from Broadway. The menu is extensive enough that you can mix popular Khmer dishes like amok trei with lesser-known ones like banana blossom soup. There’s also a mix of wines and imported beers, which are encased behind glass in the dining area.

Fenton’s Creamery

Fenton's Creamery is a neighborhood landmarkFenton’s Creamery is a neighborhood landmark — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: MacArthur

Fenton’s Creamery was featured in the 2009 Pixar animated movie “Up,” which it predates by 115 years. It was one of the first places to serve rocky road ice cream, which is still one of its top sellers.

The black and tan sundae is their signature item, and Fenton’s is locally known for sundaes. The black and tan sundae is made with toasted almond ice cream, which is one of 30 year-round flavors, though there are also more than a dozen seasonal options.

Although most will come for the ice cream, there’s also a full menu featuring diner-style food.

Infinite Thai Eatery

Khao soi hails from Northern Thailand, but you can try it at Infinite Thai EateryKhao soi hails from Northern Thailand, but you can try it at Infinite Thai Eatery — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: MacArthur

The setting here is simple, but it’s very cozy and welcoming. The Infinite Thai Eatery owners are from Bangkok, but the folding paper menu includes regional dishes like khao soi, which comes from Northern Thailand. When done right (like it is here), the dish has the strong aromatic taste and richness of thom kha (coconut soup) with the comfort food experience of a classic Asian noodle bowl. You’ll find it on the specials section of the menu, which is appropriate as it’s not a traditional curry, nor is it a standard noodle dish. Thai sausage is another Northern Thai dish to try under specials.

There’s also a decent-sized beer and wine menu.

Nieves Cinco De Mayo

Get a scoop of Mexican ice cream at the Fruitvale Public MarketGet a scoop of Mexican ice cream at the Fruitvale Public Market — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: Fruitvale

The Fruitvale Public Market is closer to the airport and coliseum than it is to downtown, but thanks to an elevated BART stop one block from the market you can get here quickly and easily. Once you step inside the indoor market, you’ll feel like you’re in a small Mexican city. You’ll find a handful of food vendors, including Nieves Cinco De Mayo, which you should visit for the mamey ice cream, one of Mexico’s iconic flavors that’s still under the radar in much of the United States. It’s sweeter than a sweet potato with hints of pumpkin pie.

Peony Seafood

The dim sum at Peony Seafood in Oakland's Chinatown is not to be missedThe dim sum at Peony Seafood in Oakland’s Chinatown is not to be missed — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: 12th St

Peony Seafood is a Chinatown favorite with a 400-seat capacity. The food is delivered on carts, allowing you to take in the sights and smells of some of the options before ordering. When it comes to presentation, the roasted duck puff gets the nod, at least for savory plates. It’s a flaky, meat-filled pocket with a long edible neck attached. Mango piggy and coconut rabbit are animal shaped, while pandan mochi is pear-shaped and worth getting on a plane for. It’s served warm, and sweet Asian vanilla oozes out after you bite into the soft, chewy exterior.

Pomella

The Middle Eastern mezze at Pomella is hard to beatThe Middle Eastern mezze at Pomella is hard to beat — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: MacArthur

Pomella has a community coffee shop vibe but with delicious Middle Eastern mezze by Israeli chef and owner Mica Talmor. The rooftop patio and extensive drink selection are a big plus.

Most plates are under $10 and are meant for sharing. The eggplant is marinated in pomegranate and topped with yogurt tahini sauce, while the falafel comes plain or stuffed with cheese. There’s also a traditional lamb tagine as well as a vegetarian version.

Be sure to save room for dessert, as there are several Middle Eastern classics, as well as the Milky, which is a throwback to Mica’s childhood in Haifa. It’s a smooth pudding-like dessert made with TCHO chocolate from neighboring Berkeley and topped with whipped cream. If you’re looking for something more dense and intense, try the pistachio halva.

Sobre Mesa

Chef Nelson German heads up the kitchen at Sobre MesaChef Nelson German heads up the kitchen at Sobre Mesa — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: 12th St

Spanish for “over the table,” Sobre Mesa offers a mix of African and Latin flavors. Chef Nelson German, who you may have seen on “Top Chef” season 18, designed this downtown spot with an Oakland sense of community in mind. The hanging disco balls and neon lights leading to the back also give it a Caribbean nightclub vibe.

Examples of African and Latin American fusion include the charred asparagus, which is served with a West African peanut sauce, while the West African red bean hummus features Dominican suya served over tostones. The Argentine-inspired roasted bone marrow and seared skirt steak is served with chimichurri.

Chef Nelson German’s other Oakland restaurant is alaMar Dominican Kitchen.

Teni East Kitchen

Get bowled over by Teni East Kitchen's spicy noodlesGet bowled over by Teni East Kitchen’s spicy noodles — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni

Nearest BART station: MacArthur

This Temescal Burmese restaurant is super casual. It’s loud in here, with super-high ceilings, giving it a festive atmosphere that lets you know right away that this is no traditional Southeast Asian restaurant.

The beef curry says “tender and delicious” in the description, and that’s not an exaggeration. You can cut the large meat cubes with the fork and chopsticks your server will give you. Like in many Southeast Asian countries, you have to ask for a knife. Coconut rice goes best with that one. Teni spicy noodles are just that: chili flakes permeate the flat rice noodles unless you ask for the mild version.

Desserts are as much of a reason to try Teni East as are the other menu items. The roti (sometimes referred to as “1,000-layer bread” at Burmese restaurants) comes topped with coconut and ube ice cream.

Ethiopean-born chef and owner Tiyo Shibabaw got her start at Burma Superstar, which has an Oakland location not far from Teni East.

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