Don’t get confused: There are two sandwich shops going by the name of Ba Le. The Oakland location is the original, where traditional options like lemongrass pork, and grilled chicken, plus crowd favorite: meatball and fried egg. Big bowls of pho, avocado smoothies, and prepared to-go boxes of shrimp salad rolls are also available.
38 Essential East Bay Restaurants
San Francisco isn’t the only city in the Bay Area to experience a rising number of quality eating establishments. Berkeley and Oakland are crawling with excellent restaurants, from high end Italian cuisine to casual, cash-only taco trucks. It’s high-time that the under-the-radar East Bay is paid its due.
1 Ba Le Sandwich Shop
2 Phở Ao Sen
Simple, rich broth is the basis for what many in the East Bay call the best pho around. Bun bo hue is a consistent favorite, and comes with ample amounts of herbs, veggies, and condiments. There’s often a crowd on the weekends, so be prepared to kill some time at the market next door.
Nido’s menu veers slightly off the beaten path of Mexican food found in the Bay Area, including dishes with purslane, keffir crema, tat soi, and more esoteric California ingredients. Chef Jose Ramos, who was also the opening chef of Nopalito in SF, creates distinctive versions of classic dishes, in a super low-key space where margaritas and tequila cocktails are plentiful at lunch, dinner, and brunch.
4 Shan Dong
It’s definitely worth braving the parking situation in Oakland’s Chinatown for Shan Dong’s plump pork and vegetable dumplings. If for some ridiculous reason that’s not your thing, handmade noodles slathered in sesame paste or spicy meat sauce are also a solid choice. It’s fast, reliable, and affordable to boot.
5 Miss Ollie’s
For Caribbean soul food with a California leaning, Miss Ollie’s cheerful dining room filled with picnic tables is an ideal setting. Every day brings specials like roast pork or fried fish, alongside a constant menu of island-inspired favorites like jerk shrimp, and field pea soup. But the real best-in-show is the skillet-fried chicken, which is moist and insanely flavorful with a flaky crust. It’s open for lunch and dinner in Swan’s Marketplace, in the heart of Old Oakland.
It’s a harmonic combination of Mexican and Californian cuisine, located within the historic Swan’s Market in Old Oakland. Tacos with tortillas from scratch, salads, soup, and traditional entrees like braised pork in chile guajillo are on offer from chef/owner Dominica Cisneros-Rice (who also happens to be a Chez Panisse alum). Place your order, grab a number and a seat in the communal dining area, and prepare for flavorful, fresh Mexican food.
7 Champa Garden
In a residential neighborhood of Oakland, not far from Lake Merritt, Champa Garden is steadily putting out low-key, delicious Laotian food at a rapid pace. It’s always packed, and every table is usually consuming at least one order of the very delicious rice ball salad, which is wrapped in lettuce leaves. There’s often a wait at dinnertime, so grab a Tsing Tao and have a seat on the bench outside til it’s your turn to feast.
8 Tacos Mi Rancho
It’s a cash-only taco truck by Lake Merritt offering al pastor, lengua, cabeza, and more. Open late into the night for revelers, and opening at 10 a.m. for everyone else, Tacos Mi Rancho brings affordable tacos, burritos and more Mexican fare to the masses.
Former Oliveto chef Paul Canales ditched Italy in favor of Spain when he opened Duende in Uptown Oakland. Tapas, pintxos, paellas, and an extensive sherry list make for an authentic-style meal that also a great choice for dinner and drinks before a show at the Fox Theater across the street.
10 Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar
Chef Kyle Itani’s cozy restaurant in Uptown Oakland is an example of when California cuisine benefits from a different flavor profile. In this case, that is a delicate balance of Japanese techniques and flavors incorporated into Itani’s dishes, like soba bucatini with spinach walnut pesto and shiso, and fried green tomatoes with smoked daikon sauce. Do not miss the expertly fried, super flavorful fried chicken, which is also available to-go, by the bucket.
This buzzy neighborhood spot has an eclectic Mediterranean menu. That means Spanish-influenced tapas like jamon croquetas alongside grilled Moroccan-spiced prawns with corn pudding, black lime, scallion, and dill. Sit by the windows which open onto the street or near the open kitchen, with its wood-fired oven.
12 Kingston 11 Cuisine
Caribbean flavors, reggae music, and a laid-back vibe are all part of the charm at Kingston 11. Oxtail stew and jerk chicken take the lead, with salt fish fritters, plaintains, and cassava fries playing suporting roles on the menu. Plenty of vegan and vegetarian options are available here, as well as a plethora of rum-based cocktails, Red Stripe, and Ting. The live music really makes the scene, so stop by Wednesday and Thursday for a Cuba libre and some tunes.
13 Hawker Fare
Colorful oilcloth covers the tables at chef James Syhabout’s laid back homage to his Lao-Thai heritage, where dishes are packed with flavor, and pineapple/spiced rum jello shots abound. Unlike Syhabout’s buttoned-up fine dining restaurant Commis, Hawker Fare is all about the good vibes, with loud music, killer kao mun gai, spicy fried chicken, and crispy rice ball salad. Refreshing cocktails like the tamarind cooler, composed of spiced dark rum, tamarind and honey, lime and dried chilis, back up the spice nicely.
14 Brown Sugar Kitchen
Though classically trained in French cuisine, chef Tanya Holland has built a soul food superpower in an industrial neighborhood in West Oakland, where long lines linger for hours in hopes of consuming her craveable fare. Chicken and waffles, cheese grits, biscuits, monkey bread, hashbrowns, and all the classics headline breakfast and weekend brunch, while lunch offers up oyster po’boys, blackened catfish, and creole shrimp. On the weekends expect a wait, so come ready to drink coffee, and grab a seat outside.
It’s all about the hearth at Camino, the wood-fired oven and centerpiece of the dining room where chef Russell Moore does the majority of his cooking. Formerly of Chez Panisse, Moore’s menu is an expression of rustic, California cuisine focused on what’s in season. That includes ridiculously good Dungeness crab roasted in the hearth, grilled squid, and a host of fire-roasted and smokey accompaniments.
16 Mama’s Royal Cafe
Over forty years of breakfast, lunch, and brunch have been served seven days a week at Mama’s, where plenty of vintage vibes are to be found. All the best breakfast and brunch classics are the menu, from an entire section of the menu titled “Hollandaise” to corned beef hash and tofu scrambles. Lunch includes a classic super-stacked dagwood sandwich, burgers, salads, and hearty soups. Just be aware that the weekends are primetime, and you might just find yourself hanging on the sidewalk for a while.
17 Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant
On an appealing corner in the heart of Rockridge, Oliveto is a monument to Italian cuisine in the Bay Area cuisine. It’s fine dining upstairs, and a rustic cafe downstairs, with windows that open onto the street. Upstairs, lunch and dinner feature dishes like burrata ravioli, pappardelle verde with rabbit, and grilled meats. Downstairs, breakfast, lunch, and dinner focus on spit-roasted meats, with sides like polenta and herbed fregola.
While the East Bay has a plethora of great restaurants and chefs helming them, only one has two Michelin stars. That’s Manresa and Coi alum James Syhabout’s fine dining flagship, where an experimental tasting menu based on French technique and California inspiration reigns supreme.
19 Beauty’s Bagel Shop
New York and San Francisco bagel comparisons aside, Beauty’s just has a highly-delicious bagel. The “Montreal-inspired wood-fired” versions can be topped with lox, scrapple, chicken sausage, or one of the tasty schmears for breakfast; make it a smoked trout salad or fried chicken sandwich for lunch.
20 Geta Sushi
Tiny and tucked away off of the main drag in Piedmont, Geta draws crowds for lunch and dinner (though it’s not hard to get a line going, considering the itsy bitsy sushi bar and smattering of tables). Reasonably priced fresh fish makes this a go-to, though takeout might be your best bet during rush hours. The cute doodles representing the specials are also a plus, in a place where no one is taking themselves too seriously.
A small menu of Sicilian dishes and Italian wine are the draw at this intimate Piedmont restaurant. Lasagna, ravioli with anchovy and broccoli, and a great selection of hot and cold antipasti are on the menu, which changes frequently.
22 Ramen Shop
This haven for ramen lovers recently expanded into the luggage shop next door, adding a bar, a bigger prep kitchen, and a noodle room. These additions mean more people can consume its steaming bowls of veggie meyer lemon, duck shoyu, and various other seasonal takes on ramen. Don’t skip the appetizers, especially the squid and pork fried rice. Craft cocktails, sour beers, and a new to-go menu round it all out.
It’s fast, but it’s not fast food. Trueburger’s patties are ground fresh at their two Oakland locations, seared, and placed atop a pillowy egg bun with garlicky mayo, lettuce and tomato; add cheese and bacon for maximum deliciousness. Bonuses are a good veggie option in the form of the portobello mushroom burger, crispy fries with homemade ranch, and milkshakes.
24 Lois the Pie Queen
In a fast-paced world, there aren’t many restaurants like Lois the Pie Queen still in existence. As the name suggests, pies are a must-order at this old school diner, where it’s an encouraged course at breakfast or lunch. Lois passed away twenty years ago, but her son keeps the dream alive, serving soul food like meatloaf and fried porkchops at dinner, and stacks of pancakes and waffles at breakfast. It’s cash only, so come prepared.
25 Grease Box
In a tiny, shack-like spot in Oakland, there’s a menu filled with fried chicken, gluten-free breads, vegan food, and burgers. There’s something for everyone, plus beer, at this small but mighty breakfast and lunch spot.
This OG Temescal restaurant is known for its wood-fired pizzas, but every dish is worth a try at this bustling restaurant. Dishes like Anson Mills farro verde with eggplant mingle with simple flavorful pastas, and mains like braised pork with fried green tomato. Low lighting, a packed dining room, and a loud, cheerful din make it a great place for a wine-soaked evening with friends. Also stop by in the morning for coffee, thick toasts with toppings, and housemade granola.
27 À Côté
Classically romantic with a lovely garden patio, this Rockridge restaurant has been charming diners with Mediterranean-influenced small plates for years. Mussels and pomme frites are standard favorites here, as well as a rotating selection of flatbreads.
28 Juhu Beach Club
Former Top Chef contestant Preeti Mistry presides over this colorful and quirky Temescal oasis where dishes like curryleaf coriander shrimp, sticky wings with a sweet and tangy vindaloo glaze, and a selection of pavs (little slider-sized sandwiches) rule the menu. Weekend brunch brings chai-spiced brown sugar bacon and “doswaffles,” a mashup of South Indian dosas and Belgian-style waffles.
29 Wood Tavern
This sturdy and fancy-ish neighborhood restaurant defines California cuisine. Dinner features classic roast chicken, rib eye, and plenty of rosé, cocktails, and other libations to wash it all down. It’s also exceptionally pleasant for a weekday lunch of Niman Ranch burgers and pan-fried rock cod sandwich by the windows looking out onto College Avenue.
30 Café Colucci
This short stretch of Telegraph Avenue boasts several excellent options for enjoying Ethiopian food, but Cafe Colucci stands out for its casual atmosphere, inviting sidewalk seating, and flavorful dishes. The injera (fermented, spongy bread), perfect for scooping up spicy and saucy dishes like doro wat (chicken simmered in berbere sauce), is one of the best around. Stop by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and like most Ethiopian and Eritrean food, it’s vegan and vegetarian friendly.
A hidden back patio with a full bar and fire pit make this downtown Berkeley gem an ideal place to feast on guacamole, chips, and margaritas. Skillfully executed classics like tripe guisado, chicken tinga tacos, and chile colorado soup star on the menu, alongside large format dishes meant to share. And though the margaritas are excellent, look for more creative uses of mezcal and tequila on the cocktail menu.
32 La Note
If you went to Cal, you’ve almost certainly taken your visiting parents here for brunch on the patio, where pancakes, French toast, and classic bistro fare is on offer. Dinner is just as lovely, channeling the soul of Provence with dishes like puffed pastry filled with baby scallops, shrimp, salmon and bechamel, and saffron-tinged bouillabaisse.
33 Vik’s Chaat Corner
Vik’s is a family-run, quick-serve Indian spot on the edge of West Berkeley, nestled up against the train tracks and Aquatic Park. Since 1989 it’s been a favorite for students, families, and fans of Indian cuisine, with a wide offering of chaat (Indian street food) from many regions. The adjoining market has a variety of Indian grocery items like basmati rice, chutneys, and spices.
Choose from a tranquil patio overlooking Berkeley’s Fourth Street, or inside the friendly dining room of Iyasare for a pleasant lunch or dinner. Ramen, tempura, and beautifully cooked fish are on the menu at both lunch and dinner; do not miss the kakiage tempure, a delicate nest of burdock root, onion, sweet potato, shiitake mushrom, and optional black tiger shrimp that is lightly fried, and served with a soy broth.
This dimly lit and welcoming izakaya features charcoal grilled yakitori and soba, along with a good selection of Japanese whiskies and shochu. Choose between every part of the chicken on the traditional-style menu or go off-menu for the cult-followed chicken tartare. Yes, the custom-designed wooden interior is striking, but don’t whip out that iPhone. No pictures allowed.
36 Chez Panisse
Owner Alice Waters gave California cuisine its foothold in this quirky Berkeley bungalow that opened in 1971. The downstairs is reserved for prix fixe dining, while the newer (c. 1980) cafe upstairs serves a more casual a la carte menu — both feature gorgeous local produce and understated, elegant French technique. Take a whirl through the homey, pristine open kitchen before you leave.
37 Cheese Board Pizza
Opened in 1971, Cheeseboard Collective has since blossomed into a 100 percent worker-owned collective with a cheese shop, bakery and espresso bar, and most importantly, a pizzeria a few doors down. The pizzeria offers slices of the (always) vegetarian pizza of the day for lunch and dinner five days a week (closed Sunday and Monday). Eat it inside while listening to nightly live music, in the parklet out front, on the grassy median of Shattuck Avenue, or take a whole pie or a slice to-go.
38 Saul’s Restaurant & Deli
Whether you’re in the mood for a quick nosh, or just want to pick up some chopped liver by the pound, Saul’s has what you need. Pastrami, corned beef on rye, matzoh ball soup, and pickles, lots of pickles, are the stars of the show, though breakfast does have the allure of challah French toast.