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The dining landscape has changed for the foreseeable future. That much is undeniable. But, along with coping with trials and tribulations, restaurants have also demonstrated great ingenuity and adaptability this past year. We’ve rounded up a list of Oakland eateries (some new, some not so new) that hit the mark for whatever kind of dining experience you may be looking for.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a great meal out is finding a place the whole family will enjoy. Luckily, there is no shortage of places in Oakland that offer plenty of room for adults and youngsters alike to safely distance while enjoying kid- and parent-approved menus that are guaranteed to keep everyone happy and well fed. Take newcomer The Kitchen at Rocky’s Market Brooklyn Basin, where the 15,000-square-foot outdoor dining space is perfect for restless tots to roam safely and there’s an entire kids’ menu named for chef-owner Corinne Kinczel’s son, Benny.
“I’m a mom of very picky eaters,” said Kinczel. “So we have a simplified menu of our regular menu with items like our roast chicken without the green stuff.” In addition to nixing the “green stuff” (aka chimichurri) the chef made sure to include a side of potato rounds, complimented by plenty of ketchup (Benny’s condiment of choice), and a cup of organic fruit with every entree on the kids’ menu.
Plus, should your child need even more space to run around, a neighborhood park right next door to the eatery is slated to open by the end of November. So, while parental unit no. 1 chases little Johnny around the park, you can enjoy a seasonal plate of fresh black cod on a bed of cannellini beans and frisee with Castelvetrano olives and preserved Meyer lemon; or perhaps a Fuyu persimmon salad with burrata, crispy chicken skin and candied pepitas.
With its waterfront views, fun outdoor patio (including a beer garden for those 21 and up) and classic menu items like tacos, burgers and pizzas, plank in Jack London Square is a sure fire way to get the whole family together.
And let’s not forget about Uptown’s Drake’s Dealership. While one might think the beer-centric eatery is just for grown-ups, think again. The large, open-air beer garden’s casual atmosphere, complete with picnic tables, firepits and Adirondack chairs, provides the perfect backdrop to a family-style meal over one of the eatery’s signature wood-fired pizzas. Fido’s even welcome to join.
Late night bites
We’ve all experienced those long work days or had an event run longer than intended and suddenly it’s 8:30 pm and dinner is nowhere near ready. Thankfully, there are kitchens all over town that stay open late ready to serve up a dish of your choosing.
The Latin and Southern-inspired cuisine at Oeste is an Old Oakland fan favorite for dining late into the night. Though best known for its 90-person indoor and rooftop bars, Oeste has adapted to the times and has taken on a new look as a sitdown restaurant.
“We’ve never behaved like a restaurant before so we’ve had to adjust and behave as something new,” said Anna Villalobos, Oeste’s co-owner and general manager. “We turn down people constantly. There’s a lot of excitement.” Since shifting to a more traditional restaurant style, Villablobos explained that the cafe and bar has simplified its menu to offer hearty plates, like the crowd-pleasing street taco trio and new whole fried snapper with plantain chips, until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
And just a mile north, in Uptown, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge recently opened an outdoor patio where diners can chow down on spicy Korean wings tossed in a gochujang sauce, Cali-style shrimp and grits with a bacon-infused gravy or Argentine chicken sandwich with slaw and housemade aioli on a brioche bun. If you’re looking to stay awhile, order an Oakland-themed drink such as the Merritt martini or West Grand sidecar. Although the patio is only open until 8 p.m., Luka’s offers late-night pickup until 10 p.m. daily on all menu items, including beer, wine and cocktails.
But perhaps you’re missing a dose of nightlife. Then look no further than The Port Bar. The LGBTQ bar has expanded with an outdoor seating option so patrons can enjoy a drink and Mexican classics from resident food truck Shiloh’s Cuisine. The space also hosts weekly, socially distant events, such as movie screenings and evening drag shows, staying open until midnight Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and until 10 p.m. on Sunday.
There’s nothing quite like a bright and cheery dining space to help you look forward to a meal or drink out; and Oakland has no shortage of eateries with some seriously Instagram-worthy patios.
Take Temescal Brewing, for example. The brewery’s colorful beer can labels are a sign you’re in for a treat. From the cafe lights strung overhead and turquoise two-toppers to the wild, abstract mural painted on its fence, Temescal Brewing is effortlessly cool. And as an added addition to the space, the team recently unveiled its new “Beer-O-Matic” — an entirely contact-free ordering system where guests can indulge in brews like the Hazy (a juicy, hazy IPA) or the Pils (a modern take on a classic).
Another fantastic outdoor venue is The BackYard by Nido. The agave-strewn space is filled with lush pots and planters of cacti and other succulent varieties which help create the illusion of separate dining areas. On top of it’s verdant surrounds, The BackYard’s brightly painted main walkway is an inviting precursor to its modern Mexican food featuring generous carnitas- and carne asada-laden plates, as well as an impressive selection of house-made margaritas. (The BackYard also hosts weekly comedy shows on Sunday evenings.)
For a taste of Oaxaca, check out Calavera’s homage to southern Mexican flavors, including its heirloom Oaxacan corn quesadilla stuffed with gooey Chihuahua cheese or its pollo en mole topped with savory poblano mole sauce and queso fresco. All menu items, including its extensive list of mezcals, can be enjoyed on the covered, heated and wood-paneled patio.
But for something completely different altogether, head across town to Pomella. The Piedmont-based, California-Israeli eatery opened at the outset of the pandemic, and while many waited with bated breath, chef-owner Mica Talmor’s Meditearranean mezze, fresh, cheese-stuffed falafel and hearty tagines certainly have staying power.
Since opening, Talmor has expanded her operations from delivery and pickup only to two outdoor dining spaces. The lower patio is a homey extension of the interior, thanks in large part to its use of indoor furniture and colorful window “mural,” and was largely a communal effort, said Talmor.
“I have a landscaping friend who filled these big metal containers with plants,” she explained, “and my sister designed the sticker that’s on the window. And I had a graphic design friend help! It really is a community effort.” If you’re looking for a bit more space and sun, though, head to the upstairs patio to indulge in your laffa flatbread wrap or hummus plate.
Date night done right
It’s hard not to love a good date night, especially since it gives most of us an excuse to change out of our sweatpants and don “fancy” clothes to enjoy an evening out with a significant other. And with more and more Oakland restaurants embracing al fresco dining layouts or slowly allowing diners back indoors for limited seating, now’s the perfect time to put on those new shoes that have been sitting in the back of the closet.
From decadent house-made pasta dishes to wood-fired meat and fish entrees, the enclosed outdoor sidewalk seating at Rockridge’s Oliveto might be just the place to take your beau (pro tip: save room for dessert). Or for a spot right in the thick of it all, head to Agave Uptown. The lushly filled planter boxes surrounding its patio provides an urban jungle oasis in the heart of the city and enough privacy for an intimate night out while you sample a seasonal Oaxacan platter for two and sip on a fiery mezcal drink.
Another favorite, with it’s charmingly lit dock and hearty seafood fare, is Lake Chalet. The waterfront restaurant along Lake Merritt oozes romance as diners can hear the lap of the water against the deck while indulging in a plate of oysters, ahi tuna crudo or seafood linguini. (Lake Chalet also offers non-seafood items should your date prefer.)
And then there’s Shakewell’s Mediterranean- and Spanish-style tapas menu that screams date night especially when chef (and “Chopped” champion) Jen Biesty is at the helm. Although the menu changes daily due to ingredient availability and seasonality, you and your S.O. would be hard pressed not to enjoy a heaping platter of Bombo paella out on the new parklet along Lakeshore Ave.
For a truly intimate dining experience, though, Magnolia Street Wine Lounge & Kitchen might just be what the doctor ordered. The recently opened “Casian-Creole” — southern comfort food with Asian influences — spot is run by chef Leilani Baugh who’s been known to whip out imaginative reinventions of dishes including short rib lumpia, crab garlic noodles and, her signature, oxtail and grits. But perhaps most exciting of all is the soon-to-be-launched wine flight experience. Baugh has curated an extensive list of mostly local (i.e., Napa and Lodi) wines featuring winemakers that best represent the Oakland community.
“Forty percent of the wines are from vintners of color,” she said. “We have wines from African-American, Latinx and Asian(-American) winemakers … Our goal is to have wines that represent our community.” (Baugh even has a “Black Girl Magic” tasting that features the Town’s very own McBride Sisters Collection.)
Both food and wine can be enjoyed on the patio or in the main dining room, where currently only 12 people are allowed to dine at any given time, for a truly intimate dining experience. And if you are looking for something to do mid-week, Magnolia Street is launching Wine-Down Wednesday in mid-November, featuring appetizers, snacks and, of course, vino.
In these unprecedented times, it’s understandable should you still not feel comfortable eating out just quite yet. But instead of ordering takeout from your local pizza joint for the fifth time this month, up the ante with something a little special from Mägo. Since the second day of shelter in place, chef Mark Liberman and his small-but-mighty team have been reinventing the takeout game in an attempt to bring comfort to those confined within their homes with delicacies such as Thai-inspired dishes and shareable tapas. When asked where his takeout inspiration comes from he says it really comes down to personal taste.
“For me I think about what I want,” Liberman said, “and it’s not pizza or sushi,” but rather whole branzino, roasted pumpkin or butter beans and sauteed kale. Takeout meals, available Tuesday–Saturday from the restaurant at 3762 Piedmont Ave., are meant to be shared, but you won’t want to.
All of Mägo’s ingredients are purchased every day at market and are subject to change based on availability, but that just means you’ll never eat the same thing twice. And if you feel like emerging from your home for a meal, the eatery’s patio is available for two nightly seatings, Wednesday–Saturday, where guests can enjoy a four to six course, pre-fixe omnivore or garden (aka vegetarian) menu.
If you’re looking to keep things fast and casual, consider popping by Tacos Oscar in Temescal. The pink shipping container squeezed “in the alley” is fantastically fresh and features a rotating lineup of tacos, including at least one vegan option. Now, while some may wrinkle their nose at the idea of eating a squash or mushroom taco, order it anyways because it might just be the best thing you eat all week. Phoning in your order works great, but the Tacos Oscar team is so quick that it might just be easier to order in person.
For some impressively beautiful takeout, that’s perfect for a sit down with a larger social bubble, hit up Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine. The Jack London Square-based restaurant’s “Little Lao Table Set” for two to four people overflows with house-made goodies such as Panang Neau short rib, Hat Yai fried chicken, shrimp fried rice, pad thai tofu and so much more. Thoughtfully arranged in a large, aluminum take-out box, and sometimes decorated with edible flowers, the Little Lao is one seriously stunning meal.