Sign up for our free newsletter
Free Oakland news, written by Oaklanders, delivered straight to your inbox.
We all have our standby restaurants, the old faithfuls we visit any time we want a comforting, reliable meal. But what about the days we want the thrill of the new? Those days, choosing a restaurant becomes harder, as the fear of the unknown can overwhelm all but the most adventurous diner. After all, when you’re hungry, no one wants to take a chance and end up disappointed.
That’s where this guide comes in. Every spot on this list (which we’ll update on the regular) has either opened in recent months, reopened after a lengthy closure or has made a substantial update to its menu. Every spot on this list is a place that we’re really excited about — and we think you will be, too.
As always, we’re eager to hear your own new dining finds. Drop us a line with your picks for fresh spots to check out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
alaMar Kitchen & Bar
100 Grand Ave. (near Valdez Street), Oakland
5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
3-10 p.m. Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
alaMar Kitchen & Bar isn’t a new restaurant by any means: Nelson German’s seafood spot opened in 2014 (look at this photo of German mulling its plans here), which arguably makes it an Uptown classic. But when the pandemic hit, it trimmed down its menu and pivoted to a takeout and delivery model, converting its dining room on the fly to a preparation and assembly operation.
But while alaMar’s dining room was closed to patrons, German was in their living rooms, starring on the most recent season of cooking competition show “Top Chef.” (That season was a problematic one, but not because of German. In fact, German stepped away from the show after he was injured on set.)
Last month, alaMar’s dining room reopened to customers, but at that same time, it paused takeout to focus on the folks seated inside. Now both options are back, and the spot has a new menu that includes a nod to German’s “Top Chef” times, a stuffed masa small plate reminiscent of the “Unidentified Dominican Object” he prepared on the show.
Oxtail fans should know that there’s a special dish for them on the restaurant’s “secret menu,” too: the last bit of a black angus, braised with cipollini onion. It’s a dish that builds in Dominican, pan-Asian, and Mediterranean flavors, as well as German’s own unique take. It’s first come, first served for a seat inside or on alaMar’s heated patio, and takeout orders can be placed here.
The Busy Wife
44 Webster St. (in Jack London Square), Oakland
5 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday -Friday
10 a.m. brunch on farmers market Saturdays-Sundays
The Busy Wife is tucked in the back of back of Jack London Square’s pier, but don’t look for signs: It’s a long-term pop-up inside Dyafa, Alta Restaurant Group’s restaurant that shuttered (temporarily?) in March 2020, and one of the conditions of the soul food spot’s tenancy is that Dyafa’s branding stay where it is.
That feeling of impermanence isn’t ideal for Busy Wife owner Michauxnee Olier, who hopes to work out a deal to stay for good. In the interim, the business continues to grow, Olier told Nosh this week, including a newly updated brunch menu and a slate of live events.
The menu is regularly evolving, so if her smoked gouda shrimp and crab creole pasta (penne blackened shrimp, spinach and crab meat) isn’t available, well, you snooze you lose. Olier says that her vegetarian oyster mushroom po boy “thang” (that’s chicken fried mushrooms with house recipe pink lemonade vinaigrette slaw and smoked buffalo aioli) will always be on the menu and that’s more than worth a stop, too. Just as compelling as the food is Olier herself, who greets regulars, welcomes newbies, and runs her kitchen with equal ease. Seating in the restaurant is first come, first served, and lengthy waits are rare.
Enssaro Ethiopian Restaurant
357-A Grand Ave. (near Perkins Street), Oakland
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Thursday
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Enssaro shut its doors in April 2020, after a fire gravely damaged Solomon Tamirue’s 15-year-old Ethiopian destination. It finally reopened in July with its familiar, crowd-pleasing menu of wots and tibs, and a cocktail list that feels like vacation (why, yes, I will have a Long Island Iced Tea).
While there’s plenty of meat on the menu — lamb, chicken, meat and fish are all featured, a veritable zoo — Enssaro also has some of the most compelling vegetarian dishes around. There’s the gommen, a smoky collard green item made with spiced clarified butter, for example, or the ata-kilt, which turns slow-cooked potatoes into a superstar.
In other words, this is where to go when omnivores and herbivores want to be equally pleased. Those folks might not agree on issues like eating meat, but no one can argue with how good a plate of Ethiopian nachos (house-fried potato chips, special salsa and spicy sesame-rich hummus) is with a stiff drink. Seating is available indoors; there’s also a sweet parklet right outside.
Jo’s Modern Thai
3725 MacArthur Blvd. (near Loma Vista), Oakland
4-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Kornnawong told Nosh that Jo’s menu of drinking snacks and family-style food is intended to represent wide swaths of Thai food, but admits that there’s a lot of California in there too. For example, there’s a catfish taco packed with mango and avocado that serves coastal surf vibes galore. Or the pork laab burger, an Isaan-style patty that’s fried, topped with shallots and herbs and slid into a brioche bun.
The cocktail menu is also a thing to behold, with drinks from the mind of Starline Social Club’s Tayler Sampson. Try the “Made in 510,” with cazadores blanco, martini Bitter, martini rosso and watermelon for a not-too-sweet clobber from a velvet boxing glove.
Seats inside Jo’s dining room or on its outdoor patio are walk-in only, but don’t let fears of a wait dissuade you. While Jo’s has been busy, we haven’t had much of a struggle to score a table. And if time is of the essence, Jo’s offers takeout too.
4935 Shattuck Ave. (at 51st Street), Oakland
4-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Monday
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Snail Bar’s commitment to “slow food” isn’t the only reason for the natural wine bar’s name, as one of its most popular menu items is its escargot with garlic, umami butter and miso from Bay Area fermentation specialists Shared Cultures.
Owner Andres Giraldo Florez has a high-brow resume, with stints at spots like Saison, and I already know what you’re thinking — a fancy food guy and escargot in Temescal, what is happening? But, y’all, it’s OK, the restaurant feels relaxed and warm and judgement-free.
If you’re not a snail snacker, there’s a little gem Caesar salad with Spanish anchovies and shiitake power dressing that you’ll keep thinking about later; and its ham and cheese sandwich is all the buzz. The natural wine list is presented approachably, and picking a glass (or bottle) feels like a collaboration, not a class.
Snail Bar is walk-in only, and Florez told Nosh this week that since their opening last month, they’ve been remarkably busy. That means that though it’s a good spot for folks with kids, if you think the little ones can’t manage a wait, it’s best to choose an off hour for your visit.
5849 San Pablo Ave (at 59th Street), Oakland
3-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday
Soul Slice owner Karter Louis seems torn about calling his dishes “pizzas,” telling Nosh that “we play in the genre of pizza but it is not pizza. It is basically soul food on an open face biscuit with soul food ingredients.”
It’s a game diners want to play too, lining up outside his 2-month-old restaurant for breakfast-style dishes like the bacon & eggs pizza (the eggs are poached and showered with crispy onions and mac and cheese sauce) and the cornmeal chicken nuggets pizza (that one comes with smashed potato and green beans, also on that biscuit crust).
There are so many choices — and the pizzas look on their face to be small — so you’ll be tempted to get multiples. Be careful, though, as even the hungriest among us have been filled by a single (soul) slice. If you have to pick just one, go with the best-selling black-eyed pea pizza, which Lewis says tastes like meat when it’s on his biscuit crust (and if you order with no cheese, it’s also vegan).
There are also a decent number of salads and sides, all of which are very good (especially the grit sticks! Gotta love grits you can eat with your hands). But if you’re going to Soul Slice, you should really get a slice, you know? Lewis told Nosh this week that next up for Soul Slice are lunch hours starting in September, and a happy hour deal that starts the week of Aug. 22 with a pizza and pint for $15. Reservations are recommended for a seat in the dining room, and takeout or delivery are options, too.
Popoca has been popping up at Degrees Plato for a while, but now that founder Anthony Salguero and new business partner Brandi Brown (FOB Kitchen) have the keys to a permanent location in the Dimond District, we’re really starting to see its Californian-Salvadorian menu take flight.
“Part of my job is to handle things that might keep Anthony from nerding out in the kitchen,” Brown told Nosh last month, “I’m here to help his creativity fly.” Some of those recent flights include a pan con pollo (fire-roasted chicken, curtido relish, and fixings on a baguette) and a Nicaraguan-inspired pork and yucca dish.
I can’t promise that either of those items will be on the menu when you go, because Salguero’s clearly got the pedal to the metal as he tries out dishes for his permanent restaurant. (Follow Popoca on Instagram for that week’s menu.) But his inspired wood-fired pupusas — the food that arguably make Popoca a cult favorite — will always be on the menu, Salguero says. Degrees Plato has seating inside and out, with customers served during Popoca’s pop-up days until Salguero is sold out
Badan at Berkeley Organic Market and Deli
2642 Ashby Ave. (near College Avenue), Berkeley
11 a.m-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Badan quietly kicked into gear in May, serving a tightly edited menu of Yemeni food. “We have been finding out that the best food is the food people want,” co-owner Hafez Alsaidi told Nosh this month, saying that since Badan opened inside the Berkeley Organic Market and Deli, he’s built a following of loyal regulars, as “once you taste the food, you don’t need any marketing.”
Alsaidi uses unprocessed whole wheat flour from Community Grains for his veggie-laden manakeesh (savory, pizza-like flatbread with toppings), and on Wednesdays offers a gluten-free version made with rice flour and millet. He’s currently refining a zatar wrap and a “very traditional” quinoa and avocado dish, passing out tastes to customers along with their orders. “Everything I make is how my mother and my grandmother made it,” he said.
Don’t miss the seasonal soup, which Alsaidi makes by cooking down beans and grains. “It’s a wholesome meal for people who have to get things done,” he said, and it’s also delicious. As you might expect, every meal at Badan is grab-and-go, but it’s all “made fresh every day,” Alsaidi said. Your best plan is to place your order, pick up your grocery and household staples at the market, then swing back to pick up your food when it’s done.
Via del Corso
1788 Shattuck Ave. (near Delaware Street), Berkeley
5-9 p.m. Sunday Tuesday – Thursday
5-10 p.m. Friday – Saturday
Via del Corso isn’t quite Corso 2.0, though you can be forgiven for thinking so: After 12-year-old Corso closed last year, chef and Berkeley native Peter Chastain (Walnut Creek’s Prime Ristorante) bought the business with a plan to bring back some of Corso’s favorites while broadening its menu to feature dishes from across Italy’s many regional cuisines.
A stunner from its summer menu is its linguine nere al tonno, a house-made squid ink pasta with tuna conserve, capers, olives and tomato — basically, what puttanesca wants to be when it grows up. But don’t worry, Corso hits like pollo alla sostanza (Mary’s chicken in brown butter) are on the menu, too.
Reservations are recommended for its cozy dining room; Via del Corso also has a lovely outdoor seating area ideal for folks dining in mixed-vaccination company.
Headlands Brewing Company
3420 Mt. Diablo Blvd. (near Brown Avenue), Lafayette
3-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday
3-10 p.m. Friday
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Its state-of-the-art tap room and beer garden is a great addition to the Lafayette dining scene, with a 20-tap floating draught tower inside, and a fire pit-equipped outdoor patio outside. That outdoor area has “dog-friendly landscaping,” Headlands told Nosh, which means that your canine companion is just as welcome as your human kids.
The food on offer is perfectly lovely bar fare like beef, chicken, or vegan hot dogs with chips and peppers — it’s totally setting-appropriate and does the trick. Headlands’ small-batch brews are on tap in addition to a cleverly curated lineup of guest beers, and there are also ciders, wines (including frosé) and no-ABV drinks. As the summer wanes but while the nights are still warm, this patio is where we want to be.
50 S. Livermore Ave. (between First Street and Railroad Avenue), Livermore
8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Wingen Bakery started out as a farmers market star, but since June they’ve been slinging their hand-rolled bagels, savory sourdough loaves, and sweet pastries from a new Livermore storefront.
Now there are sandwiches on offer, like a Hobb’s Bacon BLT, as well as a summer bean salad with some serious goat cheese croutons and a nice selection of beer and wine. Co-owner Aimee Wingen told Nosh this week that the bakery is working to expand its hours in September, and a croissant program is also in the works.
But for now, there’s the sourdough olive loaf, their Sun Gold-packed crustless quiche, and those brown butter chocolate chip cookies to tide you over. Just know that many of the baked goods sell out by the afternoon, so come early if you have your heart set on a loaf.
43761 Boscell Road #5125 (in the Pacific Commons Shopping Center), Fremont
8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Cafe Mei’s opening in Fremont this month is big news to anyone who pines for fast-casual icon Mei Er Mei, a Taiwan-based chain known for its savory-and-sweet breakfast sandwiches.
Cafe Mei might be as close as we get to that company, as owner Kandy Wang says she’s using Mei Er Mei’s recipes to make her menu of egg and cheese crepes, triple-layer breakfast sandwiches and a pork patty breakfast burger topped with an egg.
Wang’s sandwiches are a comforting reminder of home for some, while those new to Mei Er Mei might decide that the dishes are their newest craving. While the sandwiches are the draw at Cafe Mai, don’t look over the black pepper teppan noodles, a umami party of pork and mushrooms in a bowl.
1389B N. Main St. (in the Phillips Building), Walnut Creek
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday
11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Their made-to-order dumplings — boiled or pan-fried or soup — have been gobbled up by multitudes of the Bay Area’s self-appointed dumpling insiders since it opened earlier this month. But though the dumplings are made on the spot (not frozen or otherwise pre-made), you won’t be waiting hours for your order — sit-down diners’ XLB will arrive with haste, steamy and perfect.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the dumplings, but the other menu items are equally strong: There’s a truffle Brussels sprout plate that deserves praise, and the tongue-numbing pig ear with spicy sauce is a snappy surprise. Dumpling Hours’ owners say that online ordering for takeout is coming soon, but for now you’ll have to walk up or call (925-933-8888) to place your order, if waiting for a table isn’t for you.