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The morning sun rises on the Fox Oakland Theatre, a concert hall and former movie theater in Downtown Oakland Shutterstock

The 17 Essential Oakland Restaurants

Where to find jerk shrimp, flaky slices of pie, and spice-slicked flatbread in the Bay Area’s cultural center

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The longstanding caricature of Oakland was of a city that many San Franciscans reserved for a punchline: too poor, too black, and almost comically liberal, they said, devoid of culture, cappuccinos, and a decent Caesar. Today, few would deny that Oakland is the region’s cultural and artistic center; the capital of small entrepreneurs, of food that gives voice to identity. Oakland is currently one of America’s most dynamic food cities not because of the polish of its restaurants, the number of its James Beard medals, or any galaxy of Michelin stars, but because of its loyalty to cooks telling complicated stories through food: where they came from, their struggle for equity, or how we, as citizens, believe we ought to treat one another.

We’ve known injustice and tragedy here — Oscar Grant’s fatal shooting and the Ghost Ship fire, gentrification and the spiraling crisis of the unhoused, and especially the black exodus to affordable places, a sapping of Oakland’s spirit. But the energy that persists with us, the resistance and struggle, our striving to be better, the beauty and community of this place: All of it shades the way we shop, cook, and gather to eat. All of it makes Oakland an essential city for food and drink.

Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $15
$$ = $16 - $35
$$$ = $36 - $50
$$$$ = More than $50

John Birdsall is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer based in Oakland, California.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Nick's Pizza

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A small shop straddling the Berkeley border turns out Oakland’s best pizzas. The crisp sourdough crust supports toppings of superior quality (a mushroom mix that includes foraged specimens; or merguez sausage; or sweet corno di toro peppers) that nevertheless fail to distort the basic mission of pizza, which is to satisfy the primal need for an unintimidating, hot slice. Owner Nick Yapor-Cox, a trans man who identifies as queer, has made his business a place of safety and support for a diverse clientele, especially LGBTQ customers. “I think the shop itself,” Yapor-Cox says, “as a physical location for community, is really how we champion queer causes.” The pizzas champion the cause of Northern California’s sourdough-crust and topping supremacy. [$]

A close-up on a pizza pie topped with arugula and small pepperoni slices
Pizza topped with arugula and pepperoni
Nick’s Pizza and Bakery Made in Oakland [Official Photo]

The Midwife and the Baker at the Sunday Temescal Farmers’ Market

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Mac McConnell bakes in the South Bay, but the company he owns with Jaime Shapiro (the midwife of the name) feels naturalized in Oakland, especially on Sunday mornings, at the Temescal farmer’s market. The 100-percent whole wheat loaf (there’s a touch of rye in the levain) is mind-bending. The wheat is Glenn, a California-grown hard red spring heritage strain, milled at the bakery. It’s a lovely shade of toasted walnut that survives the long (16- to 18-hour) fermentation and baking. The finished loaf smells bright and winey, slightly smoky, and, due to some combination of lactic acid bacteria and freshly ground wheat, a little like fruitcake spices. [$]

A striking dark loaf of bread with long ripples of bleached crust on a wooden surface
Whole wheat loaf
The Midwife and the Baker [Official Photo]

Bakesale Betty

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In 2005, in her trademark shiny blue wig, Aussie native Alison Barakat opened a brick-and-mortar in a former dessert shop in Temescal; for years the daily sandwich line was formidable. In a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Barakat’s sandwich expressed the diverse strains of Oakland’s food identity: the African-American legacy of buttermilk fried chicken, the hint of banh mi pickle in the jalapeno cabbage slaw, and the shadow of Panisse in the Acme torpedo roll. These days the lines are shorter, but Barakat’s sandwich remains an Oakland essential. [$]

A fried chicken sandwich is cut in half, with lettuce spilling out
The fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty
Bakesale Betty / Facebook

Temescal Brewing

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Family-friendly beer gardens can feel like Chuck E. Cheeses, where screaming, splayed-out toddlers snatch attention from the brews. This garden, in an old dry cleaner’s converted parking lot, is a place where “family” has a more inclusive, less blood-determined definition. The crowd on Queer First Fridays delivers on the diversity promise of “LGBTQ.” Sunday afternoons, the scene is queer and straight (or whatever), melanated and not, grizzled and young. DJs and other performers show up, and there’s a circulating roster of vendors serving food to soak up the light, fresh house brews, which include hazy IPAs, crisp lagers, and fruity ales. [$]

Three glasses of beer in various colors sit side by side in decorative glasses
The beer line-up
Temescal Brewing [Official Photo]

Chef James Syhabout (full disclosure: I helped him write a book, Hawker Fare) came to Oakland as a baby, with his Lao refugee parents. He grew up working in his family’s Thai restaurant, and later apprenticed himself to fine dining. Syhabout’s dishes at Commis reflect Southeast Asia so subtly you might miss it: the warm levain bread, baked in a crock, for instance, which you tear apart with your hands the way you do a wad of sticky rice; or delicately glutinous little tapioca dumplings, called sakoo yat sai, but with fillings that show California seeping through (a mix of chicken, pecan, and ginger, say, garnished with a tiny nasturtium leaf). Syhabout’s cooking is both lush and restrained, a study in textures. Casual, socially progressive Oakland wasn’t the easiest place to attempt fine dining. Commis feels like a stockpile of native diligence, ambition, and talent. [$$$$]

A textured ceramic plate with a wide rim and small dip filled with frothy broth topped with a tangle of octopus and vegetables
A dish from the tasting menu
Bill Addison

Mark Liberman earned a national profile as chef of San Francisco’s AQ, an ambitious seasonal concept dining room that shuttered in 2017. In Oakland, Liberman has opened the kind of restaurant many veteran chefs yearn to slide into: a 45-seat place with neighborhood-bistro bones. Every dish feels joyful. Liberman squeezes a career’s worth of skill into a concise menu that changes weekly: slabs of focaccia mounded with lush tomato and mustard-flower salad, and fried soft-shell crabs with smoked nectarine barbecue sauce. [$$$]

From above, a floral decorative plate with a pile of agnolotti topped with foamy sauce
Corn agnolotti
Mägo / Facebook

Ordinaire

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Bradford Taylor’s storefront cafe and shop devoted to natural wines is a worn-in Birkenstock, comfortable and a little squishy, the proudly flaunted antithesis of slickness and glam. Depending on your experience, the wines — all free of fining and filtering, chaptalizing, and anything above the minimum preservative threshold of sulfur dioxide — can open new vistas. The wine bar crowd, heavily seeded with neighborhood regulars, feels as familiar and broken in as the setting. [$$]

A bartender leans over a barrel-turned-table with two glasses of wine and an open bottle in his hand, beside another table filled with other bottles and a small tip jar
Serving up natural wines
Caleb Pershan

The Alley Piano Bar & Restaurant

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When he passed away in 2017, Rod Dibble ended a 50-year run playing jazz standards at the u-shaped piano bar, but the Alley is still a dark and fusty grotto, a tunnel into a more unabashedly day-drinking age. The liquor is basic and nobody you know is likely to find you, here where stapled-on business cards cover the walls and vaulted ceilings like scales and the glow of red rope lights makes everyone look good. [$$]

Off-kilter letters make up a green neon sign advertising The Alley bar
The Alley’s neon sign
The Alley / Facebook

Aburaya/Aburaya Go

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Though settled in two proximate locations in Uptown, these Japanese fried chicken shop siblings (Aburaya Go for daytime hours, Aburaya at night) have big pop-up energy. Founder Adachi Hiroyuki is a bassist in punk bands (the Basements, for one), and his gnarly, sauce-glazed hunks of skinless and boneless fried chicken thrash like a two-minute hardcore track. Aburaya Go, on 15th Street, does a fried chicken sandwich on soft, yellow Texas toast that’s impossible to eat without leaving your hands, forearms, and the lower third of your face a smear of spicy Japanese barbecue sauce and coleslaw mayo. [$]

Hunks of fried chicken sit in a pile of slaw and onions on a slice of Texas toast with another slice resting nearby on a striped paper plate
Fried chicken sandwich on Texas toast
Aburaya / Facebook

Miss Ollie's

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Chef Sarah Kirnon grew up partly in the U.K., partly with family in Barbados. Her cooking at this casual-service anchor of Swan’s Market in Old Oakland reads like a story told in her own quiet, powerful voice: memories of the Caribbean food she carried with her to California and reassembled here altered, yet true in essence. Many (including me) come here for skillet fried chicken (Kirnon is said to have learned the recipe from her Bajan grandmother, Miss Ollie), but nearly every dish — from jerk shrimp to split pea soup with yam and cassava — shines with ample grace. [$$]

Hunks of fried chicken on butcher paper with diced herbs beside small bowls of potato salad and vegetables
Skillet fried chicken
Miss Ollie’s / Facebook

Oeste Rooftop Bar

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Lea Redmond, Anna Villalobos, and Sandra Davis are behind Oeste, where the drinks are fine and the chicken wings leave the proper film of insulating fats in your system, but it’s the upstairs setting you want to seek out. Rooftop bars are rare in Oakland (I can think of only one other, at Mad Oak Bar), and Oeste — though it’s just one story above the street — is a beauty, especially at sunset, when everybody seated on the outdoor sofas appears washed in gold. [$$]

U-shaped patio couches sit on a wooden deck beside umbrellas, potted plants, and high-top bar tables with a city scape visible beyond
The rooftop at Oeste
Oeste Rooftop Bar [Official Photo]

La Santa Torta

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Leo Oblea and Victor Guzman park their bright, lucha-branded truck near Jack London Square for lunch, Tuesdays through Fridays. Oblea’s fat strands of Jalisco-style beef birria — rich, chewy, and plumped with juice — deliver a stiff punch. It comes in crispy tacos (tacos dorados), or as a long, slipper-like griddled torta, with Oaxaca cheese and pickled onions, and served with a cup of deep-tasting consomme bearing a gorgeous slick of rendered fat. [$]

Two women stand at a brightly lit food truck decorated with a masked luchador
The La Santa Torta truck
La Santa Torta / Instagram

Pietisserie

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Jaynelle St. Jean’s Raspberry in Chocolate Crust is genius pie. The pastry straddles the line between shortcrust and a corner brownie’s crisp edges, and the filling, a red slush of tart, seeded berries, is almost shockingly luscious. The shop is minimal. You can have your pie and coffee at the table out front, in the odd little car-fringed plaza (really more of a bulbed-out gutter), gazing onto the tattoo shop or across at the chaos of stomped seafood boxes heaped at the curb before Rockin’ Crawfish. Better yet, carry your slice to nearby Pine Knoll Park at Lake Merritt. [$]

From above, a full pie made up of slices from five different pies topped with various crusts and crumbles
A variety of pie slices
Pietisserie / Facebook

Nyum Bai

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It would be blessing enough if owner Nite Yun only cooked delicious Cambodian food. At her tiny ad hoc restaurant in Fruitvale Public Market, Yun represents a local culture underrepresented in mainstream Bay Area food: the Central Valley community of refugees fleeing the Vietnam War. Yun, who grew up in Stockton, counters the narrative that immigrant food with the roots kept intact is somehow inaccessible beyond its core constituency. Inside Yun’s ambient songscape of 1960s Cambodian rock, dishes like amok (custardy coconut-milk catfish steamed in banana leaf) and kuy teav Phnom Penh (rice noodle soup with pork and brisket) feel at home in the company of defining East Bay dishes, a pantheon that includes street tacos and the warm goat cheese salad at Chez Panisse. [$$]

From above, a clay bowl with a thick layer of spice-stained custard and chopped herbs, sitting on a white plate on a wooden tabletop
Amok (steamed coconut-milk catfish)
Patricia Chang

Red Bay Coffee Public Roastery

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Local artist and entrepreneur Keba Konte launched Red Bay in 2014 as a vehicle for coffee equity, with a prime mission to enlist African Americans to learn the historically white specialty coffee business. The Fruitvale roastery serves as a public meeting space (also a food pop-up and performance venue), as well as an airy cafe, of course, featuring a mural of the African continent painted in shiny-leaved live plants. It’s easy to imagine Oakland’s future creative, intellectual, and political life taking shape here, on the open laptops of Red Bay’s mostly young, AirPodded customers, sipping mugs of the shop’s signature Coltrane or East Fourteenth roasts. [$]

Two men stand beside a coffee roasting machine in front of a poster for Red Bay Coffee
The coffee roaster
Patricia Chang

Reem Assil’s tribute to Arab street bakeries opened in 2017 amid a storm of controversy over a mural of Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh. There’s no debate about the food, which is hefty, vivid, and delicious. Chewy, just-baked pita steals the focus from the hummus it’s meant to be a sop for, while spicy green shatta sauce delivers a world of shimmer to a tasty falafel wrap that feels rooted in California thanks to the presence of avocado (an add-on). Meanwhile, lahm bi ajeen — crisp flatbread topped with spiced ground beef and yogurt — is worthy fuel for activism. [$$]

From above, flatbread topped with ground beef, spices and sliced vegetables on wax paper
Lahm bi ajeen (ground beef and yogurt on flatbread)
Patricia Chang

El Paisa@.com

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Racist zoning of the past meant the East Oakland Latinx neighborhood Fruitvale would be the only place taco trucks could legally operate. Regulations have eased, but Fruitvale is still the center of Oakland taco life. This brick and mortar taqueria with a fanciful URL for a name makes the best ones in the city. Pay upfront, slide into line, and after the wait you’ll get a consultation with one of the taqueros who work the order windows like bank tellers. Suadero (beef brisket) simmers in a vast braiser, mingling with beef tongues and cheeks. They slice it to order, drop it onto a double layer of tortillas, and blanket it with onion and cilantro. The always-crowded dining room (a covered patio, actually) is an essential Fruitvale space. [$]

From above, tacos piled on top of one another on a paper plate overflow with chopped meat, diced onions and herbs, alongside a plastic cup of salsa and lime wedge
Suadero tacos
Janelle Bitker

Nick's Pizza

A close-up on a pizza pie topped with arugula and small pepperoni slices
Pizza topped with arugula and pepperoni
Nick’s Pizza and Bakery Made in Oakland [Official Photo]

A small shop straddling the Berkeley border turns out Oakland’s best pizzas. The crisp sourdough crust supports toppings of superior quality (a mushroom mix that includes foraged specimens; or merguez sausage; or sweet corno di toro peppers) that nevertheless fail to distort the basic mission of pizza, which is to satisfy the primal need for an unintimidating, hot slice. Owner Nick Yapor-Cox, a trans man who identifies as queer, has made his business a place of safety and support for a diverse clientele, especially LGBTQ customers. “I think the shop itself,” Yapor-Cox says, “as a physical location for community, is really how we champion queer causes.” The pizzas champion the cause of Northern California’s sourdough-crust and topping supremacy. [$]

A close-up on a pizza pie topped with arugula and small pepperoni slices
Pizza topped with arugula and pepperoni
Nick’s Pizza and Bakery Made in Oakland [Official Photo]

The Midwife and the Baker at the Sunday Temescal Farmers’ Market

A striking dark loaf of bread with long ripples of bleached crust on a wooden surface
Whole wheat loaf
The Midwife and the Baker [Official Photo]

Mac McConnell bakes in the South Bay, but the company he owns with Jaime Shapiro (the midwife of the name) feels naturalized in Oakland, especially on Sunday mornings, at the Temescal farmer’s market. The 100-percent whole wheat loaf (there’s a touch of rye in the levain) is mind-bending. The wheat is Glenn, a California-grown hard red spring heritage strain, milled at the bakery. It’s a lovely shade of toasted walnut that survives the long (16- to 18-hour) fermentation and baking. The finished loaf smells bright and winey, slightly smoky, and, due to some combination of lactic acid bacteria and freshly ground wheat, a little like fruitcake spices. [$]

A striking dark loaf of bread with long ripples of bleached crust on a wooden surface
Whole wheat loaf
The Midwife and the Baker [Official Photo]

Bakesale Betty

A fried chicken sandwich is cut in half, with lettuce spilling out
The fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty
Bakesale Betty / Facebook

In 2005, in her trademark shiny blue wig, Aussie native Alison Barakat opened a brick-and-mortar in a former dessert shop in Temescal; for years the daily sandwich line was formidable. In a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Barakat’s sandwich expressed the diverse strains of Oakland’s food identity: the African-American legacy of buttermilk fried chicken, the hint of banh mi pickle in the jalapeno cabbage slaw, and the shadow of Panisse in the Acme torpedo roll. These days the lines are shorter, but Barakat’s sandwich remains an Oakland essential. [$]

A fried chicken sandwich is cut in half, with lettuce spilling out
The fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty
Bakesale Betty / Facebook

Temescal Brewing

Three glasses of beer in various colors sit side by side in decorative glasses
The beer line-up
Temescal Brewing [Official Photo]

Family-friendly beer gardens can feel like Chuck E. Cheeses, where screaming, splayed-out toddlers snatch attention from the brews. This garden, in an old dry cleaner’s converted parking lot, is a place where “family” has a more inclusive, less blood-determined definition. The crowd on Queer First Fridays delivers on the diversity promise of “LGBTQ.” Sunday afternoons, the scene is queer and straight (or whatever), melanated and not, grizzled and young. DJs and other performers show up, and there’s a circulating roster of vendors serving food to soak up the light, fresh house brews, which include hazy IPAs, crisp lagers, and fruity ales. [$]

Three glasses of beer in various colors sit side by side in decorative glasses
The beer line-up
Temescal Brewing [Official Photo]

Commis

A textured ceramic plate with a wide rim and small dip filled with frothy broth topped with a tangle of octopus and vegetables
A dish from the tasting menu
Bill Addison

Chef James Syhabout (full disclosure: I helped him write a book, Hawker Fare) came to Oakland as a baby, with his Lao refugee parents. He grew up working in his family’s Thai restaurant, and later apprenticed himself to fine dining. Syhabout’s dishes at Commis reflect Southeast Asia so subtly you might miss it: the warm levain bread, baked in a crock, for instance, which you tear apart with your hands the way you do a wad of sticky rice; or delicately glutinous little tapioca dumplings, called sakoo yat sai, but with fillings that show California seeping through (a mix of chicken, pecan, and ginger, say, garnished with a tiny nasturtium leaf). Syhabout’s cooking is both lush and restrained, a study in textures. Casual, socially progressive Oakland wasn’t the easiest place to attempt fine dining. Commis feels like a stockpile of native diligence, ambition, and talent. [$$$$]

A textured ceramic plate with a wide rim and small dip filled with frothy broth topped with a tangle of octopus and vegetables
A dish from the tasting menu
Bill Addison

Mägo

From above, a floral decorative plate with a pile of agnolotti topped with foamy sauce
Corn agnolotti
Mägo / Facebook

Mark Liberman earned a national profile as chef of San Francisco’s AQ, an ambitious seasonal concept dining room that shuttered in 2017. In Oakland, Liberman has opened the kind of restaurant many veteran chefs yearn to slide into: a 45-seat place with neighborhood-bistro bones. Every dish feels joyful. Liberman squeezes a career’s worth of skill into a concise menu that changes weekly: slabs of focaccia mounded with lush tomato and mustard-flower salad, and fried soft-shell crabs with smoked nectarine barbecue sauce. [$$$]

From above, a floral decorative plate with a pile of agnolotti topped with foamy sauce
Corn agnolotti
Mägo / Facebook

Ordinaire

A bartender leans over a barrel-turned-table with two glasses of wine and an open bottle in his hand, beside another table filled with other bottles and a small tip jar
Serving up natural wines
Caleb Pershan

Bradford Taylor’s storefront cafe and shop devoted to natural wines is a worn-in Birkenstock, comfortable and a little squishy, the proudly flaunted antithesis of slickness and glam. Depending on your experience, the wines — all free of fining and filtering, chaptalizing, and anything above the minimum preservative threshold of sulfur dioxide — can open new vistas. The wine bar crowd, heavily seeded with neighborhood regulars, feels as familiar and broken in as the setting. [$$]

A bartender leans over a barrel-turned-table with two glasses of wine and an open bottle in his hand, beside another table filled with other bottles and a small tip jar
Serving up natural wines
Caleb Pershan

The Alley Piano Bar & Restaurant

Off-kilter letters make up a green neon sign advertising The Alley bar
The Alley’s neon sign
The Alley / Facebook

When he passed away in 2017, Rod Dibble ended a 50-year run playing jazz standards at the u-shaped piano bar, but the Alley is still a dark and fusty grotto, a tunnel into a more unabashedly day-drinking age. The liquor is basic and nobody you know is likely to find you, here where stapled-on business cards cover the walls and vaulted ceilings like scales and the glow of red rope lights makes everyone look good. [$$]

Off-kilter letters make up a green neon sign advertising The Alley bar
The Alley’s neon sign
The Alley / Facebook

Aburaya/Aburaya Go

Hunks of fried chicken sit in a pile of slaw and onions on a slice of Texas toast with another slice resting nearby on a striped paper plate
Fried chicken sandwich on Texas toast
Aburaya / Facebook

Though settled in two proximate locations in Uptown, these Japanese fried chicken shop siblings (Aburaya Go for daytime hours, Aburaya at night) have big pop-up energy. Founder Adachi Hiroyuki is a bassist in punk bands (the Basements, for one), and his gnarly, sauce-glazed hunks of skinless and boneless fried chicken thrash like a two-minute hardcore track. Aburaya Go, on 15th Street, does a fried chicken sandwich on soft, yellow Texas toast that’s impossible to eat without leaving your hands, forearms, and the lower third of your face a smear of spicy Japanese barbecue sauce and coleslaw mayo. [$]

Hunks of fried chicken sit in a pile of slaw and onions on a slice of Texas toast with another slice resting nearby on a striped paper plate
Fried chicken sandwich on Texas toast
Aburaya / Facebook

Miss Ollie's

Hunks of fried chicken on butcher paper with diced herbs beside small bowls of potato salad and vegetables
Skillet fried chicken
Miss Ollie’s / Facebook

Chef Sarah Kirnon grew up partly in the U.K., partly with family in Barbados. Her cooking at this casual-service anchor of Swan’s Market in Old Oakland reads like a story told in her own quiet, powerful voice: memories of the Caribbean food she carried with her to California and reassembled here altered, yet true in essence. Many (including me) come here for skillet fried chicken (Kirnon is said to have learned the recipe from her Bajan grandmother, Miss Ollie), but nearly every dish — from jerk shrimp to split pea soup with yam and cassava — shines with ample grace. [$$]

Hunks of fried chicken on butcher paper with diced herbs beside small bowls of potato salad and vegetables
Skillet fried chicken
Miss Ollie’s / Facebook

Oeste Rooftop Bar

U-shaped patio couches sit on a wooden deck beside umbrellas, potted plants, and high-top bar tables with a city scape visible beyond
The rooftop at Oeste
Oeste Rooftop Bar [Official Photo]

Lea Redmond, Anna Villalobos, and Sandra Davis are behind Oeste, where the drinks are fine and the chicken wings leave the proper film of insulating fats in your system, but it’s the upstairs setting you want to seek out. Rooftop bars are rare in Oakland (I can think of only one other, at Mad Oak Bar), and Oeste — though it’s just one story above the street — is a beauty, especially at sunset, when everybody seated on the outdoor sofas appears washed in gold. [$$]

U-shaped patio couches sit on a wooden deck beside umbrellas, potted plants, and high-top bar tables with a city scape visible beyond
The rooftop at Oeste
Oeste Rooftop Bar [Official Photo]

La Santa Torta

Two women stand at a brightly lit food truck decorated with a masked luchador
The La Santa Torta truck
La Santa Torta / Instagram

Leo Oblea and Victor Guzman park their bright, lucha-branded truck near Jack London Square for lunch, Tuesdays through Fridays. Oblea’s fat strands of Jalisco-style beef birria — rich, chewy, and plumped with juice — deliver a stiff punch. It comes in crispy tacos (tacos dorados), or as a long, slipper-like griddled torta, with Oaxaca cheese and pickled onions, and served with a cup of deep-tasting consomme bearing a gorgeous slick of rendered fat. [$]