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.Read More