Get ready to pack your bags. Oakland recently landed a No. 7 spot on a top 10 list compiled by USA Today’s Best10.com. But here’s the real surprise — it was the only West Coast city in the top 10. No Los Angeles. No San Francisco.
Maybe you didn’t need another reason to move to Oakland at all. Good for you. Consider yourself enlightened. But if you think of Oakland as San Francisco’s ugly stepsister when it comes to food, art and culture, we have one word for you: Brooklyn. Oakland has become a bonafide cultural mecca, mixing progressive politics, arts, food and — of course — tech. (Uber will soon join Pandora and other companies like Fluid, which designs e-commerce websites for the likes of North Face and Reebok, in Oakland). All kinds of creative talent — whether artists or chefs — are fleeing the high rents of San Francisco for something cooler and cheaper across the bay. When you look at the creative diaspora and explosive growth of Oakland over the last few years, it should not be all that surprising that Oakland beat out San Francisco and Los Angeles as the West Coast’s top food city. (You’ll just need to overlook the fact that Bon Appétit earlier proclaimed San Francisco the “Best Food City in U.S.” this year, and named Al’s Place its “Best New Restaurant in U.S.” To their credit, they did give a shoutout to Oaktown in Belle Cushing’s June blog post, “East Bay All the Way: 11 Reasons to Eat and Drink in Oakland Right Now.”)
If you’re wondering which restaurants could have possibly usurped chef Aaron London’s “off-the-charts, flavor-rich creations,” then look no further than Swan’s Market on Washington Street, where three standouts continue to delight foodies and hipsters alike: The Cook and Her Farmer, Cosecha Café and Miss Ollie’s.
Let’s take a closer look at these flavorful food hall all-stars:
The Cook and Her Farmer
Photo via thecookandherfarmer.com
Executive chef and cookbook author Romney Nani Steele and partner Steve Day have perfected the art of the oyster — and yet there is so much more waiting for you on their California soul food menu. For lunch, there’s the usual salads and then it gets interesting with po’boy sandwiches, a grilled flatbread and specialty items—like a pickle plate, which shows off Steele’s penchant for pickling and canning. For dinner, there’s a rotating menu of black-eyed peas and ham hocks, gumbo, fried catfish and flat-iron steak. You’ll enjoy all of it in a casual setting, perhaps on the custom-built redwood communal table, one of the 16 seats at the counter or in the marketplace’s communal space. Order at the counter and wait for this cook and her farmer to work their cool California magic. 907F Washington Street. Phone: (510) 285-6140.
Photo via cosechacafe.com. Credit: Clara Rice Photography
When it comes to Mexican food, Dominica Rice’s Cosecha Café turns it up a notch with items like wild shrimp tacos, roasted yam quesadillas and grilled chicken achiote. Finish it all off with an iced horchata latte, and we’re pretty sure you will have one barriga llena, corazón contento. 907 Washington Street. Phone: (510) 452-5900.
Photo via Flickr. Credit: Takataira
“It’s bright and warm, a Technicolor dreamscape of turquoise tin, bright peppers, and vintage barber ads. Oakland’s jolly oasis. Somehow, it makes you feel familiar without being anything like the home you grew up in.” This was Molly Gore’s description of Miss Ollie’s, the Carribean soul food/ little slice of mouthwatering heaven. Chef Sarah Kirnon’s menu is joyful, inspired and downright tasty. The fried chicken is a must-try, and don’t forget the more unique dishes, like the salfish, ackee and the pastelon. You’ll also want to order the “Time for Soca” cocktail too, and just let the thyme-infused pineapple and rum, warmed with cinnamon work its charms. 901 Washington. Phone: (510) 285-6188.
Featured photo via Flickr. Credit: Thomas Hawk