San Francisco might still be getting its groove back after the pandemic, but Oakland’s restaurant scene is booming and ready to welcome foodies with an excellent lineup of world-class dining options. Oakland stays true to honoring its community’s diverse roots and its food reflects the traditions and experiences from chefs from all regions of the world.
Because Oakland’s best restaurants not only feed your stomach. But the creativity and care that each chef and restaurant owner put into nurturing their community feeds your soul as well. Here are our favorite restaurants that you can’t miss whenever you find yourself in the most soulful city in the Bay Area.
2534 Mandela Pkwy, Oakland, CA 94607, United States
The acclaimed Horn Barbecue in Oakland gives Texas a run for its money when it comes to juicy, tender and flavorful barbeque. Pitmaster, Matt Horn, taught himself to barbeque in his grandmother’s backyard in Fresno. After stints selling his BBQ at farmers markets and pop-ups, Horn Barbecue finally found a brick-and-mortar home in a cool industrial space in West Oakland. The minimalist standalone black building almost always has a line out the door. There’s the new food truck selling burgers out back, plus a cute outdoor seating area with picnic tables as well.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with Chef Horn’s mouthwatering “West Coast Barbecue.” As the most popular meat choice, the brisket melts in your mouth, especially with a splattering of Horn’s tangy, sweet BBQ sauce. And in a genius move, the kitchen decided to start making smashburgers made with ground brisket trimming, which just thinking about it should make you salivate. The spare ribs also fall off the bone, the pulled pork is soft and fatty and the smoked chicken is just as juicy as the red meat. The jalapeño cheddar and traditional hot links are made in-house with ground brisket trim, and are some of the most flavorful links you’ll get to try.
The sides deserve accolades all on their own. We couldn’t get enough of the Granny Potatoes, made up of roasted potatoes, lots of sour cream, green onion and cheddar cheese, which was the perfect complement to every bite. No BBQ would be complete without some baked beans, and Horn’s pit beans come real saucy with tender chunks of brisket. There are also the usual suspects you always want accompanying the meats including mac n cheese, crunchy slaw and corn bread with brown butter and honey.
You can get a taste of Central Texas-style barbeque right in West Oakland. Horn Barbecue saves you a trip to the South, as long as you’re willing to do the line; and you already know that the BBQ is well worth the wait for Matt Horn’s critically acclaimed “West Coast Barbecue.”
1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612, United States
Palmetto has an iconic location inside the Oakland Floral Depot building in front of the Fox Theater. And Palmetto wears its center-stage location well, as it just might be the prettiest, most darling restaurant in town. It’s impossible not to love Palmetto’s retro Tropicana atmosphere, with classic diner décor, powder pink walls and lush tropical foliage. Chris, one of the restaurant’s uber-friendly owners, recounts that the initial plan was to turn Palmetto into a steakhouse, until they started painting everything pink.
What was once destined to be a classic steakhouse is now a fabulous experimental hub of multicultural New-American fare. Working through Palmetto’s menu is a delight, as each menu item is extra flavorful and unique in a way that you truly won’t find anywhere else. We could not get enough of the king trumpet mushrooms, which pack a serious kick with a teriyaki-like charred jalapeno BBQ sauce and crispy shallots for extra texture. We also adore the escargot that explodes with unexpected Latin flavors like avocado, cotija cheese and lime. Palmetto also puts a twist on regular steak tartare by adding extra tang with chimichurri aioli and capers, accompanied by a salty piece of smoked cheddar cheese crisp.
The drinks list is just as delightful as the food menu. It’s very difficult to choose from such a tantalizing cocktail list which includes a brandy old-fashioned, salted 75 and white negroni, and that’s before you even get to Palmetto’s signature house cocktails. As the Kon-Tiki Room’s sister restaurant, it’s not surprising that the folks behind the bar at Palmetto know how to mix up magic. The bar serves eclectic cocktails like Evening Bloom with annatto-infused mezcal, grapefruit and jasmine syrup. Or the dry Midnight Run, with Japanese whisky, Lacuesta vermut, amaro and apricot. There are also numerous floral numbers like the Disco Punch, which is a happy mix of pisco, rhum agricole, guava, lemongrass and soda water.
Whether you’re on the hunt for yummy experimental food or coming in for good cocktails, Palmetto has it all and does everything with style too. Pretty on the outside with the gastronomic chops to back it up, come see why Palmetto is trendiest restaurant in Uptown Oakland.
Belotti Ristorante E Bottega
5403 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618, United States
Belotti is synonymous with the only stop for authentic fresh pasta in Oakland. This mighty little trattoria in Rockridge opened in 2016, then was named as one of the “Top Italian Restaurants of the World” by Gambero Rosso in 2017 and has been an East Bay institution ever since.
Belotti may be an award-winning Italian restaurant, but it maintains the vibe of a homey local eatery, and a very low-key East Bay one at that. The intimate, no-frills restaurant buzzes with patrons, who are clearly very frequent regulars, chatting it up with gregarious staff members and bonding with other diners about the deliciousness of the pasta. Everybody on Bellotti’s team, especially the lovely Davide from Venice, is congenial and outgoing, and takes care of everyone in the restaurant like family.
The pasta truly lives up to the hype and will easily be the most delicious fresh pasta most Americans will get to try. Belotti’s most popular pasta dish is the Agnolotti, which are beautifully folded, fluffy little pillows stuffed with beef shank, flat iron, pork loin, sausage and escarole that float in a velvety beef reduction. The Casconcelli is also a star, which is another stuffed pasta (shaped like a shoe according to Davide), with flavorful pork shoulder, prosciutto and smoked pancetta tossed in rich sage butter. The consistency of Belotti’s pasta has the perfect fluffiness to bite into and you’ll want to chew on the soft yet al dente texture all day every day.
Other star dishes include the Lattuga salad, which is a gorgeous layering of living baby lettuce that covers an entire plate with a heavy sprinkling of gGrana Padano, pine nuts, plus the lightest touch of lemon dressing. We also loved the Bigoli al Sugo d’Anatra, aka thick chewy pasta noodles with uber-tender duck and its meaty juices sprinked with orange zest. Every bite is a chewy, meaty fever dream.
We’re definitely not the first, nor the last, to preach the gospel of Belotti’s pasta. But seriously, anyone who loves and happens to be in East Bay needs to pop into Belotti to worship at the plate of the best fresh pasta in the Bay Area.
362 17th St, Oakland, CA 94612, United States
Aburaya’s Japanese fried chicken started as a pop-up out of a sandwich shop on 15th street called Garden House. The sandwich shop was only open during the day so Aburaya’s creator, Adachi, would sling his Japanese fried chicken from the shop at night. Aburaya’s chicken was so wildly popular, that eventually the pop-up caved into pressure to open its own brick-and-mortar in 2016.
Aburaya’s brick-and-mortar restaurant on 17th and Webster takes after its cool, punk-rock owner, Adachi: the space is unpretentious and low-key, while decorated with Aburaya’s rock-n-roll merch, punk stickers and the brand’s take-home condiments. Lunch service takes place at the tables in front of the counter. For dinnertime there’s more room in the connecting dining area where a few picnic tables are placed and you can order Aburaya’s own IPA or wine or sake.
Now, everybody is obviously there for the chicken—and Aburaya’s famous Japanese fried chicken does not disappoint. The chicken is fried karaage-style with no breading nor milk nor flour; just potato starch, which is what makes the fried chicken softer and gluten-free. The most popular dish at Aburaya is the signature four-piece chicken bowl with garlic miso, which is the most popular marinade (although the sweet and savory teriyaki is also very good). Having grown up in Hawaii, I personally greatly appreciate the Loco Moco with ground chicken and a light, teriyaki gravy on rice with a poached egg on top. You can order the chicken in various forms like in a Sando, Burrito or Oyakodon with your choice from many homemade gluten-free seasonings like habanero miso, karashi honey and shichimi (a blend of spicy chili pepper, nori and orange zest.)
What’s fantastic about Aburaya is that the restaurant puts just as much work into the vegetable sides and each dish comes with a generous side of fresh greens to offset the chicken. Trying the wasabi slaw is a must as well as the special Japanese potato salad with crunchy cucumbers, wasabi and Japanese honey mustard. The fried edamame with butter and garlic miso is an ultimate crowdpleaser as well. Most ingredients are local with rotating seasonal veggie dishes.
Aburaya is often on the lips of Oakland’s local foodies, and we’re here to tell you that the hype over Adachi’s Japanese fried chicken is real. Check out Oakland’s favorite fried chicken and yummy veggies at Aburaya whenever you can!
4316 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609, United States
Daytrip opened in October 2021 and quickly catapulted into one of the city’s most popular natural wine bistro with a fermentation-focused menu. Hospitality newbies, Finn and Stella, finally went through with their dreams of opening a restaurant and set up shop in trendy Temescal on Telegraph Avenue. Finn mans the kitchen which constantly experiments and creates new fermentation-centric dishes each week. And people are loving Daytrip’s experimental menu and happy, laidback vibe, as you’ll see a line forming outside the door as soon as it opens, regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday night.
The trippiest yet amazing dish which will blow your mind is the halibut crudo with pop rocks. In a stroke of mad genius, Daytrip has figured out that what we need to top off fresh local halibut crudo cured with beets and burnt orange peel are candy pop rocks that explode on your tongue as you take in the tangy sweet flavor of the sauce. It’s truly a culinary trip which you will want to take again and again. The gorgeous miso butter pasta is another must-try, with fresh chewy (or toothy, as co-owner, Stella, likes to call it) pasta tossed in rich, salty savory morel miso butter topped with kelp pearls.
There’s quite a bit of science that goes into each dish. Like the Nixtamalized Yams and Maitake mushrooms: calcium hydroxide forms a heat stable gel which allows the yams to be cooked in butter for four hours without burning or losing its form. Then, those rich, almost-gelatinous yams are served on a bed of goat cheese cream and basil oil.
The Foraged Mushroom and Sesame Egg Tart made with locally grown cul-de-sac mushrooms is reminiscent of earthy traditional Chinese flavors from the egg custard made with green garlic, peanuts, porcini broth and chili puree. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Asparagus and Dungeness crab with the light but flavorful beurre blanc with lime juice, zest, essential oils and a homemade red curry sauce.