Monday, February 17, 2020

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Oakland

Back in February 2015, I debuted my "Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles" list, recognizing some of most amazing places in the city, in honor of Black History Month.

And now that I’m officially calling the Bay Area home, it only made sense to create a brand spanking new list that celebrates some of the best black-owned gems, right here in Oakland.

While not exhaustive by any means (hey, I’ve only lived here 12 months — I have lots more exploring to do!), I think the following 10 places, presented in alphabetical order, represent the diverse, beautiful face of the African Diaspora, all providing one-of-a-kind experiences and quality cuisine and cocktails.

You’ve got Jamaican fare, a bit of Nigerian flavor, casual and upscale soul food…bar bites and BBQ…and a fabulous coffee shop serving up my fave, a candied yam latte.

So read on and don’t forget to drop your top choices of black-owned Oakland places in the comments section below, too.

Here's to celebrating amazing foods from the Black Diaspora in all of Cali, all year long!


Brenda’s Oakland – Brenda’s Oakland is bringing a taste of New Orleans to Temescal, with treats like hot beignets, po’ boys and gumbo. I’m very particular about my gumbo, and I’ll confidently say that Brenda put her foot in this pot. The fried chicken is also pretty incredible, with a delightful seasoned crunch and tender meat. This fast casual spot keeps it simple; order at a counter, get seated by staff and then wait for your order to arrive.
Tip: Ordering the sweet watermelon tea is an absolute must!

Brown Sugar Kitchen – Located on Broadway Ave. in Oakland’s bustling Uptown neighborhood, Brown Sugar Kitchen serves up soul-filling “new style down home” dishes like BBQ Shrimp, Gumbo, Cast-iron Skillet Cornbread and my absolute favorite, Beignets. Originally calling West Oakland home, Brown Sugar Kitchen relocated to this bigger, snazzier and tasteful space just over a year ago. Chef/Owner Tanya Holland, who you’ll often find walking around and greeting guests, shared that it’s been her dream for more than 15 years to finally be in the space she’s in now. So happy it finally came true for her!
Tip: Brown Sugar Kitchen currently doesn't take reservations currently, so get ready to wait, wait and wait for weekend brunch, unless you go super early or during the week. 

Eko Kitchen (San Francisco) – So Eko Kitchen *technically* isn’t in Oakland — it’s in San Francisco’s SOMA district — but still gets an honorable mention. First opening its doors in 2019, this modest one-roomed restaurant whips up Nigerian cuisine, all to the backdrop of Afrobeats. Dinner service runs Friday,  Saturday and Sunday, and you can also sign up for wonderful two-hour cooking lessons through AirBnB Experiences.
Tip: Eko Kitchen’s schedule can change frequently; check out its Instagram to find out the most up-to-date happenings.

Everett and Jones – Since the ‘70s, Everett and Jones has been dishing out BBQ to the masses. Smoked meats come slathered in Everett and Jones’ famous barbeque sauce, and can be accompanied by sides like candied yams, cornbread and Mom’s collard greens. The best entrée to order for groups, IMHO, is the Four-Way Combination Plate. It gives you two side choices and ribs, chicken, brisket and links. While advertised for two people, it can easily fill up four people. Everett and Jones has a Jack London Square address, with five additional locations throughout the Bay Area.
Tip: On select nights, stick around to hear live music including the blues and jazz at the adjacent Dotha’s Juke Joint.

Home of Chicken & Waffles – Even though it opened in 2004, Home of Chicken & Waffles in Jack London Square pays homage to the past, thanks to a brightly retro interior bathed in pastel yellows and blues, and mid-century modern lighting fixtures. This casual dining establishment's menu pairs fried chicken in every imaginable way possible — with waffles (original and buckwheat), eggs, smothered potatoes, potato salad and two of my top choices, collard greens and candied yams. There’s also a full bar, where mimosas are literally made with like 99% champagne and 1% juice (with options including OJ and pineapple). Historic fun fact: Home of Chicken & Waffles initially got its start as a franchise of the OG chicken & waffles joint, L.A.’s Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles.
Tip: If the wait seems to be long for a table, opt to sit at the bar; it’s first come, first served.

Kingston 11 – What initially started as a pop-up in Berkeley is now a cornerstone on Uptown’s Telegraph Ave. Marked by a colossal Jamaican flag on the exterior, Kingston 11 offers Jamaican cuisine, all within the colorful backdrop of painted murals and massive vibrant photos. Here you’ll find staples like jerk chicken, oxtail stew and of course, patties. Plus, Kingston has quite a collection of tropical cocktails — like rum punch and Cuba libres — to pick and choose. The restaurant is ran by owner/chef Nigel Jones and his partner Adrian Henderson.
Tip: Head over on Wednesdays and Thursdays when there’s live bands or on Fridays, when there’s a DJ on the 1s and 2s.

Oakland’s Very OwnOakland’s Very Own, affectionately coined “OVO,” is a no frills restaurant / lounge in North Oakland with a laid-back vibe and some of the most unique, brilliantly colorful cocktails I’ve ever seen. Gummy worms, dried ice and fresh fruit are all fair game when it comes to the garnishes that adorn libations. And while I haven’t eaten here, the food menu looks to be as creative as the drinks, with options like the Henny wings special, “Asian style” garlic noodles and various prawn / fried fish / veggies plates. Rounding out what OVO has to offer, there are DJs spinning the latest and greatest R&B / hip-hop, and also complimentary games to borrow, including a larger-than-life Jenga set and playing cards.
Tip: Don’t forget to check out the outdoor patio in the back!

Oeste Bar & Restaurant – Launched by three women entrepreneurs, Oeste Bar & Restaurant is a two-story destination in the heart of Old Oakland. It’s got all the right ingredients to make for a must-visit lounge: a competitive happy hour menu, a swanky décor that includes exposed bricks and sultry lighting, a lovely rooftop patio and a DJ playing a mix of R&B / hip-hop / rap classics. It’s often packed to the brim on weekend nights, with hundreds of well-dressed patrons in their 20s, 30s and 40s filling every nook and cranny possible.
Tip: Right next door is Oeste Café, serving up coffee and pastries, Tuesdays through Sundays in the mornings and early afternoons.

Red Bay Coffee Public Roastery, Coffee Bar & Garden – The Red Bay Coffee flagship in Fruitvale is much more than a coffee shop. It’s a gathering space for not-to-be-missed events like Jidenna’s listening party, and an oasis amongst coffee machinery and burlap sacks to simply plug away on work for a few hours on the weekend. In addition to having Afro-centric merchandise and décor (think shirts that say “Coffee: Africa’s gift to the world” and a gigantic living plant on the wall that’s shaped like Africa), Red Bay has your given coffee standards — like lattes, espressos and more. It also features seasonal beverages, like one of my all-time faves, the candied yam latte.
Tip: Can’t make it to the Fruitvale flagship? Red Bay also has to-go stand in Uptown, off Broadway Ave. and Grand Ave.

Smokin Woods – At Smokin Woods, you’ll find well seasoned, falling-off-the-bone BBQ that’s perfectly complemented by sides like potato salad, sweet BBQ baked beans and collard greens (with pork). Nestled in between a handful of other restaurants on Temescal’s main culinary hub, Temescal Ave., Smokin Woods tastefully blends a fast casual dining concept with laidback bar vibes, all under the backdrop of rich, earthy wooden fixtures. Order at a counter outside before entering to pick your seat anywhere to your liking and then wait for your food to arrive. The bar makes very stiff drinks and also streams sporting events, like basketball and football games.
Tip: While the meat comes “dry,” Smokin Woods also has its very own delicious BBQ sauces to sample in two flavors: Original and Sweet Heat.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Where to Eat: Celebrating Oakland Restaurant Week @ Bird & Buffalo

The Eats: Casual Thai cuisine including favorites like Grilled Spicy Lao Pork Sausage, Larb, Papaya Salad and Mango & Sticky Rice

The Location: Temescal (Oakland)

The Vibes: Down-to-earth, casual

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), the kiddies

When-To-Go: C
losed Mondays; Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. // 5 – 10 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Snacks, $7.95; Entrees, $8.95 - $14.95; Sides, $2.50 - $4.95

The 4-1-1: No hard liquor, but wine and beers are available, along with specialty coffees, teas and even whole coconuts

Parking Situation: Street parking and a small adjacent parking lot

I’ll Be Back…: For the Mango & Sticky Rice!

As a huge fan of Los Angeles’ own dineL.A. Restaurant Week, I was excited to find out that The Town has its very own restaurant week, too. Duly named Oakland Restaurant Week, it recently commemorated a 10-year anniversary and held annual festivities over the course of 12 days earlier this month. Participating places offer pre-fixe menus at set prices and there was also a handful of events, including a chef dinner series, a scavenger hunt and more.

While more than 100 restaurants participated, I only had a chance to visit one this time around: Bird & Buffalo. Located on the bustling Telegraph Ave. in Temescal, this no-frills but homely eatery specializes in “rustic” Thai food. That includes grilled meats, larbs (a.k.a. meat salads), bowls and snacks like skewers and veggie rolls.

Specifically for Oakland Restaurant Week, Bird & Buffalo featured a $20 three-course “Thai Soul Food Tray.” Guests had the option to pick and choose items from three categories: Snack, Salad and Grill. The presentation of the entire dinner was super cute — with everything literally all on a tray.

From the four Snack options — fried mushrooms, garlic green beans, spicy Lao pork sausage and grilled chicken hearts — I opted for the green beans. They were well cooked and quite flavorful.

There were two Salad choices — larb with tofu and oyster mushrooms, or a green papaya salad, served either Thai or Lao style. I got the Thai salad while my friend got the Lao salad, which is similar to the Thai style, but with additional salted crab & fish paste. I thoroughly enjoyed my salad, which had a delightfully sweet and tangy zest to it, but we both agreed the Lao, which was more on the savory side, wasn’t our favorite for the night.

Finally, you could choose either grilled ½ gai yang BBQ chicken, pork ribs or lamb chops. I selected the BBQ chicken, and I was surprised at how much food it was. It came with wings, legs, thighs, breast and a few other pieces. The chicken itself was rather plump and juicy, with the skin perfectly charred on the outside.

Although it wasn’t an Oakland Restaurant Week option, ordering the Mango & Sticky Rice (pictured below) was an absolute must, and I’m so glad I did. Sweet slices of ripe mango sat on top of piping hot white rice oozing with coconut milk. I was tempted to order another one to go. 

And while it’s “casual,” that doesn’t mean the restaurant has skimped out on charm or character. The narrow, one-room eatery is packed to the brim with eclectic potted plants and nostalgic Thai knick-knacks and style, including vintage movies posters, hot sauces and canned foods. It feels so down-to-earth and inviting! 

Fortunately, you can visit Bird & Buffalo any time and not just for Oakland Restaurant Week.

So the next time you’re in the mood for tasty Thai food in a laid-back setting, I recommend heading here.

See you there soon!

For more information: 


Monday, January 13, 2020

Where to Eat: My Very First Time at Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto @ Corso (Berkeley)

The Eats: Corso has Italian fare with Tuscan roots and a modern flare, featuring house-made pastas, house-cured salumi and nightly butcher's specials

The Location: Berkeley

The Vibes: Homely, intimate, inviting

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

Opens daily at 5 p.m.; closes at 9 p.m., Sunday – Thursday, and at 10 p.m., Friday & Saturday

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $6 - $20; Entrees, $20+; Cocktails & Wine, $4.50+

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef/Owner Wendy Brucker and Wine Director/Owner Roscoe Skipper

The 4-1-1: Corso’s menu changes approximately every three weeks, with only the "classics" consistently remaining

Parking Situation: Metered and free street parking; also a couple of blocks north of the BART Downtown Berkeley Station

I’ll Be Back…: For the Tagliatte lamb & pork pasta!

As a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s been on my bucket list to visit Berkeley’s legendary Gourmet Ghetto every since I moved to the Bay.

Known as the alleged birthplace of California cuisine, the Gourmet Ghetto first made a name for itself in the 1960s and continued to grow in popularity, thanks to household names like Peet’s and Chez Panisse. Now, nearly five decades later, it’s still running strong, with a dozen or so restaurants huddled on or around the main Shattuck Ave. drag. They’re offering everything from Nepalese to French and Italian cuisines.

Bae and I were craving Italian one chilly Saturday evening, so after what felt like an eternity of debating which one of the Gourmet Ghetto Italian restaurants to stop by,  we settled on Corso. And I'm so glad that ended up being our choice!

The modest two-room space was packed to the brim, but luck found us a seat at the bar that overlooks the open kitchen. Warm subtle lighting and a casual ambiance made it feel so warm and toasty and homely inside. Soaring ceilings and dark wooden fixtures added a bit character, too.

We started off with the Olive Marinate (pictured below), one of the eleven different Antipasti selections. Olives come slathered in garlic, chile, lemon and other herbs. They’re a mix of colors and sizes. I was expecting something completely different — something more like a spread (my fault for not checking with the waiter!) — but was pleasantly surprised at how much flavor they had.

We then opted for the Tagliatte pasta, pictured below. A thick, hearty lamb and pork tomato sauce covers delicious house-made pasta. The essence of red wine and other herbs enhances the sauce nicely. This was so, so filling and tasty.

As an entrée, we selected the Spada, pictured below. Grilled swordfish is topped with a medley of olives, capers and fresh herbs. Surrounding it is almost what could be considered a stew of fava beans, tomatoes, garlic, carrots and other veggies. The swordfish was tender and you could subtly taste its grilled aroma. It went so well with the fava bean concoction, too.

While we saved absolutely no room for dessert, that didn’t stop us from taking home the flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and caramel and chocolate sauces. And let me tell you about this cake. It’s beyond belief how decadent it is! I could only handle a few bites at a time, but it would be every chocoholic’s dream dessert.

No libations for us this time, but there’s a wine list and I peeped quite a few patrons with some sort of cocktail in their hands.

All in all, Corso hit the spot for satisfying Italian cuisine in a no-frills ambiance. Plus, the service was noteworthy; our server had a polite, reserved disposition and one of the chefs right behind the bar frequently checked in with us to see how we were enjoying each dish. I’ll definitely be back to try out some of Corso's other classics, such as the Branzino.

What about you? Have you already visited Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto? If so, drop your favorite restaurant in the comments section below and see you there soon!

For more information: