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    Favorite Oakland Restaurants

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    It’s that time of year again. Oakland is celebrating all things restaurant-wise with its annual Oakland Restaurant Week (March 16–26). From food trucks to neighborhood joints to Michelin-star destinations, Oakland has it all. In advance of the week-long promotion (where you can get real deals for both lunch and dinner), I asked a few of my pals for their favorite eateries in Oakland and the East Bay. Here are the results:

    Brenda Way, ODC Artistic Director: Most of my favorites have closed, but Chez Panisse downstairs (in Berkeley, not Oakland!) remains my all-time fave. I also recommend The Wolf (used to be Beowulf) on Piedmont Avenue, Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery (Thai) on College Avenue, and Belotti Ristorante e Bottega (Italian, two locations).

    Michael Williams, producer of Live at the Orinda: I went to Z Café & Bar (American) on Broadway a few months ago; it was really good. Great food, over 100 vodkas, and it seemed to have a gay-friendly vibe (there happened to be several other gay people there, but it could’ve been that they were there for the same reason we were—dinner before seeing Stephanie Mills and Patti LaBelle down the street at the Paramount!); Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine, the food is AMAZING! Absolutely love it; Yoshi’s, every time I see a show there, their Japanese cuisine has always been consistently good, along with great service; and SIDEBAR (New American) on Lake Merritt is also worthy.

    Ash Walker, Pacific Edge Voices Artistic Director: OakCali Cafe near Lake Merritt: amazing Ethiopian food, including breakfast, and other dishes. Great prices and the staff are so friendly! 

    Leah Garchik, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist: I have a fondness for Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café (a retro American diner), but it is actually in Emeryville. The food is good, but it is right near the cheapie places for art supplies and dog food, making it an A-1 destination for me!

    Mark Streshinsky, West Edge Opera General Director: My favorite is Viridian. It’s bar-focused, but with absolutely stunning pan-Asian small plates. Kevin Tang is the executive chef. In February they did a month-long Chinese New Year celebration they called “Red Envelope” (full disclosure, my partner was on the team for three years (he’s now at PCH in the city). My other fave is Agave Uptown (Oaxacan Mexican).

    Go-to restaurant publicist and taste connoisseur Andrew Freeman recommends: newly-opened Colombian spot Parche; Israeli-inspired Pomella, run by female chef Mica Talmor; Mama Oakland, an affordable Italian gem; just-opened French mainstay Left Bank at Jack London Square; natural wine (plus food) bar Snail Bar; and Cal-Med ACRE Kitchen & Bar in Rockridge Market Hall.

    Fellow San Francisco Bay Times columnist Liam Mayclem:
    If you love BBQ, you will fall deeply in love with the Texas-style BBQ at this spot in Oakland: HORN BBQ. At the helm is Matt Horn, one of Oakland’s best chefs, recognized in 2022 by James Beard Foundation for the impressive mark he is making around BBQ. Chef Horn is a wickedly driven chef who cooks with heart, passion, and with those who came before him in mind. Order the brisket but be sure to also add sides: mac & cheese and pit beans. Dine out or order to go via delivery apps. Also, Crumble & Whisk: this new kid on the block on MacArthur in Oakland has a naughty little secret—herein lie the most scrumptious cheesecakes on the planet. The creamy, fruity, sweet, and crusty cheesecakes are made with love by chef Charles Farriér. The flavors vary: beet & berry, puckered up lemon, pumpkin, vegan, and many more. Order online and pick up from the store or select home delivery. The chicken pot pie is a thing of delicious decadence! 

    Diana Haven, East Bay foodie maven: LGBTQ+-owned, Spanish-Mediterranean Shakewell; seasonally-focused Bardo Lounge & Supper Club in the Grand Lake district; and Ramen Shop (started by three Chez Panisse alumni).

    Dirk Tolsma, ACRE Kitchen & Bar: I have to stick close to home with Bombera. Great cocktails and food that I can eat any day of the week. The vibe and dishes are light and fresh; it works in so many ways.

    Nelson German, Sobre Mesa/alaMar Kitchen & Bar: I love to dine at Parche, the new Colombian restaurant on Broadway. Their take on Colombian cuisine is brilliant, the vibe is spot on, and Paul and Sophie welcome everyone like you’re in their living room.

    Chris Ahr, Left Bank Brasserie, Oakland: Hancook (Korean fusion)—because it’s never too late at night for hot pot!

    Mica Talmor, Pomella: There are so many places in Oakland that I like to eat at, and many where I like to take out. Two dine-in experiences I absolutely love are (restaurant and bottle shop) Day Trip and (Colombian restaurant) Mägo. Day Trip is always a party, and the team is incredibly talented and imaginative. Mägo is absolutely the best prix-fixe in Oakland. You feel relaxed and [experience] just the right amount of pampering. The menu is always good and always creative.

    My fab Jewish Community Center trainer, Ian Rooney: Pintoh Thai near downtown. It’s affordable and their khao soi is incredible!

    Derreck B. Johnson, Home of Chicken and Waffles: I choose Everett and Jones because I love BBQ and (founder) Dorothy (King) was a mentor and community activist. She hired from Oakland—I learned from the best!

    Peter Gamez, Visit Oakland: Oakland Restaurant Week is about celebrating our diverse collection of restaurants and the talented chefs that give our culinary scene such vibrancy. With nearly 100 restaurants participating including food trucks, family-owned eateries, Michelin and James Beard recognized establishments—it’s a great opportunity to come to Oakland and stay for a day or two. There is so much to see and do in Oakland and we look forward to welcoming everyone to The Town.

    And the Gay Gourmet’s personal favorites? Top Chef Nelson German’s Afro-Latino Sobre Mesa on Franklin Street in Oakland; and, of course (but in nearby Berkeley), Alice Waters’ acclaimed temple of California cuisine, Chez Panisse.

    Bits and Bites

    I just had the pleasure of revisiting Chef Jason Fox’s recently post-pandemic re-opened Villon Restaurant at the San Francisco Proper Hotel on Market Street. It’s magical. The Kelly Wearstler interiors are a breath of fresh air, with delightful pops of aquamarine blue that help brighten a challenging part of Market Street. The house-made Parker rolls are a play on the traditional starter: homey yet surprising, with seaweed butter. Our large party then split the Proper Salad prepared tableside (just like the old days)—but not like the old days, with gem lettuces, smoked mushrooms, beets, garlic, and miso dressing. For our entrées, we shared a satisfying (and deliciously moist) roasted chicken with mushroom, truffle, bacon, and red wine jus. Finally, we sampled the redwood-grilled lamb shoulder with smoked polenta, onion gratin, and spring greens. Villon has a creative cocktail program and an out-of-the ordinary wine selection to boot. I’d also like to say “Bravo” to our servers, who graciously accommodated a late-arriving surprise dinner attendee to our large party. It’s also a convenient pre-theatre choice as well. Mark this yummy eatery as a “go-to” destination.

    Did you know that nearly 100% of all fresh American artichokes are grown in California, and mostly in Castroville? To celebrate, Castroville’s 63rd annual Artichoke Festival will take place June 10–11 and this year’s fete will include stints by two talented star chefs: Chef Brandon Miller from Paella LLC and Chef Kevin Fisher from Sea Root at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa. Both will be participating in the popular chef demos on the main stage, with more chefs to be announced soon.

    Another trivia challenge: guess which property was the first InterContinental hotel in North America? Yup, it’s San Francisco’s own InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco. In March 1973, the Mark Hopkins hotel signed a long-term management contract with Inter-Continental Hotels and it became The Mark Hopkins – An Inter-Continental Hotel (the earlier version of the brand included a hyphen). That means the historic hotel atop Nob Hill is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Well worth another trip to the Top of the Mark, and not just for the views (for great bites and cocktails, too)!

    Here’s an interesting new twist on an old product: KickBallz caffeinated chewing gum. The gum offers the convenience of a gum that you can carry anywhere, with a shot of caffeine to help you through those afternoon doldrums (and it freshens your breath). The creators claim it gives you that hit faster than coffee. Plus, it comes in a variety of flavors, including: peppermint, cinnamon, and bubble gum.

    Oakland Restaurant Week:
    Chez Panisse:
    The Wolf:
    Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery:
    Belotti Ristorante e Bottega:
    Z Café & Bar:
    Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine:
    OakCali Café:
    Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café:
    Agave Uptown:
    Mama Oakland:
    Left Bank at Jack London Square:
    Snail Bar:
    Acre Kitchen & Bar:
    Bardo Lounge & Supper Club:
    Ramen Shop:
    Sobre Mesa:
    Villon Restaurant at the San Francisco Proper Hotel:
    Castroville Artichoke Festival:
    KickBallz caffeinated chewing gum:
    Day Trip:
    Pintoh Thai:
    Horn Barbecue:
    Crumble & Whisk:
    Everett & Jones:
    InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco Hotel:

    Home of Chicken & Waffles:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on March 9, 2023