The city of Oakland has been, for a while now, my preferred destination for a ‘night out’ with friends. Perhaps it’s got to do with the fact that some of my favorite people live (or have lived) there, but I know that the smaller crowds, ease of parking and competitively-priced restaurants (compared with a night out in San Francisco) more than compensate for its distance from where we live in Silicon Valley. I’ve pretty much spent the past two years making frequent, 50-minute drives up to “the East Bay”, and though tedious, each trip has always proven worthwhile, both for the people and for the culinary delights that await. While San Francisco is a stalwart in the mainstream food world, Oakland’s been hard at work birthing its own food culture, one that’s as varied, independent and exciting as anything you can find in its more famous neighbor. And it’s starting to show, with the city’s culinary scene making the New York Times’ list of the Top 45 Places To Go in 2012.
Despite the accolades, Oakland’s still a pretty big city to navigate, and can prove daunting if you’re not familiar with it. This is when walking tours come in handy, and Edible Excursions, which currently offers a host of food walks around different neighborhoods in San Francisco and Berkeley, launched their first Oakland tour this past Sunday in the city’s Temescal’s neighborhood. I got a chance to preview the new itinerary a few weeks ago at a media event, and you can bet that I’ll be recommending this to out-of-town guests the next time they visit. Here’s why.
1. Starter Bakery’s Kouign Amann
The tour begins at the Temescal Farmers’ Market where you’ll stop at the Starter Bakery stand for a taste of the Pastry That Launched A Business and Food Craze: the Kouign Amann. If you’ve noticed increased mentions of this unpronounceable pastry in the past year or so and were wondering why, here’s your answer. This is the man (and the pastry) that launched it all, in the form of a flaky, salted butter-sugar bomb of satiety. Although delicious, it’s a pity that this stand comes so early on in the tour because it takes you on such a ride of flavor that everything else just pales in comparison. I highly recommend practicing some self-control here and saving the Kouign Amann for a post-tour dessert.
2. Cholita Linda’s Fish Tacos
The other market stop is for piping hot, crispy and addictive Baja-style fish tacos at the Cholita Linda stand run by entrepreneur Vanessa Chavez. After building up her business for the past four years at different markets in the area, 2013 will see Cholita Linda establish a permanent presence right in the heart of Temescal, on Telegraph Avenue, across the street from neighborhood stalwarts like Bakesale Betty and Pizzaiolo.
The newest addition to Temescal (they opened March 1), run by former Top Chef contestant Preeti Mistry, this vividly furnished nook at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 51st street offers a modest menu of Indian street food served with a side of bright pink walls, pastel-hued wallpaper and savory lassi. The Vada Pavs (pictured) were generous potato puff sliders topped with pickled red onions and ghost pepper chutney which were delicious, if a little bulky. I can’t wait to return for their “Bizarre Love Triangle Samosas” (served with Tamarind-date and Cilantro chutneys), Garam Masala Chickpea curry and Masala fries with Tamarind ketchup.
4. Doughnut Dolly and Sightglass Coffee
At 49th Street, just a few feet away from the bustle of Telegraph Avenue are two small alleys featuring renovated horsestables now home to an assortment of local businesses, from a barber shop to a bespoke jewelry store. Take the first left onto Alley 49 for Doughnut Dolly, a pop-up turned Kickstarter success turned food destination which sells out by 3pm everyday. The doughnuts are made in a commercial kitchen offsite and customers can choose from a selection of fillings like raspberry jam and salted Mexican chocolate upon purchase. When done with your doughnut, head to Temescal Alley next door to wash it down with a refreshing glass of iced Sightglass coffee at CRO cafe (another tour stop). How about that for an afternoon pick me up?
5. Banchan at Sura Korean Cuisine
Asian restaurants often get a bad rep for loading up on the preservatives and the dyes to impress the palate so as to keep hungry teenagers and all-night programmers coming back for more at a really cheap price. Not here. The heady assortment of Banchan dishes (kimchee, glass noodles, lightly pickled cucumbers and more) are all prepared from scratch using natural ingredients and dyes, providing the perfect side to comforting bowls of their tofu hot pot.
Since our preview tour Scream Sorbet (one of the original stops) has confirmed its closure, while the organizers have added a stop at Abesha, an Ethiopian restaurant popular with local Ethiopian and Eritrean residents. At Abesha you can expect to get a taste of injera (Ethiopian bread) and five to seven different kinds of vegetarian stew featuring lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, cabbage, and collard greens. This, along with Sura, represent some of the key elements of the area’s food culture, which are vastly different in atmosphere and cuisine to anything else on the tour.
What: Edible Excursions‘ newest walking tour in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood for groups of up to 14 participants. A three-hour sampler of different food businesses all located within a 5-minute walk of each other. Taste, savor, walk, repeat. For availability and bookings, check their calendar.
When: Sundays from 11 am to 2pm.
Cost: $75 per person.
Good for: Entertaining out-of-town guests, small-group reunions, birthday/anniversary gifts, food-lovers.
Prepare: Ample street parking available along Claremont Avenue, close to the Farmers’ Market. Eat a light breakfast (if at all) and wear comfortable shoes.