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5 cool places to hang out in Oakland


The tourists go to San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Some even venture into Berkeley. No one comes to poor old Oakland, but they should. We have a beautiful city with the best climate of any major U.S. city (from a Rand McNally survey), and despite the crime statistics, most sections of the city are perfectly safe.

I’ve lived here for 20 years now. Here are 5 cool places I go to and if you’re ever here, you should too.

Nan Yang: The best Burmese restaurant in Northern California, maybe in the whole state. I first discovered this gem when I moved here. It was then located in a little storefront in Oakland’s Chinatown. I quickly became an addict, in particular for the ginger salad, eight treasure bean curd, and (believe it or not), the chicken noodle soup, made not with matzah balls but coconut milk and ginger. Nan Yang is now located in the fashionable Rock Ridge District, not far from U.C. Berkeley, but the food is as good as ever, and founder Philip Chu still presides over the kitchen. (No web site)

Oliveto Cafe and Restaurant: For years it’s been considered one of the top Italian places in the Bay Area, with homemade pastas and salumi. Even though longtime chef Paul Bertolli left a few years ago, his replacement, CIA grad Paul Canales, hasn’t missed a beat. Oliveto’s upstairs dining room, with its views of bustling College Avenue, is where I always meet visiting winemakers when we’re having lunch and tasting. The waiters set us up with big crystal glasses, we take a table in the corner, and no matter what we’re drinking, Oliveto’s food seems to adapt to it. Or the other way around.

Paul Marcus Wines: Just downstairs from Oliveto, in the Market Hall (a collection of little food stores), is this smallish but interesting wine shop, which has been there at least since I can remember. Seldom does a week go by than I don’t stop by for something. They offer a range of small producers from France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, California and other countries, and the staff is knowledgeable and happy to chat. They don’t have a tasting bar, but are starting to have special wine and food pairing events.

Bay Wolf: Well, I don’t exactly hang out at Bay Wolf. It’s too expensive. But I do like to eat there once or twice a year and I have for the last 20 years. Other restaurants come and go; Bay Wolf remains. Founded 30 years ago by chef Michael Wild, Bay Wolf was part of the East Bay culinary scene that also gave rise to Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Wolf’s idol was Elizabeth David, and the kitchen still sticks to the ideals of seasonally fresh, local ingredients and simple preparation. Bay Wolf also has an amazing wine list, and on any given night, you might run into a famous winemaker.

Vine: One of the neatest phenomena about Oakland is the proliferation of wine bars that’s sprouted up in the last year or so. Who woulda thunk, wine bars in Oakland!! Yet they’re all over the place, and apparently doing well. My favorite is right in my neighborhood. Vine is the town’s hottest wine bar. They use those nitrogen machines to offer dozens of mainly small (500 cases or less) production wines by the glass, or you can buy a “tasting ticket” for $20 minimum. The space is a refurbished old building, with brick walls and loft-high ceilings, and owner Chris Williams is expanding upstairs and outside for summer grilling and barbecuing. The crowd is young, hip and very Oaktownish. They have live music.

  1. I love Oliveto! Breakfast pizzas

    What about A Cote? My absolute favorite place to go for interesting & well-priced wines.

  2. I love A Cote also. Could have mentioned them but wanted to keep the list short.

  3. Erwin Dink says:

    I hit two of those spots on my last trip to the Bay Area. I also had some great Israeli wine at Cafe Lyon near the Rockridge Bart station. I usually spend a little more time in Oakland than SF or wine country on my visits.

  4. I don’t know Cafe Lyon, Erwin, but I’ll look for it. Thanks.

  5. Erwin Dink says:

    One thing Cafe Lyon is known for is that they have a live feed from Bart so patrons can time their exit from the cafe with their arriving train. It’s a tiny little place on the corner of Miles and College Avenues.

    I guess I should mention that they are also the only place I’ve ever heard of that brews kambucha on the premises — not that I drink the stuff.

  6. Hello Steve,
    Thank you for your post. I agree with you that Oakland is too often pass by. I really enjoyed your description of all those places. At Fox Rent A Car Blog, we wrote a similar post, on the Night life in Oakland. We try to give the inside scoop, and off the beaten path advice on things to do in different cities to help travelers plan their trip and enjoy the city to the fullest.
    Thanks again for sharing.

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