Everywhere Worth Going To in Uptown Oakland
By the time you finish reading this, 735 quagillion awesome new spots will have opened in Uptown Oakland -- the neighborhood is that hot-hot-hot-fire right now, thanks to a restored and big-name-band-attracting Fox Theater and a historical Sears building that's being transformed into a tech and retail hub dubbed “Uptown Station." With so much going on there, it seemed like as good a time as any for a primer on all of Uptown Oakland's food/drink/fun awesome.
Food isn’t always sexy (despite what some food writers may say), but hot damn if Duende isn’t serving up sex on a platter. A paella platter, to be exact. The authentic Spanish flavors in this traditional dish get downright aphrodisiacal when you pair it with a Sherry flight, and if you’re lucky, a flamenco show in the event space upstairs. Olé, indeed.
When it comes to wetting your whistle, there’s literally something for everyone in Uptown. Dive bar? Check. Gay bar? Check. Hipster gastropub? Check, check, check. Cozy hunting-lodge-meets-art-deco-cocktail-lounge? Welcome to Fauna. Order the Ginger Rogers, a saucy mix of rum, lime, maple, and ginger with a rinse of mezcal and a sprinkle of cinnamon to finish it off. Of course, no trip to Fauna is complete without ordering the caramel pudding, so make sure you complete it.
The perfect pre-show dinner if you’re short on time and cash, Belly Uptown serves street tacos with a twist -- that twist being ingredients that you never thought of putting in a taco before, like kimchi, French fries, peanuts (not all together, of course, that’d just be anarchy). The steak & eggs taco is the stand-out on the menu: marinated steak, fries, aioli, and a perfectly fried egg to top it off. Strap on the feed bib; this is one sloppy-but-totally-worth-it taco.
Honestly, you could get anything in this upscale diner with Japanese influences (an unlikely mix, but trust us, the results are incredible) and be totally satisfied. However, if we have to choose a favorite dish here, we’re going with the perfectly crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside fried chicken paired with the well-balanced, sweet & smoky Maple Old Fashioned.
This two-story bar has basically everything you could ever want in a watering hole: eight beers on tap, three pinball machines, dice, a restored vintage 45 jukebox with a rotating selection of tunes that're hand-picked by local DJ's, actual DJs, live music, and a FOUR HOUR happy hour (4-8pm). Unless it's a Tuesday -- then it's All. Night. Long.
This cozy corner bar is serving up Prohibition-style craft cocktails (get the Bees Knees, a sweet & sour gin confection) and gourmet grilled cheeses (get all of them, but especially any with truffle oil and/or whiskey bacon chutney), plus they have a meat counter in the corner of the bar. A meat counter. In the corner. Of the bar.
If Bar Dogwood is closed, just head down the street to its sister (brother? cousin? step mother? UNCLE TWICE REMOVED??) restaurant for some of the best sandwiches ever made on this planet. If you take away just one thing from this entire story, make it that you get the house-made porchetta. And also the house-made bagels. And definitely the house-cured bacon. And the house-made sour pickles. And all of the house-made sauces. Basically, you're going to eat here once and then dream about it every single day until you eat here again. Yeah. It's that good.
Did we just tell you to order a hot dog at a Mexican restaurant? Uh, yeah, we did. Because this bacon-wrapped hot dog with mayonnaise, mustard, pinto beans, cheese, pickled jalapeños, and avocado is all wrapped in a flour tortilla like no other before it. Does it get more Mexican than that for hot dogs? We think not. Everything is made from scratch at this Mission-style taqueria, so you can't go wrong, but you're definitely also going to want to try the mini crispy churros. If it's warm enough (which it will be because: Oakland), take your food outside and enjoy it on the hidden back patio.
After years of being hidden by hideous stucco, the original 1927 façade of the new home of Woods Bar & Brewery has been revealed, as has a collection of adventurous beers, most of which have been brewed on-site (there’s a 93-gallon, three-barrel brewery located above the storefront). Go with a flight, which will give you a selection of four 4oz pours for $12.
The name really says it all for this spot with classic all-American diner food and punk rock flare (it's co-owned by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt). Open from 7am to 1am every day of the week, RCFC serves everything from breakfast burritos to burgers. They also have a full bar (yes!), boozy milkshakes (The Malt Liquor is our favorite), and a secret entrance to the Fox (wait, what??).
Fresh with just a hint of sweetness, this green goddess is one of Make Westing’s signature cocktails. Pair it with their habañero & cilantro-infused popcorn and a game at the indoor bocce court (!!!), and you have yourself the makings of a perfect happy hour.
There are only four Umami Burgers in Northern California and one of them is in Uptown Oakland, so get your fix while you can. Really, you can't go wrong with any of the burgers at this chain where the beef is ground in-house, but we can't resist a double patty situation.
Old-school dives aren’t in shortage in Oakland, but our favorite is Café Van Kleef, not only for the greyhounds (which are made with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice), but for the crazy, punk-rock, Grandma’s attic vibe the space gives off (once you go, you’ll know). Bonus: if you’re seeing a show at the Fox, show your ticket for $1 off drinks.
Also worth hitting up: just-opened Darling’s Elixirs (by the folks who brought you Bar Dogwood, and conveniently located directly next door to it) and Cathedral (scheduled to open summer 2015).
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Jennye Garibaldi is an award-winning writer & editor living in the Bay Area. When she's not creating content for outlets like Lonely Planet, Afar, and Out Magazine, you can find her eating, drinking & shopping her way around Oakland and San Francisco... all in the name of future research, of course. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyegee.
Daisy Barringer is the SF Editor for Thrillist and she has to admit she's starting to come around on Oakland. Even if it is all the way across the bay. Tweet her @daisy to tell her other places she needs to go.