21 Essential Latino-Owned Businesses You Need to Know in the Bay Area
Oakland chef Nelson German of alaMar and Sobre Mesa shares his picks.
The Bay Area wouldn’t be the magical place that it is without its Latino communities. Making up nearly 40% of California’s population, the Latino influence on the art, culture, food, music, and personality in the Bay is paramount, from San Francisco to Oakland and beyond.
For chef Nelson German, who competed on season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef, the Bay Area’s ever-evolving Latino community is a source of constant inspiration. This influence is front and center at his two Oakland restaurants, including alaMar, which boasts an insanely cravable menu of Caribbean-inspired, Asian-influenced seafood-centric food and drinks (think braised oxtails, seafood boils and udon noodles doused in garlic XO sauce), and new cocktail and tapas destination, Sobre Mesa, which champions the flavors of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, alongside sophisticated tropical cocktails.
Growing up in Washington Heights, New York, German, who is Dominican-American, has been honing his craft for 23 years. Originally trained in French technique and Mediterranean cuisines, moving to Oakland (where his wife is originally from) allowed him to recenter his culinary focus, while simultaneously deepening his understanding of his own cultural background.
In New York, German’s Dominican background was easily recognized, thanks to a large Dominican and Caribbean population in the city. In contrast, in the Bay Area, some of that nuance is lost.
“I represent African-American, I represent Dominican, and I’m Afro-Latino,” he says. “In the Bay, often, they just see a Black man. People think twice when I start speaking Spanish!”
Relocating to Oakland has led German to a deeper exploration of his African identity, from the origins of his ancestors in Cameroon to the wide-reaching influences of African cuisines. It all adds a deeper dimension to his understanding of the richness and complexity of the African and Latin diasporas. He appreciates the way that has historically manifested in the Bay Area, and the ways in which the community here is evolving.
“The Mexican influence is embedded in a lot of the culture here—in the food, the music, the architecture, the art—and it resonates with me. There are so many amazing business owners, and families who have been here for years, who are trying to pay tribute to their cultures,” he says. “And the community just keeps growing. Now, you see more Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Guatelmalans.”
While progress has been made, German believes that there’s still a ways to go, especially around the table.
“That deeper understanding is slowly coming to the Bay Area. People want to learn more. And I think food is the gateway to that,” he says. “Food is the one thing that can really bring people together.”
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, German shared some of his favorite Latino-owned businesses in Oakland, in addition to some of our own personal favorites across the greater Bay Area. Looking to get even more involved? Check out Acción Latina, The Women’s Building, Somos Familia, Centro Legal De La Raza, and Calle 24, among other organizations.
Yo Soy Ceviche
German loves Yo Soy Ceviche, Nory Hanson’s creative Peruvian pop-up, for the quality of her food and also for her representation of the deep-rooted nature of Peruvian fare. That means a wide selection of ceviche, of course, plus tacos, tapas, and vegan options. For now, look for Yo Soy Ceviche at food festivals and events and follow on social media for updates.
How to support: Yo Soy Ceviche is available for catering, pick up and delivery. Order online at UberEats.
A delicious destination for Salvadoran food, Platano has been holding court on Berkeley’s University Avenue since 2006 and expanded to East Oakland in 2013. Find their unbeatable tender-crisp pupusas at both locations, plus soul-warming plates of salpicon, albondigas, and more.
How to support: Cafe Platano is open for dine-in and takeout. Order online from the Berkeley location or call the Oakland location at 510-437-1695.
German loves this streamlined spot for flavorful, healthy Cal-Latin fare. Offering rotisserie chicken and porchetta with a selection of sides and sauces served family-style, German likes Papaito because it “showcases a different side of Latin cuisine.”
How to support: Papaito is open for dine-in and takeout.
The flavors of Oaxaca take center stage at chef Octavio Diaz’s homage to his hometown. Find immaculate versions of classic dishes inspired by family recipes like tasajo and tlayudas; the mole involves a swath of secret ingredients that Diaz brings back from Oaxaca through the year. The mezcal selection is well worth exploring, too.
How to support: Agave Uptown is open for dine-in and take out.
“I’ve got to give props to my guys from Low Bar,” German says of this cocktail bar with a standout food menu in Uptown Oakland. Run by friends Matthew Meyer and Daniel Paez, their self-described “Chicano Bar” opened in spring of 2021 after facing a rash of pandemic-related delays. “They’re showcasing a different side of Mexico,” says German about the bar’s menu of playful food and drink, from a chorizo-encased version of a Scotch egg to cocktails flavored with ancho chile and Tajin.
How to support: Low Bar is open for indoor and outdoor dining and drinking.
German is inclined to recommend “Anything with Domenica behind it!” He’s referring to Domenica Rice-Cisneros, the chef-owner of Bombera, which just opened for dinner and Saturday brunch. Rice-Cisneros, an alumna of Chez Panisse and a James Beard-nominated chef, has become known for her soulful, ingredient-driven takes of traditional Chicano cuisine.
How to support: Bombera is open for indoor and outdoor dining, plus takeout. Order online here.
Artillery Apparel Gallery
Artillery Gallery was founded in 2009 with a mission to connect the community through principles of nature, family, and culture, all through the multi-faceted lens of art. Specializing in ceramics, painting, and photography with an added focus on plants, Artillery is both a hub in the neighborhood and an ever-giving source of creativity in San Francisco.
How to support: Take a ceramics class, level up with a ceramics studio membership, or buy art from the gallery’s founding artists.
This clothing store and art gallery on 24th Street is a go-to for both creative apparel and community—Thalia Leon and Fernando Ramirez ‘s multimedia studio is all about supporting others in their pursuit of art and graphic design.
How to support: Evolved SF is open Tuesday to Saturday from 3-7 pm. Stop by and support them in person, buy art online, and follow them on Instagram for events and updates.
Connie Rivera and Ricardo Peña’s 24th Street shop, which opened in 2004, is a staple of the neighborhood—their selection of silvery jewelry, beadwork, embroidery, and more is a brightly woven representation of the arts and crafts of the Huichol people. The pair had opened a second store down the street in 2017, and were forced to close due to the pandemic.
How to support: In addition to shopping at Mixcoatl, donate to the store’s GoFundMe here.
This beloved Valencia Street restaurant, known for their colorful decor, on-point cocktails, and thoughtful takes on Jaliscan-inspired cuisine, remains a bright spot amid the fogginess of pandemic times. Whether you’re ordering take out or taking a seat in their technicolor dream of a dining room parklet, a mezcal margarita or a glass of natural wine and their legendary tacos tropical, feel like a proper vacation.
How to support: Loló is open for first-come, first-serve indoor and outdoor dining, and is offering takeout and delivery.
Val Cantu’s Californios, a paean to modern Mexican cuisine, was a game-changer when it opened in the Mission in 2015. The restaurant experienced a Covid-era rebirth in a stunning new SOMA space complete with a spacious, pandemic-friendly outdoor patio. Unchanged is Cantu’s ethereal, modern takes on Mexican flavors showcasing the best local ingredients (don’t skip the next-level wine pairings).
How to support: Californios is open for indoor and outdoor dining. Make reservations here.
El Buen Comer
Isabel Caudillo, an alumna of La Cocina, has earned a dedicated following for her homestyle Mexico City-inspired fare, boasting fresh, organic masa and deeply flavored, long simmered sauces and stews. Her mole could save the world, given the opportunity.
How to support: El Buen Comer is open for indoor and outdoor dining, plus takeout.
Yo También Cantina
This tropical-tinged cafe, run by Isabella Bertorelli and Kenzie Benesh, has been a slice of sunshine in the Sunset since opening two years ago. Boasting Venezuelan-Californian fare, natural wine by the bottle, and to-die-for breakfast cookies, this cafe for all seasons is keeping the neighborhood stocked with essentials like house-made tamales, sauces, pantry items, and occasionally, shibori-dyed socks.
How to support: Yo Tambien Cantina is open for outdoor dining and takeout, offering a regularly changing rice bowl alongside pantry items, tamales, beer, wine, and more. Sign up for the YTC Wine and Veggie Club, a once-monthly collection of wines, produce, and other goodies, here.
Celia's by the Beach
Celia’s has been holding court on San Francisco’s western reaches since 1960, and their belly-filling, soul-warming combo plates are as good as ever. Stop by for forearm-sized burritos, dangerously delicious margaritas, and a cevichelada, a Big Gulp-sized michelada topped with ceviche.
How to support: Celia’s is open for indoor and outdoor dining, plus takeout and delivery. Call 415-759-8741 to place pickup orders, or order delivery via UberEats.
Save making fresh ones yourself, the best tortillas to be had in San Francisco, inevitably, come from La Palma, a tortilla factory-slash-taqueria-slash-corner shop for spices, cheeses, snacks, and more that’s been stoking San Francisco’s appetites since 1953. Stop by for a taco or ten, and be sure to stock up on ingredients for your own culinary endeavors at home.
How to support: La Palma is open for takeout, and has outdoor tables should those tacos not make it home.
Picking a favorite burrito in San Francisco is akin to picking a favorite child. But El Metate always tends to come out on top thanks to their tightly rolled, well-balanced offerings filled with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
How to support: El Metate is open for indoor and outdoor dining, plus pickup and delivery. Call 415-641-7209 for pickup, or order online.
El Pipila, helmed by Guadalupe Guerrero and her daughters Brenda and Alejandra Juarez, is home to a menu of full-flavored, lovingly crafted Guanajuatan cuisine. Everything is delicious, but their pozole verde, rich with bacon and shredded chicken, is easily one of the best bowls of soup in town.
How to support: El Pipila is open for takeout and delivery. You’ll often find their goods in the La Cocina Community Food Box, too.
Al Pastor Papi
This food truck, recognizable by its bright pink facade and legendary for its spot-on, Mexico City-style al pastor, can be found around the city at Harmonic Brewing, SPARK Social, and on Stockton Street downtown. While their menu of al pastor tacos, tortas, and nachos (with vegan jackfruit options on offer) is well worth seeking out in all times, their recent work fundraising for and feeding undocumented farm workers affected by both the pandemic and the devastating wildfires makes a feast from this truck all the more essential.
How to support: Follow Al Pastor Papi on Instagram for their latest location and other updates.
This no-frills taqueria on Mission Street is home to some of our favorite tacos in town—pliant, flavorful tortillas and on point fillings including suadero and lengua never disappoint—but, as the name suggests, this is the spot for the flavors and feeling of Oaxaca. Sample spiced chapulines, or grasshoppers, Oaxacan-style tamales doused in mole, and massive, quesillo-topped tlayudas. Stock up on Oaxacan goods, too, including crunchy, spiced chapulines, chocolate, and mole and cheese by the pound.
How to support: Open for indoor dining, plus takeout and delivery. Call 415-621-5446 or order online.
La Torta Gorda
The food of Puebla takes center stage at this 24th Street staple, beloved for their gut-busting sandwiches, loaded with everything from pierna, or pulled pork, to rajas with cheese, to al pastor, to hot dogs.
How to support: Open for indoor and outdoor dining, and for takeout and delivery via UberEats.
Tacos El Patron
Tacos El Patron took San Francisco by storm with their cheesy, meaty, red-tinged, Jalisco-style birria tacos. Sampling the quesabirria is a must, but don’t sleep on the rest of the equally delicious menu, from classic tacos served on handmade tortillas to snappy shrimp ceviche. Definitely pair your meal with a pitcher of their sangria.
How to support: Open for indoor dining and takeout.