When it comes to Bay Area food halls, Swan’s Market in downtown Oakland is the O.G. Its roots go back to 1890, when Oakland’s Free Market opened a few blocks away with farm produce and meats in a clean, sanitary setting. The current white tile and red brick market dates back to 1917, when it was the jewel of the bustling Old Oakland shopping district. Through the 1980s, people flocked to the nearby Housewives’ Market for meat, seafood and produce. But “urban renewal” including Interstate 880 and the Convention Center sucked the life out of the neighborhood, and Swan’s closed in 1984. The East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. reopened the historic locale in 2000.
Today, you can still stock up on fresh pork-and-potato sausages at Taylor’s Sausage, or grab sushi-grade salmon at family-owned Sincere Seafood. But most downtown workers and denizens flock to Swan’s for the eclectic array of restaurants, many of which are run by women of color. “It’s this community of badass women of color doing their thing,” says Eman Desouky of Superjuiced. The pandemic has taken its toll, but it’s a great time to visit Old Oakland and support the hardworking corps of chefs and cooks making food they’re proud of.
Huang Cheng Noodle House
Chef-owner Jian Huang is a third-generation Sichuan chef, so he knows his way around spice. Bright flavors and the prickle of Sichuan peppercorn broth meld with savory ground pork, sesame, roasted peanuts, and baby bok choy in the generous Chongqing street noodles. The hand-pulled noodles are silky, and there’s something pleasing about the way they yield when you bite them. Though they’re known for their noodles, the aroma of the wok-fired green beans is pretty tantalizing too.
911 Washington Street, Oakland, www.huangchengnoodleca.com, 702-481-3124.
The Cook & Her Farmer
Romney Steele and her life partner Steven Day created a menu that’s a blend of their loves: organic seasonal produce from local farms like Acta Non Verba and Southern flavors. If you’re a fan of fresh-shucked Tomales Bay oysters with briny mignonette, you’re in the right place. Fried up with cornmeal, those oysters star in a giant po’boy topped with Memphis-style slaw. But the showstopper is the Big Sur Melt, a blend of Fontal, Gruyère, and dry jack cheese studded with shrimp. Sweet shellfish are the perfect foil for the cheese’s gooey, salty richness.
510 Ninth Street, Oakland, www.thecookandherfarmer.com, 510-285-6140.
Owner Lila Owens says she was a successful-but-unfulfilled realtor when the market crashed back in 2008. So she embraced her passion for baking, and set out to create a homey, moist cupcake to rival what other cupcake chains were selling. Today, she owns a burgeoning chain of four bake shops. Her bestseller is the Red Velvet cupcake that sticks to the dessert’s Southern roots. However, those who like tart and sweet will be mesmerized by the Key Lime cupcake with its tangy lime curd center and buttery graham cracker base.
907 E. Washington Street, Oakland, cupcakinbakeshop.com, 510-529-4488.
Dela Curo Curry
The name may sound Italian, but the phrase means “super black” in the Japanese dialect spoken by owner Chikara Ono, of B-Dama and Masabaga fame. That’s also an apt description for the delectable black curries created by slowly cooking down onions, mushrooms, and other veggies into a smoky, savory, and satisfying sauce. Pair it with an omelet, fried shrimp, or pork katsu for a super-filling meal that showcases a refreshing facet of Japanese flavor.
907 Washington Street, Oakland, www.delacuro.com, 510-251-1113.
Eman Desouky opened Superjuiced back in 2015 when there were few health-focused juice spots in Oakland. She was ahead of the pack with her organic-only, plant-based menu of glow-up juices, dreamy smoothies, immunity shots, and filling bowls. For a departure from açai bowls, try the matcha bowl with mango, the shop’s own fresh coconut milk that’s sweetened with date and Mizuba Matcha, a woman-owned brand. Take a beat and while they make your drink; everything is made fresh, so it’s full of nutrients.
540 Ninth Street (in the courtyard), Oakland, www.oaklandisjuiced.com/menu-2.
La Guerrera’s Kitchen
The mother-daughter team of Ofelia Barajas and Reyna Maldonado earned foodie fame with the tamales Barajas sold on the street in San Francisco’s Mission District. Reyna’s dad, Luis, now joins the women at Swan’s to showcase those beloved beef and guajillo chile tamales, plus a full menu of Guerrerense cuisine. Beef barbacoa is a standby, but this coastal region has a lighter side too, seen in pescaria, crispy white fish and pico de gallo tacos drizzled with chipotle sauce. Fans will have to self-soothe with memories of chicken mole rojo and vegan posole for a bit longer, since the dang supply chain delayed the opening until late February or mid-March.
510 Ninth Street, Oakland, www.laguerreraskitchen.com, 415-619-0544.
The Annapurna menu is filled with satisfying versions of all the Indian dishes Americans love, from chicken tikka masala to veggie samosas to lamb korma. But the owner and chef are from Nepal, so it makes sense to explore that part of the menu. Start with plump mono dumplings, then move into the chicken choila, tender meat mixed with green bell peppers, cilantro, onion, plus heat and fragrant spices. Annapurna beckons you to eat in, thanks to the dining room’s grand proportions, colorful transom windows, imported tapestries and eye-catching Bollywood music videos.
948 Clay Sreet, Oakland, www.annapurnaoakland.com, 510-250-9696.
There’s always a new taste at Sarah Kirnon’s West Indian soul food spot. On a recent stop it was slow cooked oxtails with coconut rice and peas. But you can always count on the first-rate fried chicken that’s infused with seasoning and tender all the way to the bone. And the golden-mahogany crust is crunchy and 100% gluten free. It reaches its acme in the Bajan chicken sandwich, where sweet plantains hold together pickled veggies, slaw, and crunchy chicken. Round out your meal with a rum punch and everything little thing will be alright.
901 Washington Street, Oakland, Realmissolliesoakland.com, 510-285-6188.
The Swan’s Market location is one of three that Souvenir Coffee founder Jeremy Bled owns in the East Bay. They source specialty coffees from Honduras, Ethiopia, and Brazil, and roast them locally. A couple locations, like those in Solano and Claremont, raise a compostable cup to the company’s Berkeley roots. The Vietnamese coffee strikes the right balance between bracing and sweet, and they do a brisk business in lattes and flat whites.
917 Washington Street, Oakland, www.souvenir-coffee.com, 510-593-2123.