Sandwich fanatics, get ready: Pop-up favorite Ok’s Deli is gearing up for the September 1 opening of its long-awaited permanent Oakland shop. It’s been seven months since its last pop-up, and in that time chef-owner Albert Ok was searching for the perfect spot to serve up his Sichuan hot chicken sandwiches. Although the pandemic forced a lot of businesses to close, resulting in a number of available storefronts, it was tough to find the perfect space for a busy sandwich shop. Ok was committed to settling in Oakland, and although there was a brief, tempting offer to open up shop in San Francisco, he ultimately settled on a spot near the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 40th Street, explaining he wanted to stay “community based” and “East Bay faithful.”
“I was born in Oakland, I was raised in Richmond,” Ok says. “I think in terms of the East Bay, Oakland is definitely up and coming in terms of food, and a lot of San Francisco chefs are coming here to open spaces.” Hoang Le, another member of the Ok’s Deli team, grew up in Oakland, and said he was motivated “to show that a lot of good can come from this place.”
In the case of Ok’s Deli, that means a specific style of sandwiches with an Asian American flair, like the revered Sichuan hot chicken sandwich featuring a Sichuan spiced, Taiwanese-style fried chicken, with a soft, sesame bread, situated alongside Italian deli classics. Such creations earned Ok’s Deli a following during the pandemic; the Sichuan hot chicken has become a beloved signature — “it’s never going to come off the menu, and if it does, we’ll probably ask our customers on Instagram if it’s okay,” Ok says — along with two other favorites that will grace the new menu: the Spam Mi and Konbini Egg Salad sandwiches. Ok’s Deli also prioritizes making many of the sandwich components in-house, from the milk bread used in the Konbini Egg Salad sandwich to the Spam, the mayo, and the daikon and carrot pickles in their take on banh mi.
The plan for the new shop is to rotate two or three of the sandwiches on the signature menu, similar to the pop-up, along with a consistent menu of classics. The shop will feature an Italian combo sandwich layered with salami, hot coppa, and mortadella; a turkey sandwich made with turkey brined and roasted in-house, with a choice of house-roasted turkey breast or a turkey salad made of dark meat; and a vegan sandwich made of marinated, roasted red beets, alfalfa sprouts, and avocado on a hoagie roll. For those who are feeling fancy, customers can also order a New York strip roast beef sandwich, made with a caramelized onion dijonaise and topped with crispy onions and house bread and butter pickles. Desserts will also be on the menu, as throwbacks to the pop-up days: Pick up a black sesame cheesecake or a sesame kinako chocolate chip cookie, if you’re looking to round out the meal. For now, the deli will cater to walk-ins only.
By the register, many will notice a new “curated snack collection,” as Ok and Le describe it, featuring a collection of Asian and American potato chips. Expect flavors such as mushroom black pepper tempura seaweed chips or mentaiko puffs, next to sea salt kettle or barbecue Lay’s. After taste testing a number of different snacks, they feel they’ve found their favorites to offer customers. There’s also an abbreviated drink menu featuring Mexican Cokes, Jarritos, sparkling water, Hawaiian Sun, as well as SFCBIO’s sparkling plum soda and mango soda. “We really tried to narrow down what we think is really tasty,” Le says. “We think when a customer comes in, grabs a sandwich, a couple of drinks and some chips, you’ll just have such a really cool spread, whether it be for a picnic, or on a date, a little celebration — we think it’d be a very unique experience.”
Ok’s Deli (3932 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland) debuts Thursday, September 1 and will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (or until they sell out), Thursday through Sunday.