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Tacos Oscar
Andrew Calisterio

38 Essential Restaurants in the East Bay

Where to eat on the sunny side of the Bay

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Tacos Oscar
| Andrew Calisterio

From cash-only taquerias to Michelin-recommended destinations, the restaurants stretching east of the Bay Bridge are among the most inventive and impactful places to dine in the greater Bay Area. We’re once again updating the East Bay 38, our always-evolving list of the area’s most excellent restaurants. As with the San Francisco 38, every few months we add newly eligible restaurants (since candidates must be open at least six months to be considered), or restaurants that we’ve newly discovered, or that have recently stepped up their game.

Joining the list for this October 2023 update: Cafe Ohlone, SanDai, the Rendez-Vous, and Sailing Goat. Coming off for now: Sabio on Main, Kiraku, Shawarmaji, Understory Oakland.

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process. If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Bull Valley Roadhouse

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The magic of Bull Valley Roadhouse lies in its one-two punch of stellar food and cocktails paired with the charm of Port Costa, the tiny waterfront town hidden in the East Bay where the restaurant resides. Expect old-school charm and a food menu comprised of seasonal ingredients, but you’ll do well to order the fried chicken or BVR burger if you’re stuck on what to choose. The cocktails are good and strong, with some original drinks, and there’s a lively music calendar to enjoy, as well.

Sailing Goat Restaurant

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Nestled into a lesser-known part of Richmond, Sailing Goat packs the one-two punch of a gorgeous view of the bay and a solid menu consisting of dockside classics like fish and chips, plus unconventional pizzas such as a lamb shawarma pie. Live music adds another dimension to the restaurant, encouraging diners to stay and soak in the views.

A tray of fish and chips next to a beer. Sailing Goat

La Selva Taqueria

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The specialty at this colorful, rainforest-themed taqueria in Richmond’s 23rd Street taco corridor is its pollo al carbon: whole spatchcocked chickens grilled over charcoal in a garage adjacent to the restaurant. The chicken comes out supremely smoky and succulent, and the bright, zippy housemade salsas are a cut above. For the perfect family meal, order the whole chicken plate, which comes with rice, beans, and warm tortillas — the building blocks for a whole mess of delicious chicken tacos.

Gangnam Tofu Korean Cuisine

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While the East Bay has a handful of restaurants that might slightly surpass Gangnam Tofu in their execution of a single specific dish, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable all-purpose Korean spot — as good for its tofu stews as it is for its crisp-edged seafood pancakes and generous banchan spread. Arguably, the best part of the menu is the variety of fried chicken preparations, including a take on popcorn chicken (get the soy garlic flavor) that stays immaculately, miraculously crispy even an hour after you’ve picked up your takeout order.

Tashi Delek Cuisine

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This rare quadruple threat excels in Nepalese, Indian, Tibetan, and Bhutanese cuisines, making it a good bet for diners who enjoy sampling a wide variety of South Asian dishes over the course of a single meal: Tibetan hand-pulled noodles and meat pies, the sweet-and-spicy Indo-Chinese fried cauliflower dish known as gobi Manchurian, momos prepared in half a dozen different styles (try the mini chicken ones with jhol sauce), and one of the tastiest lamb curries around. Everything is delicious, and few dishes will cost you more than $10.

SanDai & KOPI Bar

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Chef Nora Haron places Nusantara cuisine front and center at her Walnut Creek restaurant SanDai, where she showcases her take on dishes from the Malay archipelago of Southeast Asia through the lens of Northern California produce. Diners can’t go wrong with the satay options to start, though Haron’s seafood preparations are also packed with flavor such as the recent ikan pepes, a whole rainbow trout wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The adjacent Kopi Bar is also worth a visit if you have less time to sit and eat, with pastries made fresh daily, plus specialty coffee and lattes.

Megan Benshalom

Funky Elephant

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Yes, it looks like a cafe on the outside. Yes, with retro floral print and checkerboard floors, the inside feels like an entrance to a basement bowling alley. And yes, the limited variety of dishes on the menu can be frustrating. But Funky Elephant excels in almost all of those dishes. That’s partly because they care deeply about produce: Tofu is of the excellent Hodo variety. Mussels, in a fiery-funky, pungent stew, are flown in regularly from Prince Edward Island. Soft-serve ice-cream may not be housemade, but it hails from Straus Family Creamery, a terrific purveyor. Never least, a trip to Funky Elephant would be incomplete without trying its KMG #2 (shorthand for Khao Mun Gai), a deceptively clean and delicious take on chicken (poached) and rice (cooked in garlic, ginger, and chicken fat). 

Chef Mona Leena is putting a fresh style of Palestinian food forward at her Berkeley restaurant, Lulu, which offers breakfast, lunch, and brunch options. The mezze brunch at Lulu will elicit oooh’s from the table as a massive selection of breads made in-house arrive alongside a serious amount of accompanying spreads, such as serrano hummus, labneh, and muhammara, on a conveniently spinning serving dish for parties of two or more. The knafeh pancake is also worth a try, with its crisp phyllo dough filled with melty sweet cheese and pistachios, adorned with a kiss of blossom syrup.

A mezze brunch spread from Lulu Carly Hackbarth/Lulu

Rose Pizzeria

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Berkeley has a few legendary spots that are beyond even an “essential” list such as this — for example, the Cheese Board Collective — but newcomer Rose Pizzeria is making its own name. It has a tight but mighty menu in that everything from the starters to the pizzas don’t miss including the restaurant’s spicy take on the Caesar salad, highlighting local Shared Cultures miso, and the hot champione pies coming out of the oven. The wine list is also worth mentioning, as the thoughtful selections, available by the bottle or glass, range from locally loved labels to European productions.

A pizza topped with burrata. Lauren Saria

Cafe Ohlone

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A visit to Cafe Ohlone isn’t your typical dining experience, and that’s what makes it so special. It’s not only an opportunity to learn more about the Ohlone people and their history, but it’s also a chance to experience Ohlone culinary traditions in a stunningly designed outdoor setting. With a huge expansion planned, now’s the chance to have an intimate dining experience filled with hearty bowls of salad made with local ingredients or modern interpretations of Ohlone dishes, such as chia seed flour brownies.

Great China

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It’s might be the least accessible of campus ‘restaurants’ in the vicinity of UC Berkeley, but Great China stands on its own, and rightfully so: it continues to serve some of the most elegant Northern Chinese food in the Bay. The Peking duck deserves all the praise it gets, but the menu is also loaded with outstanding seafood dishes and sublime dumplings, as well as a number of Korean-Chinese specialties. Oenophiles will appreciate the deep, well-priced wine cellar focused on Burgundies.

Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya

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Helmed by former B-Dama chefs Asuka Uchida and Shin Okamoto, this sleek downtown Berkeley izakaya serves some of the Bay Area’s most inventive, forward-thinking Japanese food. Think fried black cod fish cakes that ooze with melted cheese curds. It also has largely reinvented itself to focus on pure comfort food with katsu sandwiches and rice boxes.

BOICHIK BAGELS

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What has made Boichik Bagels so iconic in the two years since it opened? Is it their use of locally sourced, unbleached, high-protein wheat flour? The fact that chef-owner Emily Winston hails from New Jersey? The water, perhaps? Likely all of the above. Winston has toiled endlessly with ratios for the right chew and level of malt, producing a bagel that not only has that vinyl-y sheen of a crust, but also great textbook nosh. It’s enough to hop on that bandwagon: Boichik’s bagels aren’t just the best in the East Bay, they’re arguably one of the finest nationwide. 

Good To Eat Dumplings & Modern Taiwanese Cusine

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Taiwanese-style dumplings can be difficult to find in the Bay Area, but Good to Eat Dumplings is doing what it can to change that fact. The menu changes frequently, but the move is to order any of the dumplings to start and then add on some seasonal vegetables and noodles as well. If it’s difficult to decide, or if you want to try as many dishes as possible from chef Tony Tung, the restaurant offers a monthly “ja ban bae” tasting menu (reservations required) — assuming you can land a spot before it sells out.

Tamaleria Azteca

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This little North Oakland takeout window has been home to what are arguably the Bay Area’s most consistently delicious tamales going back well over a decade now to back when the place was called “Tamaleria Unicos de Cuernavaca.” Second-generation owner Sergio Gomez still turns out the fluffiest, most flavorful tamales in the city, thanks in part to a liberal use of lard in the masa. Azteca’s pork tamal is almost unrivaled in its deliciousness (especially when drizzled with some of the tamaleria’s good red salsa), except perhaps by the sweet corn tamales, which make for a delightful dessert.

The Rendez-Vous

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When the afternoon light cascades into the Rendez-Vous space in Oakland it’s easy to daydream that you’re in a Parisian cafe, complete with vintage cocktail glasses and aging murals on the walls. The menu skews toward seasonal small bites, but one can easily fill up on a plate of oysters, crudo, or shrimp tartine, paired with a refreshing salad. Tack on a glass (or bottle) of wine, or peruse the solid list of cocktails for a relaxing night out.

Dianne de Guzman

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement

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On the one hand, it is a mall food court fried chicken kiosk. On the other hand, its humble setting notwithstanding, chef Fernay McPherson’s rosemary fried chicken is some of the Bay Area’s very best — the crunchiest crust, the juiciest and most tender meat. Standout sides include buttery cornbread and oven-baked mac ’n cheese, which has shards of its crunchy browned top mixed in.

Joodooboo

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Steve Joo’s ode to dooboo and banchan is a sight to behold, especially given that the two foods typically get co-star status to other dishes. At Joodooboo, the attention is placed front and center on those items, with subscription worthy banchan made of seasonal ingredients and tofu that can only really be described as “pillow-soft.” Dig into a farmer’s bowl featuring the latest banchan selections over rice, with an added side of dooboo, and you’ll most likely find yourself heading back to the counter to take some extra servings of the banchan and tofu home.

Dooboo and banchan from Oakland’s new Korean deli Joodooboo. Lauren Saria

DAYTRIP

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Natural wine bars have been having a moment for quite awhile, and while it may be easy to lump Daytrip into that group — this Oakland spot does include a bottle shop, after all — the rotating roster of dishes is enough to elevate this one above others. The dishes are dubbed “fermentation-driven party food” per the restaurant’s Instagram, and while the food is indeed fun, there’s an undercurrent of seriousness and depth to each dish. A recent miso butter pasta, for instance, featured a honeynut squash miso from local purveyor Shared Cultures, along with kelp pearls and gochugaru; another recent offering featured striped shrimp with a freeze-dried strawberry sauce. The menu changes, so expect to be pleasantly surprised at your visit.

Patricia Chang

Tacos Oscar

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Tucked into a shipping container in Temescal, Tacos Oscar has some of the best tacos in town. It’s inspiringly vegetarian-friendly, with options like a charred broccoli taco with peanut-arbol salsa, pickled onion, cilantro, and a tostada topped with Early Girl tomatoes, lemon cucumber, sikil pak, fried almonds, Castelvetrano olive salsa, and opal basil. Meaty items like the pork chile verde taco are equally craveable.

The East Bay’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant continues to be Oakland’s fine-dining destination of choice for a big, blowout tasting menu meal. James Syhabout’s contemporary California cooking is precise, gorgeous tweezer food, but classic Commis dishes like the slow-poached egg with smoked date and alliums, served with some of the finest sourdough bread you’ll ever encounter in a restaurant, have plenty of comfort and soul as well.

Jon Cheng

Pomella

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Born right at the start of the pandemic across the street from her former restaurant, Ba-Bite, Mica Talmor’s new Israeli-inspired restaurant features a dips- and salads-focused menu that’s perfect for these times. As was the case at Ba-Bite, Pomella stars the area’s silkiest and most flavorful hummus, which forms a delicious foundation for a meal of grilled lamb or airy falafel balls, and the chicken tagine with couscous is soulful comfort cooking. Save some room for dessert, as the baklava and other sweets and pastries are especially fine.

Hummus at Pomella Douglas Despres

Soba Ichi

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Set in a minimalist space full of reclaimed wood, Soba Ichi is the only restaurant in the Bay Area making its buckwheat soba noodles from scratch, using freshly milled buckwheat flour. To best appreciate the noodles’ nutty flavor and light, delicate mouthfeel, eat them cold with the restaurant’s dashi-based dipping sauce. For best results, brave the one-hour-plus lines on weekends and dine-in.

Bake Sum

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“Nostalgia” pastries became a big trend during the pandemic, with bakers reaching back into their childhoods to recreate (and perhaps fancify) familiar candies and desserts into more sophisticated versions. Bake Sum is one such spot and best exemplifies bringing well-loved Asian treats into a new realm. Filipino halo halo, for instance, is traditionally a shaved ice treat but in Bake Sum’s hands it’s transformed into a croissant bun; there are even some savory options to explore if you’re not in the mood for sweets.

Four pastries on a wooden table including a Danish topped with an egg and a croissant covered in everything bagel seasoning. Lauren Saria/Eater SF

Viridian

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Oakland’s Viridian might read more as a bar than a restaurant, but to ignore this downtown spot’s food menu would be a mistake. Chef Kevin Tang creates a menu filled with his takes on Asian cuisine, as an Asian American chef. Expect items such as Shanghai sticky ribs, spicy cumin lamb tater tots, and more — the menus get even more inventive and fun for Lunar New Year and Khmer New Year. The cocktails also skew toward the Asian American experience with drinks like the White Rabbit, made with its namesake candy and a bourbon base, or the Miso Corny, made with a Japanese whiskey fat washed in miso and brown butter.

Lion Dance Café

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Vegan food is often framed in ways that center omnivores and highlight what’s “missing.” But at vegan restaurant Lion Dance Cafe in Oakland, the dishes aren’t lacking — rather they’re imaginatively combining Singaporean cuisine with Italian and Chinese foods in a fresh way. The restaurant has received plenty of accolades for its food, and while the menu shifts with the seasons, the laksa is always a favorite, as is the shaobing.

Lucky Three Seven

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Even before the Bay Area Filipino food scene’s recent run of mainstream success, this family-run takeout spot had already established itself as an East Oakland mainstay, dealing out XL-size lumpia; meaty, slow-cooked stews; and crunchy-sweet chicken wings, all served with a healthy dose of ’90s hip-hop swagger. Don’t let the steam table setup fool you: This is grandma food through and through, from the oxtail and eggplant stew known as kare kare to the many different permutations of bright, vinegary adobo.

Jo's Modern Thai

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Chef Intu-on Kornnawong is cooking their own style of “Thai-Californian cuisine” and it’s turning heads, landing the restaurant on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list this year. The pork laab burger is worth a spin, as is the massaman curry, if you’re looking for something more vegetable-forward. And don’t skip out on the drink menu; try the Phuket Fizz, made with mango-infused vodka, mezcal, coconut condensed milk, butterfly pea tea, and soda.

Banh Mi Ba Le

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The gold standard for banh mi in the East Bay, Ba Le nails every component valued by connoisseurs of Vietnamese sandwiches: the bright, sweet crunch of the pickled carrots and daikon; the abundance of pâté in the dac biet combo; the extra oomph of Maggi seasoning; and, maybe most important, the crispness and airy lightness of the baguette. There aren’t any bad sandwiches on the menu, but the #13 — with meatball and a runny-yolked fried egg — is positively life changing.

Vientian Cafe

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Tucked into a seemingly random residential neighborhood, Vientian Cafe has the kind of greatest hits menu that spans pho, pad Thai, and every other Southeast Asian standard in between. But the truth is, Vientian is a Lao restaurant above all else, and to unlock the restaurant’s true greatness, diners should order exclusively off the separate menu of Lao specialties: fermented Lao sausages; catfish steamed inside banana leaves; and an assortment of delicious noodle soups.

CocoBreeze Caribbean Restaurant and Bakery

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Oakland’s only dedicated Trinidadian restaurant is about as bustling and lively a restaurant as you’ll find in the city, between the sound of musicians regaling outdoor diners with steelpan drumming and the smell of jerk spice wafting in the air. A big plate of curry goat or jerk chicken — some of the tenderest and most flavorful in the Bay — over pelau rice makes for an ideal meal, as do the curry-stuffed Trinidadian roti wraps, which are one of the world’s great street foods.

Wahpepah’s Kitchen

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Indigenous food is not widespread in the Bay Area, but Crystal Wahpepah is changing that with her restaurant Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Fruitvale. Here she showcases Indigenous ingredients in dishes that celebrate native cuisine — from the Kickapoo bison chili and bison meatballs to the blue corn waffles and deer sticks, made with marinated deer meat. Try the aforementioned bison chili or the berry salmon salad, and three sisters’ veggie bowl made with quinoa, squash, heirloom corn, tepary beans, and a maple olive oil dressing.

Salad from Wahpepah’s Kitchen Wahpepah’s Kitchen

Taqueria El Paisa

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Fruitvale has nothing if not an abundance of top-notch Mexican restaurants of every stripe, but if you’re just talking about tacos, served simply and without fuss, Taqueria El Paisa rises to the top of the heap. This place with a meat lover’s paradise — all day long, the sound of the taqueros chopping up suadero (a brisket-like cut), cabeza, and other cuts, still hot off the griddle, punctuates the air. Best of all is the luxuriously tender slow-cooked tripa, or beef tripe. Ask for grilled cactus and onions with your order, and make liberal use of the salsa bar, but exercise caution: Even the mildest options pack serious heat.

Top Hatters Kitchen and Bar

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San Leandro’s most thrilling and ambitious new restaurant of the past couple of years, Top Hatters has leaned into chef-owner DanVy Vu’s Vietnamese heritage, adding things like banh mi and rice vermicelli bowls to its menu. The constantly changing menu runs the gamut from oxtails and grits to mussels with green curry, best enjoyed on the patio.

Kendejah Restaurant

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The Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant has been dishing out some of the Bay Area’s tastiest West African fare since it opened in 2017, and it continued to serve its full menu of quintessential comfort foods — like slow-cooked oxtail stew and heaping mounds of flavorful jollof rice — throughout the pandemic. There aren’t many other restaurants in the Bay where you can find traditional dishes like palm butter stew (topped with a crab leg, no less) or sautéed potato greens — and certainly not cooked with this level of care.

Range Life

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Chef Bill Niles (formerly at Tartine) and partner/wine director Sarah Niles have created an oasis of California cuisine in Livermore, where dining on the patio in the evening doesn’t always call for a sweater. The best produce from around the Bay Area is used in the best ways, from fried green tomatoes from Riverdog Farm served with thousand island, and beef tartare with Full Belly Farm mission figs, pickled ramps, and pumpernickel bread. Cocktails are also garden fresh and creative, like the Lost Coastline, mixing gin, lime, fir tips, yellow chartreuse, and smoked salt. The bar is a great place to grab a bite and chat with regulars, while the patio is a magical destination on a warm summer night.

Clams and peas at Range Life Range Life

Toto's Grill

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Daly City is rightly recognized as the center of Filipino-American culture and cuisine in the U.S., but the Filipino food scene in the Hayward and San Leandro area is as deep and varied (and almost uniformly excellent) as it is anywhere in the Bay. Within that landscape, Toto’s is the rare spot that specializes exclusively in smoky, sticky-sweet Filipino-style barbecue meat skewers, all grilled to order while you wait. Offal lovers, this is your spot for chicken heads, feet, and tails; tender pig ears; and all different kinds of intestines.

De Afghanan Cuisine

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De Afghanan is probably the most famous Afghan restaurant in America’s most famous Afghan immigrant community. Is there any question that the kebabs would be on point? The closet-sized original Kabob House location offers more of a sidewalk street food experience. De Afghanan Cuisine is the sit-down restaurant next door (though the dining room is currently closed), and it has a broader menu of bolani (stuffed flatbreads) and rice dishes. Still, the kebabs are main event — especially the lamb and the thin, crisp-edged meat patties known as chapli kebab.

Bull Valley Roadhouse

The magic of Bull Valley Roadhouse lies in its one-two punch of stellar food and cocktails paired with the charm of Port Costa,