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38 Essential Restaurants in the East Bay

Where to eat on the sunny side of the Bay

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aHere’s a (poorly kept) secret: Many of the Bay Area’s most exciting restaurants aren’t opening in San Francisco anymore. Enter, the East Bay. Oakland and Berkeley, stretching as far as Richmond and San Leandro are replete with groundbreaking restaurants — from high-end tasting menus to cash-only taquerias.

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 2022 update: Rose Pizzeria, Bake Sum. Coming off for now: Horn Barbecue, Easterly Berkeley.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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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.

Mississippi Catfish

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Open just three days a week, in a snug, nautically themed space adjoining a smog inspection station, Mississippi Catfish is a somewhat surprising destination for best Southern-style fish fry in the East Bay, and maybe in the entire Bay Area. But the virtues of the catfish and the butterflied shrimp, both fried with lightest and crispest of cornmeal batters, are self-evident, and the small, oniony, Mississippi-style hushpuppies that come with every order are so good, you’ll find it maddening you can’t order a whole basket of them on their own. When it’s available, the creamy black-eyed peas are the best of the side offerings.

Fried catfish, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, and sides from Mississippi Catfish Luke Tsai

El Garage

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El Garage has been a pioneer of the East Bay’s burgeoning quesabirria movement going back to its earliest days as a home-based driveway pop-up. Now fully settled into its permanent storefront near the Richmond BART station, the restaurant is feeding more people than ever — and, best of all, easy online ordering means it’s no longer necessary to stand in line for hours to get your cheesy birria taco fix. Even as quesabirria has popped up on taqueria menus all over the Bay, El Garage still wears the crown: Its birria is the juiciest and most flavorful; its consommé, whether you use it for sipping or dipping, has few peers.

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.

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

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.

Gaumenkitzel

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This family-friendly West Berkeley mainstay has garnered a loyal following for chef-owner Anja Voth’s health-conscious and vegetable-oriented approach to German cuisine — which isn’t to say that the food is necessarily light or is in any way lacking in flavor. Come here for the butteriest spaetzle and the crispiest, most satisfying pork schnitzel in town, and don’t skip the various house-baked breads and cakes, including seasonal specials like one of the more excellent stollens in town.

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.

The East Bay has many izakaya-style Japanese restaurants, but none that are as much rollicking fun as Kiraku, nor any that serve food that’s as consistently delightful and well executed. Must-order dishes include the corn tempura with green tea salt, the grilled whole squid, and the mini kaisen don or one of the other rice bowls to end the meal in the traditional Japanese way. When available, the exquisite (and priced to match) chiraishi offerings give more storied San Francisco establishments a run for their money.

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. 

Yimm Oakland

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What separates Yimm — and its sister eatery, Imm Thai Street Food — from the vast array of other Thai restaurants in the East Bay is restraint. There are plenty of spices and condiments, but its fluttering use of ingredients like Kaffir lime, sweet basil, chile, and even garlic are calibrated to add heft to complex curries and a whisper of brightness to dishes as simple as cold noodles (i.e. Yimm’s terrific Mee Cook). Don’t miss the Kua Gai, a Thai staple wok-fried noodle dish with calamari and leafy greens.

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.

Belotti Ristorante E Bottega

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This small, unassuming Italian spot in Rockridge is the king of fresh pasta in the East Bay, thanks to the talents of Michel Belotti, the restaurant’s talented northern Italian chef. His rich, egg yolk–intensive pasta dough is the restaurant’s stock in trade, which shows itself particularly well in the stuffed pastas like casoncelli and agnolotti. Other must orders include hand-cut, Piedmontese ribeye tartare fortified with quail egg and five-hour braised flat-iron with nutty polenta.

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.

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

Kingston 11 Cuisine

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Kingston 11’s charms include its bold Jamaican flavors, infectiously upbeat reggae music, and one of the most diverse dining crowds in the Bay Area. Chef Nigel Jones’ food remains reliably great, with jerk chicken and oxtail stew as the biggest crowdpleasers, though the curry goat, made fiery with a few shakes of Jamaican pepper sauce, is the kind of dish you rearrange your schedule around. Lovers of rum-based cocktails, this is your spot.

understory oakland

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Understory is a non-traditional restaurant in the best of ways, from being a worker-led space for POC to making itself an affordable kitchen space for minority-owned businesses. The organization’s work was recently honored with an Emerging Leadership award by the James Beard Foundation — and the food encompasses the backgrounds of the folks who power the kitchen, turning it into a beautiful mix of Filipino, Mexican, Burmese, Lao, and Moroccan cuisines. Try the khao poon soup or adobo, as well as the lugaw, a rice porridge available on a sliding price scale, which ensure no one goes hungry, if they don’t have the means.

Ming's Tasty

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Concerns about Ming’s Tasty on its operational quirks — it opens at 9 a.m. but closes at 6 p.m.; is not open on Wednesdays; runs out of its most popular dishes by 11 a.m. but never seems to do anything about it — disappear once you try the dishes that make this small, unassuming Oakland eatery so vaunted among those in the know. They include a claypot rice dish cooked with preserved meats of profound depth; excellent Har Gau, i.e. big chunks of shrimp bound by glossy and delicate wrappers; and their crave-worthy snowy baked BBQ buns, which nail that sweet-salty diaspora with aplomb. Make no mistake: Ming’s serves some of the finest dim sum in the Bay.

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.

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.