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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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Here’s a (poorly kept) secret: Many of the most exciting restaurant’s 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 terrific 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 SF 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 November 2021 update: Easterly Hunan Cuisine, Boichik Bagels, Wood Tavern, Ming’s Tasty, Funky Elephant, Yimm. Coming off for now: Wojia Hunan Cuisine, Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Mago, Sichuan Style, Lenas’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Alem’s Coffee.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. La Selva Taqueria

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1049 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 237-0913

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 takeout 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.

2. El Garage

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1428 Macdonald Ave
Richmond, CA 94801

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. Recently the restaurant has expanded its menu to include a few non-birria specials too: The spicy red pozole, in particular, is well worth seeking out.

3. Mississippi Catfish

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12440 San Pablo Ave
Richmond, CA 94805
(510) 215-2526

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

4. Gangnam Tofu Korean Cuisine

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11740 San Pablo Ave c
El Cerrito, CA 94530
(510) 778-1144

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.

5. Tashi Delek Cuisine

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11224 San Pablo Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530
(510) 232-9316
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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.

6. Cheese Board Pizza

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1512 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
CA, 94709
(510) 549-3055
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It’s debatable whether Cheese Board Pizza technically serves its namesake pie — a more accurate label would be to call it flatbread with cheese. Regardless, Cheese Board is one of the few only-in-Berkeley institutions everyone in the East Bay needs to experience at least once. There’s only ever one pizza option each day, and it’s always vegetarian, often drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil, and features an idiosyncratic thin, sourdough-based crust. True Berkeleyans like to sprawl out with their slices on the grassy median of Shattuck Avenue. In addition offering whole and half pies, Cheese Board will also sell par-baked pizzas all day at its bakery next door.

7. Funky Elephant

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1313 Ninth St Ste120
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 356-4855
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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). 

8. 眷湘 Easterly Berkeley

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2142 Center St
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-8008
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Some Chinese restaurants fall victim to serving a dish or two that are bound by sugary, gloopy marinades. Not Easterly: nearly everything on its menu, from the smoky stir-fries to their sticky rice, is deftly executed. Chiles, present in a great number of dishes, are numbing yet vivid; sour soups, the base for silky fish fillets, have a lancing brightness; and their sauces are fragrant. This is the place to tease your appetite for more adventurous offerings, like griddled meaty bullfrog, smoked whole bighead carp, beer-braised duck, and Konjac, a type of starchy root vegetable. Multiple locations. 

9. Great China

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2190 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 843-7996
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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, including an intensely satisfying version of jjajangmyun (noodles with black bean sauce). Oenophiles will appreciate the deep, well-priced wine cellar focused on Burgundies.

10. Gaumenkitzel

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2121 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 647-5016
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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.

11. Fish & Bird Sousaku Izakaya

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2451 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 705-1539
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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 smoked mentaiko potato salad and fried black cod fish cakes that ooze with melted cheese curds. More lately, the restaurant started showcasing more elaborate family meal offerings — say, everything you need to prepare a Japanese barbecue or sukiyaki hot pot meal at home. But it’s also has largely reinvented itself to focus on pure comfort food: katsu sandwiches, rice boxes, and some of the most appealing vacuum-sealed prepared food offerings in town.

12. Kiraku

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2566 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 848-2758
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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 SF establishments a run for their money.

13. BOICHIK BAGELS

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3170 College Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705

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? Or is it the (relative) lack of great bagels in the Bay Area? 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. 

14. Wood Tavern

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6317 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-6607
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Although located in a neighborhood that has yielded to progressive fads, Wood Tavern, much like Zuni Cafe not far away and even Gramercy Tavern out East (Coast), has remained stubbornly welded to its own. It serves dishes that are refreshingly old-fashioned — yet still mindful of the seasons — in a comely space to match. Like: nutty and velvety cauliflower soup, steamed mussels in a deeply flavored broth, superbly moist roasted chicken, and a burger that’s properly sized and minimally adorned. While reservations remain notoriously difficult to come by, walk-ins are rarely out of reach. 

15. Yimm Oakland

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6048 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 250-9678
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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 Kua Gai, a Thai staple wok-fried noodle dish with calamari and leafy greens, or Moo Krob, a type of crispy pork belly stir-fried with Chinese broccoli. 

16. Tamaleria Azteca

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5751 Market St
Oakland, CA 94608
(510) 200-3190

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.

17. Belotti Ristorante E Bottega

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5403 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 788-7890
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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.

18. Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement

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5959 Shellmound St
Emeryville, CA 94608

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.

19. Pyeong Chang Tofu House Oakland

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4701 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 658-9040
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Among the long stretch of Korean restaurants that line Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, Pyeong Chang is one of the most consistently satisfying, with its small but reliably excellent banchan selection; its shatteringly crisp kimchi pancake; and, most especially, its namesake tofu stews — bubbling little cauldrons that pack a ton of flavor and chile heat (if you request it). Don’t miss their Korean Fried Chicken. Multiple locations.

20. Tacos Oscar

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420 40th St
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 735-9620
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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. It’s still takeout only, but stay tuned for expanded seating options.

21. Commis

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3859 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 653-3902
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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. Bonus: an At-Home Dry-Aged Ribeye Steak meal set is available for takeout.

Jon Cheng

22. Pomella

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3770 Piedmont Ave Unit B
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 250-9215
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Born right at the start of the pandemic across the street from her former restaurant across the street, Ba-Bite, Mica Talmor’s new Israeli-inspired restaurant features a dips- and salads-focused menu that’s perfect for these takeout-oriented 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

23. Horn Barbecue

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2534 Mandela Pkwy
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 225-6101
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Horn Barbecue has racked up all the love from locals, press, and fellow pitmasters since owner Matt Horn began his pop-ups around the Bay Area a fews years ago. Now, after a lengthy permitting process, his West Oakland location is serving up smoked brisket, hot links, chicken, and all the sides to the throngs that visit each day. Soon, Horn will add a taco truck with brisket tacos to the parking lot, and plans to open fried chicken and burger restaurants in the near future.

ribs at Horn bbq Horn BBQ

24. Soba Ichi

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2311A Magnolia St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 465-1969
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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. Note: the restaurant closes at 8.

25. Kingston 11 Cuisine

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2270 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 282-8266
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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.

26. Brown Sugar Kitchen

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2295 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 839-7685
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The newly reborn flagship of Brown Sugar Kitchen continues to crank out chef Tanya Holland’s brand of tasty, California-inflected soul food to feed the community — mostly fried chicken, but also oyster po’boys, gumbo, and slow-cooked oxtails. Fans of the world-beating cornmeal waffles can rejoice, now that the restaurant is back open for in-person dining and serving them freely.

27. Miss Ollie's

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901 Washington St
Oakland, CA 94607
(415) 260-4545
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Everything about this Afro-Caribbean restaurant is wonderfully inviting, from its bright turquoise vintage enamel plates to the smell of its best-in-class skillet-fried chicken wafting out of the kitchen. Chef Sarah Kirnon’s dishes seamlessly fuse together California and the Caribbean, as in a “Oakland Bistro Salad” of cornmeal-crusted fried oysters, soft-boiled egg, and pickled green tomato, or the chef’s version of the Jamaican breakfast favorite saltfish and ackee, which features seasonal vegetables and a blistering Scotch bonnet chile heat that shouldn’t be trifled with.

28. Ming's Tasty

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940 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 918-8988
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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.

29. Lucky Three Seven

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2868 Fruitvale Ave
Oakland, CA 94602
(510) 866-2023
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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.

30. Banh Mi Ba Le

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1909 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-9800

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.

31. Vientian Cafe

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3801 Allendale Ave
Oakland, CA 94619
(510) 535-2218
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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: nam kao, or crunchy rice ball salad; fermented Lao sausages; catfish steamed inside banana leaves; and an assortment of delicious noodle soups.

32. CocoBreeze Caribbean Restaurant and Bakery

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2370 High St
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 479-3270
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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 during the pandemic, 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.

33. Taqueria El Paisa

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4610 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 610-6398
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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.

34. Top Hatters Kitchen and Bar

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855 MacArthur Blvd
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 777-9777
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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.

35. Kendejah Restaurant

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197 Pelton Center Way
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 756-6049
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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.

36. Range Life

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2160 Railroad Ave
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 583-5370
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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

37. Toto's Grill

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21933 Foothill Blvd
Hayward, CA 94541
(510) 674-9338
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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. During non-pandemic times, the restaurant features a cook-it-yourself charcoal grill setup — for now, regulars like to set up a little barbecue party on the hood of their car in the parking lot.

38. De Afghanan Cuisine

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37395 Fremont Blvd
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 857-1009
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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.

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1. La Selva Taqueria

1049 23rd St, Richmond, CA 94804

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 takeout 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.

1049 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804

2. El Garage

1428 Macdonald Ave, Richmond, CA 94801

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. Recently the restaurant has expanded its menu to include a few non-birria specials too: The spicy red pozole, in particular, is well worth seeking out.

1428 Macdonald Ave
Richmond, CA 94801

3. Mississippi Catfish

12440 San Pablo Ave, Richmond, CA 94805
Fried catfish, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, and sides from Mississippi Catfish Luke Tsai

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.

12440 San Pablo Ave
Richmond, CA 94805

4. Gangnam Tofu Korean Cuisine

11740 San Pablo Ave c, El Cerrito, CA 94530

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.

11740 San Pablo Ave c
El Cerrito, CA 94530

5. Tashi Delek Cuisine

11224 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

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.

11224 San Pablo Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530

6. Cheese Board Pizza

1512 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA, 94709

It’s debatable whether Cheese Board Pizza technically serves its namesake pie — a more accurate label would be to call it flatbread with cheese. Regardless, Cheese Board is one of the few only-in-Berkeley institutions everyone in the East Bay needs to experience at least once. There’s only ever one pizza option each day, and it’s always vegetarian, often drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil, and features an idiosyncratic thin, sourdough-based crust. True Berkeleyans like to sprawl out with their slices on the grassy median of Shattuck Avenue. In addition offering whole and half pies, Cheese Board will also sell par-baked pizzas all day at its bakery next door.

1512 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
CA, 94709

7. Funky Elephant

1313 Ninth St Ste120, Berkeley, CA 94710

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). 

1313 Ninth St Ste120
Berkeley, CA 94710

8. 眷湘 Easterly Berkeley

2142 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704