Despite the challenges of the past year and a half, the East Bay has seen an influx of exciting new restaurants — mostly unfussy, relatively affordable places that show off the breadth and depth of the region’s varied cuisines. Newer additions include a sunny spot for a mezze brunch and an American brasserie embedded in historic digs. Read on for 12 of the East Bay’s most exciting new restaurants.
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Breakfast and lunch get an infusion of Palestinian flavor at Lulu, the debut restaurant from Palestinian-American chef Mona Leena, formerly executive chef at Dyafa. At Lulu she brings forth a menu of sweet and savory pastries — including her popular mana’eesh — and takes deviled eggs to the Middle East with whipped labneh yolks and a za’atar rim. On weekends, mezze brunch means a family-style spread of hummus, labneh, and more in a bright space with hot pink neon accents and a healthy number of plants.
Rockridge has a new crown jewel in Sunday Bakeshop, a bakery using French techniques and Asian American flavors to create craveable, flaky pastries. For example, the aloha croissant combines sweet pineapple pork sausage, green onions, furikake, aged parmesan, and house-made kimchee spiced salt, while a dim sum cookie incorporates sesame tahini, roasted sesame seeds, and sweetened red bean paste. Order ahead or stop by to ogle them all, in person.
Hard to say whether it’s the charm of the space — with its sunny interior and checkered floors — or the selection of brightly hued natural wines or the menu of always-rotating chalkboard menu of small plates that’s captivated the attention of Bay Area diners. But in any case, Snail Bar is ready to serve interested parties delicate crudos, colorful crudites, and, naturally, plates of escargots. Chef and owner Andres Giraldo Florez brings experience at Michelin-starred restaurants including Saison and WD-50 in New York to the endeavor.
Oakland, CA 94611
The East Bay’s buzziest pop-up of the moment is this Taiwanese beef noodle soup specialist, whose Sunday pickup slots tend to sell out within an hour after they’re posted for online preordering (every Wednesday at noon). The enthusiasm is understandable: The East Bay’s Taiwanese food scene has long been fairly thin, which means there aren’t many places where you can score even a half-decent version of hong shao (red-braised) beef noodle soup or lu rou fan (braised pork belly rice) — Yilan Foods’ two signature dishes. Of course, Yilan’s version aims to be much better than half-decent: The rich broth for the soup is cooked overnight; the lu rou fan is made exclusively with hand-cut pork belly, unlike more Americanized spots, which tend to temper the dish’s inherent, glorious fattiness with leaner cuts.
This tropical-inspired steakhouse from the team behind Kon-Tiki first opened in May 2020 for takeout, but eventually closed to wait out the pandemic. Now it’s back open in the heart of Uptown Oakland in all it’s neon-pastel glory, bringing dishes like steak tartare with salsa verde aioli and totopos, and shrimp cocktail with tomatillo sauce and cilantro oil to the waiting masses. Cocktails match the vibe, leaning into the team’s tiki pedigree.
After serving patrons for only nine days ahead of last March’s lockdown, buzzy Afro-Latino cocktail bar and restaurant Sobre Mesa is back. Chef Nelson German (currently a competitor on Season 18 of Top Chef) has revived his menu of dishes like tostones with salchichon n’duja, steak and cheese empanadas, and jerk mussels. Tropical cocktails are on order, including Nina’s Spell with cognac, peach liqueur, ginger, lime, yuzu, and Angostura. Indoor dining and seats on the heated outdoor parklet are available by reservation, with limited space for walk-ins.
Downtown Oaklands’ historic Tribune Tower (formerly the home of the Oakland Tribune newspaper) now houses an American brasserie from the team behind Town Revival. Here partners Omri Aflalo, John Cahill, and Darrin Ballon give familiar classics like steak tartare and a chopped salad a slight refresh and offer up cocktails like the Rumble In The Jungle made with both dark and pineapple rum, Campari, and lime juice.
Oakland, CA 94607
Chikara Ono, chef-owner of B-Dama, has flipped the former izakaya-style kiosk at Swan’s Market into a two-for-one special with the opening of Dela Curo and Sundo. Dela Curo centers around rich, black Japanese curry that’s made by caramelizing each component of the curry before combining them. Sundo, meanwhile, is all about sandwiches served on fluffy milk bread that Ono imports from Japan.
Oakland, CA 94607
Understory opened in March as a worker-led restaurant and bar serving food inspired by the backgrounds of the workers running the kitchen. That includes Moroccan, Filipino, and Mexican influences in the form of snacks like ukoy fritters, small plates like cauliflower baja tacos, and sliders, with fillings like kefta lamb or chicken tocino. There are a few cocktails on offer, as well as dessert. Almost everything is vegan, or can be made vegan, too.
Jo's Modern Thai
Former Kin Khao chef Intu-on Kornnawong, who’s eponymous pop-up was one of the highlights of Bay Area dining in 2020, partnered with local owner Kao Saelee to bring pork laab burgers and splashy cocktails to Oakland at Jo’s Modern Thai. Kornnawong’s uncompromising flavors are inspired by her Issan roots and shaped by the flavors of northern California, which means dishes like pad Thai come crowned with lobster or soft shell crab while spicy pad kee mao will showcase brisket sourced from Oakland’s Smokin’ Woods BBQ. Paired with tropical cocktails from Tayler Sampson (Starline Social Club) on the restaurant’s beachy back patio, Jo’s makes escapism easy.
Oakland, CA 94601
The Bussdown is weaving in Jamaican, West-African, and Nigerian flavors into its takeout- and delivery-only offerings, liked smoked sofrito seafood, Jamaican beef patties, and more. The duo behind it, chefs Solomon Johnson and Mike Woods, are also working on a new concept, that they’re previewing in a series of monthly supper club dinners. Grab a ticket to OKO for an eight-course tasting menu built to highlight the African and Afro-Latino diaspora at a loft space in Oakland, with plans for a fine dining restaurant down the line. More details and tickets can be found here.
Red Bay Coffee Roasters - Headquarters & Cafe
Red Bay’s new HQ is both a roastery and cafe, though right now the majority of food offerings are excellent pastries, with a large offering of coffee and teas. Eventually African hand pies and empanadas will join the menu. For now, swing by to check out Red Bay’s beautiful new space in the heart of Fruitvale.