Find it: 4301 Piedmont Ave
The Bay Area has long been the Ellis Island of the West Coast, the entry port for most of the country’s Chinese and Japanese immigrants. So it’s no surprise that some of the best Japanese food in the country is located here. B-Dama is the apotheosis of that movement. While there are certainly Californian twists on the cuisines that Chikara-san creates, most of the food is authentic Japanese, prepared with homeland techniques.
The restaurant is the owner’s second after the well-received Geta Sushi, and he expands on the menu to include such wildly un-American food as tendon stew and chicken heart. That’s part of the appeal — getting something you wouldn’t normally see — but for the less adventurous, there’s still good ol’ beef skewers and fish. If you’re gonna go, be quick about it. The restaurant is shortly moving locations, which, good or bad, is gonna mean big changes in the near future.
2. 1-2-3-4 Go! Records
Find it: 420 40th St #5
In the world of iTunes and Spotify, vinyl is turning into a lost art, known and loved only by the niche that doesn’t need the marketing in the first place. But the quality of a good vinyl record can’t be understated, and 1-2-3-4 Go! Records isn’t giving up the fight just yet.
It’s a record store, sure. The kind you go to and talk music with the employees more than you ever actually buy anything. They’re open 363 days a year (only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas), and they buy used records for a better price than you’re likely to get anywhere else. But by marketing those records as more than just audiophiliac feel-good material, the store is bringing them back into the limelight.
In that sense, it’s following the same trajectory as the music industry as a whole — if you want to bring them in, it’s all about the live act. So in addition to the huge selection of records, you can hear tons of local bands (as well as the occasional bigger name) playing inside. Good music takes center stage.
3. City Slicker Farmer’s Market
The term “city slicker” always sounds like an insult. But hey, it’s 2014 — time to take it back. City Slicker Farms is at the forefront of the movement to return the American agricultural spirit to our urban spaces, a community market that brings fresh food to areas it wouldn’t normally be available.
Their gardens are set up in vacant or underutilized lots throughout the city. The organizers collect food scraps from local businesses and combine them with donated sawdust and manure to make fresh compost and soil of the quality you’d expect to find in the fields of Kansas, not in the heart of Oakland. From this sprouts a seasonal offering of vegetables, a truly local food cycle that expands to include things like eggs and honey.
But the most important part of this endeavor is the market. There are several stands on different streets, each offering different items (fresh produce at the main stand on 34th, herbs on Haven, a nursery on 18th). And while you can buy your produce there to support the cause, money’s not the point. It’s about bringing healthy food to the masses, and everything is distributed on a donation-only basis to ensure all locals can get their non-processed fill. And if you like what they’re doing, feel free to drop in and help out — volunteers are welcome.
4. Tacos Mi Rancho
Find it: 1st Ave & 14th St
Every neighborhood has its go-to taco joint. The greasy hole in the wall that somehow tends to taste better the more grime there is growing in the grout. Oakland’s no different, though if you ask a local, you’re less likely to find the location they name. Depending on whom you ask, at what time of day, at what level of sobriety, it goes by different titles: The taco truck. 1st and International.
Really, it’s called Tacos Mi Rancho, and though it’s run out of a little ramshackle stand on the side of the road, it serves some of the best Mexican food in town.
While Tacos Mi Rancho is, of course, great for a little alcohol absorption come late-night, the stand is open 18 hours a day, and it doesn’t pull its punches mid-morning either. With tons of vegetarian options and a quality that seems counterintuitive to its appearance (not to mention the sub-$6 price tag), it’s a great option no matter the mindset.
5. Stork Club
Find it: 2330 Telegraph Ave
This is the definition of an underground spot. A divey, grimy, smoky bar off to the side of everything, but with live music like a deluge upon entrance. Pool tables, smoking areas, cheap beers. It’s everything you want when you’re looking to check out on a nickel, plus just enough of an oddity to keep you on your toes.
The Stork Club revels in its strangeness — Barbie dolls and fish tanks line the dark walls. But it’s the people that snap away the eeriness. There are live shows just about every night, showcasing everything from funky local bands, to dancy DJs, to salacious burlesque shows and comedy.
No matter what you’re into, you’ll find it here.
6. Bica Coffeehouse
Find it: 5701 College Ave
For whatever reason, no venue has captured the spirit of “neighborhood hangout” like the coffeeshop. Ever since Friends hit the scene with their how-the-hell-do-you-not-need-to-go-to-work crew, coffeeshops have scrambled to be something greater than slingers of caffeine. Many will sell their soul for a bit of customer loyalty, bringing in free wifi, comfy couches, televisions…anything to keep them coming in. Except, seemingly, a great cup of joe.
Bica doesn’t give in to the gimmicks. It’s not a large establishment, and there’s hardly any actual seating. The menu is a basic list stuck on a clipboard. But somehow, it’s become a neighborhood favorite with a dedicated customer base.
It does this by focusing on the coffee it sells more than the bar it sells it from. The beans come mostly from dedicated Bay Area roasters (Ritual Coffee, Verve, Four Barrel Coffee, etc.), and while there are popular international roasts as well, it’s the hometown loyalty that customers are drawn to. The knowledgeable and friendly baristas certainly don’t hurt.
7. NIDO Kitchen & Bar
Find it: 444 Oak St
Nido means “nest” in Spanish, which says pretty much everything you need to know about what the owners are trying to do with the kitchen they run. It’s the place you come to roost after a long day’s work. Ideally, you’ll be undoing your tie and loosening your collar while enjoying some classic Californian fish tacos and drinking an ice-cold cerveza.
Located on the southern edge of the Jack London District, Nido epitomizes the love of nature of its neighborhood’s eponym. All the food is sourced from humanely raised animals free from antibiotics and hormones, and all the produce is California grown. The menu thus has to change seasonally, but when everything is made fresh daily in-house, that only means you get to try something new and great every time you visit.
8. American Steel Studios
Find it: 1960 Mandela Parkway
Admittedly, American Steel isn’t exactly the kind of place you just drop in to “check out.” With buzz saws going in every corner, large trucks driving in and out, and a name like that, it’s more likely to be passed over as some industrial construction site. Hell, go on any given day and you’ll probably be turned away. But when the building covers the space of six city blocks, it’s kind of hard not to get curious and go for a peek.
AmSteel Studios isn’t a restaurant, nor is it a club. It’s really not even an art gallery, or a tourist attraction of any kind. American Steel is a gigantic workspace with room for 150 different artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs to explore their craft in a space specifically designed for it. It’s split into two buildings: one an industrial paradise for larger-scale work, and a second smaller space with lots of light for the more delicate operations being carried out inside.
But fear not: It is possible to see the amazing stuff going on here without actually having to rent studio space. AmSteel has dynamic internships and free programs for people interested in getting into some unconventional art themselves (including the performance arts), while also offering seasonal Open Studio shows to showcase the art and innovation percolating out.
And that’s not all they offer the community — there’s also a monthly litter cleanup, plus sustainable resource usage and the planting of trees. Because making beauty doesn’t only happen in the art studio.
9. The Good Hop
Find it: 2421 Telegraph Ave
There are bottle shops you rush through at midnight when you realize the party supplies are running low. And there are bottle shops you meander through at 6 in the afternoon, taking the time to windowshop. Not many actually allow you to test the waters, though. That’s The Good Hop’s thing. A new fixture on Telegraph, it wants to be the Barnes & Noble of bottle shops — the place you settle into a seat and read a bit before carrying your purchase home.
With 16 different Californian craft brews on tap, it’s really more of a pub than a retail store. Although, that assessment would be immediately undermined by the more than 600 different bottles and cans from around the world lining the walls. All craft beers, too.
The establishment just opened, so they’re still building up their loyal fan base. They’ll also have tie-ins to all the major beer events throughout the Bay Area to make sure people know their name, and once folks are through the door, no doubt they’ll stay. Every month, The Good Hop will be putting on a beer-and-cheese pairing event, along with Meet the Brewers functions.
10. Hog’s Apothecary
Find it: 375 40th St
With 25+ craft drafts on tap every day (hand-picked and delivered straight from the brewery), Hog’s Apothecary claims to have the best beer list of any restaurant in the States. And that’s only a complement to the porcine pickings, chosen from the most sustainable local farms and butchered in-house to guarantee freshness. Not to mention the farm-direct fresh produce.
Hog’s is a relatively new restaurant on the Oakland scene. They’re celebrating their first birthday soon, and as a place that feels everything deserves an exclamation point, they’re not gonna let that slide quietly. With a specially chosen beer list and a hog massacre that will surely bear retelling for generations to come, it’s gonna “shut this mofo down.”
11. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
When you’re driving over the brand-new Bay Bridge on your way to Oakland, you’ll see some gigantic cranes hanging over the port like some kind of surrealist landscape from Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. Then you’ll put your eyes back on the road, feeling secure in your assumption that nothing so industrialized as to require cranes of that size could possibly be worth a visit to anybody without a high-vis jacket and a hard hat. But if for some reason you got curious enough to check it out, you’d be surprised. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is actually one of the best places to relax in Oakland.
And sure, it’s not exactly a national park or anything. But the cranes are so well managed that they act more like an art installation than anything else, and from the middle shore you get great views straight out to the Golden Gate Bridge (making this one of the single best places in the world to catch fireworks on the Fourth of July, by the way). The park features gigantic lawns and barbecues, not to mention jogging trails along the water. Taco trucks like to park nearby, so if the geese that call the park home manage to separate you from your treasured pic-a-nic basket, there’s always another option nearby.
The best times for a visit are right at sunrise or sunset, when the pink light of the sky is reflecting on the water under the bridge and the only people around are the other dawn patrollers out for a run. But it’s never too populated.
You can have it to yourself…for now.