Oakland has long stood in the shadow of its glitzy, polished sister, San Francisco, struggling to shake off its rough-and-tumble reputation. But thanks in part to a new wave of businesses, the town is finally getting its moment in the spotlight. With its diverse community, lower rent, and more generous square footage, Oakland now attracts to everyone from tech workers-turned-food entrepreneurs, to Michelin-starred chefs taking a chance on an out-of-the-box restaurant concept.

The numbers speak for themselves: More than 300 bars, cafés, and restaurants have opened here in the past year alone. All of this growth has given Oakland a reputation as a world-class city in its own right, but local chefs still know where to go to dodge the newfangled hype in favor of the city’s true appeal: its unassuming, down-to-earth sensibility.

We asked 12 chefs who’ve planted their roots in Oakland where they like to grab a bite when they’re off duty. From Mexico-city inspired chorizo tacos to homemade pork-and-chive dumplings, here are their picks—including a couple gems from nearby East Bay neighborhoods.

Sunhui Chang

Chef/owner at FuseBOX
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Caffe 817 (817 Washington St; 510-271-7965, caffe817.com)

Chang says: “You can’t go wrong with the daily special, especially the house-made pastrami. But I can never leave without one of their chocolate-chip cookies. Scott and Emily [Goldenberg] are solid owners, and they met working the line at Zuni, so you know they can flat-out cook.” (Photos: Naomi Quinones, Flickr/George Kelly)


Preeti Mistry

Chef/owner at Juhu Beach Club
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tacos Mi Rancho (1434 1st Ave, 510-395-1403)

Mistry says: “I love this place. It’s in a little parking lot right by Lake Merritt; the tacos are only $1.75 each. All of the tacos are great, but the one I like the best is the al pastor. It is perfectly spicy, sweet, and salty.” (Photos: Alanna Hale, Instagram/bellybound)

James Syhabout

Chef and restaurateur at Commis, The Dock, and Hawker Fare
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tian Jin Dumplings (989 Franklin St, 510-459-6265)

Syhabout says: “Tian Jin Dumplings is a mini Chinese dumpling workshop that has a service window where you can purchase dumplings to cook at home. What I also like to do is order some freshly steamed pork-and-chive dumplings, and eat them on the street in front of the storefront. The dumplings are fresh and plump, and I love the street-food vibe.” (Photos: Nader Khouri, Umami Mart)


Charlie Parker

Executive chef at Haven
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Kim Huong (304 10th St; 510-836-3139, kimhuongoakland.com)

Parker says: “The beef combination pho is amazing. It has a very rich broth full of tripe and tendon with a slight sweetness from anise, and the soup only gets better with their house-made hot sauce and a handful of fresh herbs and lime juice. It’s best on a cold day or for a hangover.” (Photos: Tienlon, Instagram/urbanfoodmaven)


Blake Joffe

Chef, baker, and co-owner at Beauty’s Bagel Shop
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Shan Dong (328 10th St, 510-839-2299, shandongrestaurant.com)

Joffe says: “I’ve been going to Shan Dong for years, so much so that the Chinese couple who own it and work there every day know my face. I always get some of their chewy hand-pulled noodles with fried tofu, veggies, and spicy sauce. The food is fresh-tasting, not greasy, and made with care. It always makes me happy to see how busy this place is!” (Photos: Amy Remsen, Flickr/Neil Conway)

Jen Biesty

Executive chef and partner at Shakewell
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Battambang Restaurant (850 Broadway, 510-839-8815)

Biesty says: “The stuffed chicken wings (slarb moarn bourk) are the best I’ve ever had—way better then any angel wings you get at a Thai restaurant. Baksei trung kor (crispy stuffed quail) is perfectly cooked; you can eat the whole bird, bones and all. And the stir-fried frog’s legs are worth a try.” (Photos: Devon Miller, Flavor Boulevard)


Alison Barakat

Co-owner and baker at Bakesale Betty
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Phnom Penh House (251 8th St; 510-893-3825, phnompenhhouse.com)

Barakat says: “I love to go to Phnom Penh House in Oakland’s Chinatown and order the lotus-root salad, char-broiled beef skewers with pickled veggies, and the sweet basil chili fried rice. The food is super-delicious, and the service is very friendly and welcoming. It’s one of those restaurants where every dish that comes out of the kitchen looks really good.” (Photo: Instagram/iamru11)

Tanya Holland

Executive chef and owner at Brown Sugar Kitchen
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Cook and Her Farmer (907 Washington St; 510-285-6140, thecookandherfarmer.com)

Holland says: “This is the most unpretentious farm-to-table place on the planet. Chef Romney Steele brings her mellow but meticulous Big Sur energy to the food. Each dish is made to order with what feels like love. I love sitting at the bar counter and having either her Penn Cove mussels with fries—the best around—or my staple, her kale and quinoa salad. Plus, there’s always a thoughtful selection of wines.” (Photo: Instagram/valerielily)


Russell Moore

Executive chef and co-owner at Camino
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: El Paisa (4610 International Blvd, 510-534-2180)

Moore says: “This taqueria feels like it’s in Mexico City. You pay the cashier for how many tacos you want, then you bring your receipt to the taquero behind the counter. There’s a big vat of bubbling fat that has chorizo, tripe, suadero, nopales, and little onions bobbing around. When they get your order, one guy dips the tortillas in the fat and throws them on the flat-top to heat up, while the other guy pulls the meat out of the fat and starts chopping it up. Everyone loves the suadero, and they make their own chorizo, which is really good. Camino’s had two staff parties at El Paisa—that’s how much we like it!” (Photo: Instagram/camino_oakland)

Charlie Hallowell

Chef-owner at Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service, and Penrose
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St, 510-832-8896, hawkerfare.com)

Hallowell says: “One of my favorite places to go is Hawker Fare for the 24-hour pork-belly rice bowl. James is a friend of mine, and I love to stop by for lunch during busy work days when I get the chance. Fast, delicious, big flavors are what it’s all about, and in a city and country with no real street food, Hawker Fare is a nice place to remember the rest of the world.” (Photos: Renya Yagolnitzer, 510Foodie)


Gail Lillian

Chef-owner of Liba Falafel
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Benchmark Pizzeria (1568 Oak View Avenue, Kensington; 510-647-9724, benchmarkpizzeria.com)

Lillian says: “Benchmark Pizzeria is a tremendously special spot, in Kensington, on the eastern edge of Albany. Not only do the owners Melissa and Peter make phenomenal wood-fired pizza, but their salads, plates, and desserts capture the magic of seasonal, hand-chosen produce with every attempt. My husband and I still laugh at how days after we had a side dish of broccoli with olive oil, we were still talking about how delicious it was. They know how to let good ingredients rise to the top of what they do.” (Photo: Benchmark Pizzeria)

Rocky Maselli

Executive chef at A16 Rockridge
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Favorite under-the-radar spot: Saigon Seafood Harbor (3150 Pierce St, Richmond; 510-559-9388, richmond.saigonhk.com)

Maselli says: “Dim sum during the day, and Hong Kong-style seafood at night. Hands-down the best I’ve experienced in the Bay Area; it’s my family’s favorite dim sum, and the quality of the live fish can’t be beat. I dream of their XO sauce. Prepare to wait, but it’s worth every minute standing in line.” (Photos: Frankie Frankeny, Flickr/Elsie Hui)

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