Best of 2009

Our Multiculti Metropolitan Mashup


    So we’re on this plane, flying into Oakland, close enough to home that we can see the East Bay hills rolling in lush green waves beneath us, and a woman in the aisle seat says, literally out of the blue, that this is the first time she’s ever been to Oakland and, um, “What’s it like?”
    Ah. Loaded question.
    “It’s a very unusual place,” was about the best we could come up with on short notice, “and it rocks.”
    The trick in any such answer to a question like this is to somehow encapsulate the city’s wild diversity, and that’s also the trick in putting together a Best of Oakland issue. We’re all about taco trucks in Fruitvale and upscale restaurants in Rockridge; we routinely despair of downtown but lately find ourselves hanging in Uptown, and having a fine time of it, too; we agonize over the Raiders, Warriors and A’s, but we wouldn’t trade them for anything.
We are a muddle of contradictions and inconsistencies—one of two of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. (along with Long Beach), with more than 150 languages floating on the Bay breezes, so says the 2006 U.S. Census.
    In all, there are 377,256 of us here—34.1 percent white and 30.3 percent African American. Hispanic or Latino  of any race comprises  25.9 percent of our population. Among the rest of us, 15.6 percent are Asian American, 0.9 percent Native American, 0.7 percent Pacific Islander, 14.6 percent from other races and 3.8 percent from two or more races.
    No wonder, then, that this year’s Readers Poll yielded votes for 62 different favorite restaurants, 29 new restaurants, 32 different annual events, 23 grocery stores and 39 different places to people watch.The lesson? Keep a copy of the magazine with you next time you’re on a plane. Saves on the head scratching and stammering when you get hit with, “Oakland, eh?
    What’s it like?”

Readers' Picks

New Restaurant

    New restaurants have been opening so quickly that it’s a little hard to keep up. But readers didn’t have any problem naming Camino, with its two long-planked communal tables, simple candles, four big chandeliers and rustic décor as their favorite new restaurant in Oakland. But the game-changer isn’t in the scene sets. Here, it’s all about the food. O … M … G … the food. Chef/owner Russell Moore creates masterful menus daily, while mixologist Thad Vogler spins his magic behind the bar. As restaurant critic Derk Richardson wrote in these pages last November, “Dining at Camino can feel like attending a well-managed retreat, but it need not be approached—nor cynically dismissed—as a religious experience, even if the exquisitely tender grilled and roasted duck ($24) I savored on our first visit did almost have me speaking in tongues.”

3917 Grand Ave., (510) 547-5035  |

Soul Food

Brown Sugar Kitchen
    It hasn’t taken Tanya Holland and her Brown Sugar Kitchen long to establish itself as the go-to soul food restaurant in Oakland, and no wonder. This is Southern cooking with a bit of Africa thrown in, along with Caribbean influences, in a bright, spacious room in West Oakland. This is the real deal, with O-Town pizzazz, and it’s no surprise that this place fills up at breakfast, brunch and lunch times. One of the many reasons just might be the hominy grits, topped with cheese. Wow.

2534 Mandela Parkway, (510) 839-7685 |

Beer Selection

The Trappist
    In just a little over a year, this small, narrow cathedral in honor of Belgian beer has become far and away the favorite suds stop among the, shall we say, more sophisticated of Oakland Magazine readers. One reason that the brew cognoscenti adore this place is that owners Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen feature 15 rotating taps at any given time, along with 140 specialty beers in stock. On their Web site, these guys say three magic words: “No Corporate Beer,” so if it’s a Bud you’re after, don’t bother. But if it’s the Koningshoven Trappist Quadrupel or the Chimay Cinq Cents Triple, by all means, belly up to bar, if you can get there, and have a pint. “Op uw gezondheid!” for you Flemish, and for the French among you, “A votre sante!”

460 8th St., (510) 238-8900  |

Annual Event

Montclair Pet Mayor’s Contest
    This isn’t an ordinary event. The Montclair Pet Mayor contest is righteous, hilarious fun. Gracie (Montclair Vet) won the voting last year, but it wasn’t all Gracie’s show. Houdini, from the Silver Palace, was named Vice Mayor in the new administration, while Bella, from Someone’s In The Kitchen, was appointed Canine Commissioner. Gidget, a duck from Pet Food Express, was named, naturally, the new Sitting Duck, while Charley (Someone’s In The Kitchen) was named Cattorney General, Kai (Montclair Village Wines, Spirits ’n Brews) assumed the duties of Secretary of Steak. Drake (Loh Realty) was named Bark Ranger and finally, Bayly (Pacific National Bank) assumed duties as Deputy Dog. The silliness has a purpose, of course. Proceeds go to the Montclair Pet & Wildlife Fund, administered by Montclair Vet. Last year this event raised $15,000 on behalf of all the grateful critters.

Montclair Veterinary Hospital, 1969B Mountain Blvd, (510) 339-2400 |


Montclair Veterinary Hospital
    Tucked into a lower-level space off Mountain Boulevard in Montclair is the paws-down winner of this year’s readers’ poll in the category of veterinary medicine. It is the Montclair Veterinary Hospital, which has been handling cool cats and hot dogs (along with just about every other animal) since 1962. Moreover, the hospital is extremely active in helping wildlife through its Montclair Veterinary Hospital Pet & Wildlife Fund, which since 2004 has raised more than $240,000 in vet care and services. One of the major sources of funding comes via the Montclair Pet Mayor’s Contest, winner of this year’s Best Annual Event.

1969 Mountain Blvd., (510) 533-0700 |


Redwood Regional Park, Skyline Gate Trailhead
    The coolest thing about the Skyline Gate trailhead in Redwood Regional Park is that it offers so much, so close. A main entrance to the park, off Redwood Road, has more parking, but the Skyline Gate is the favorite among the readers. That’s probably because that is so danged multi-useful. Mountain bikers, hikers, dog walkers and trail runners love the West Ridge Trail, and the choices off this trail are myriad on an afternoon’s hike, including the closed-to-mountain-bikers Tres Sendas trail.

11500 Skyline Blvd., (888) 327-2757 |

Editors' Picks

Best Oakland Sky Tour

Chabot Space & Science Center
Free Telescope Viewing

We’re locked in by haze, atmosphere and light, so it’s no surprise that we urban, sea-level creatures don’t get to see what’s directly above us. That would be the sky. Fortunately, we have the Chabot Space & Science Center, and even more fortunately yet, the convivial people at the center offer free (free!) telescope viewing each Friday and Saturday nights. This is a fabulous thing, great for the family and great for anyone who wants to get to know his or her celestial surroundings. In the dark months, the shows begin at 7:30 p.m., but during the summer, the sky tours begin at dusk.

10000 Skyline Blvd., (510) 336-7300  |

Best Trip Abroad Without Leaving Town

International Boulevard
1.5-mile to 2-mile stretch between 22nd Avenue to 42nd Avenue and beyond
The backbone of East Oakland’s Fruitvale district is four lanes of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Laos, Vietnam, China, Thailand, and, since press time, probably about a dozen other countries. This is the corridor along and on either side of International Boulevard (East 14th Street). It’s noisy, disorganized and wonderful. Close your eyes and listen. Where the heck are yez? One of our favorite places to take it all in is World Cup Coffee, an espresso bar at 1212 Fruitvale Ave., just off International down toward Jingletown. It’s just weirdly out of place, but given the mixed bag of diversity around here, it manages to make sense. That’s because World Cup Coffee pairs its coffee drinks with scrumptious tamales, and for a foreign experience, that would just about cover it.

Best Old Place Made New Again

The Fox Theater
    What a difference a couple of decades make. We were standing outside the refurbished and renovated Fox Theater last February at the big re-opening gala, gazing across Telegraph toward Flora, and thought for a second we’d landed in deco paradise. As it turns out, we had. This is a serious piece of restoration, enough so that we were a little bit sore we hadn’t stopped by the Hat Guys on the way over for a snappy fedora or pork pie. By day, it’s home to the Oakland School for the Arts, and by night it is the flagship live music venue for Another Planet Entertainment, run by many of the old gang at Bill Graham Presents. Good pedigree, great re-do, and the sound is good, too.

1807 Telegraph Ave., (510) 548-3010 |

Best Handy as Heck Place to Know

Glenview Key and Lock
    Glenview Key and Lock isn’t what you’d exactly call a tourist trap. A locksmith? Even so, we’re going for it. It’s in a rather nondescript building in the commercial strip of Glenview along Park Boulevard. But when a lock or a hard-to-find key—including antique keys—is on the Saturday things-to-do list, this is the place. Key duplications, custom pet tag and key engraving, re-keying locks, master keying, deadbolt installation, window locks, patio door locks, Glenview Key and Lock does it all. But most important, the crew at Glenview Key and Lock are great at emergency lockouts, which can turn a disaster into a manageable crisis.

4197 Park Blvd., (510) 530-6141  |

Where Old Oakland Housewives Deal

Housewives Market
    It ain’t like it used to be, but the white-bricked Housewives Market in Old Oakland is still a hoot and a half. An open seating area serves as more or less a down-home food court for a manageable variety of butchers, wineries and seafood mongers. On Friday, the Old Oakland Farmers Market extends right up to the door—the best of both worlds. Older Oaklanders recognize this building as the old Swan’s building, much smaller than the original Housewives Market, which was torn down in 2003. For the architect crowd, the market is on the National Register of Historic places, and it won a major design award in 2001 for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. Cool.

907 Washington St. |

Taco Truck Cielo

    In the unending quest for lonchero cielo along International Boulevard’s Comida Corridor, it might not be a bad idea to stop right at the beginning—at the twin trucks that dominate the corner at 22nd Avenue. That would be Tacos Sinaloa and Mariscos Sinaloa, the opening acts of a roughly 2-mile swath of taco trucks, Latin American restaurants of all stripes, grocery stores, auto-body shops and lots of neighborhoody establishments that stretch to 48th Avenue and spill over into the side streets. What’s more, there are plenty of tables and chairs on the asphalt that separate the two Sinaloa trucks, and what better setting to wolf down the chorizo tacos (!) or the tacos de pescado before making your way to an A’s game? This is Oakland, amigos, and it’s hard to make a wrong choice here.

2138 International Blvd., (510) 535-1206

Seriously Organic Music

Jim Riggs, the Wurlitzer player at the Paramount Theatre
    As entrances go, few entertainers can match Jim Riggs. Sitting atop a moveable platform, Riggs rises from the depths of the Paramount Theatre, situates himself in front of the Mighty Wurlitzer, and begins to play. The crowd at Movie Night goes nuts, of course, as Riggs, 44, begins to navigate his way across the organ’s 244 keys and 32 foot pedals. This is a theater organ, mind you, and it’s supposed to emulate each tone that normally one could find in an orchestra. It’s a difficult piece of business, which is one reason why Riggs is one of the very few Wurlitzer players around. He played at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco for many years, and he plays the Stanford Theatre Wurlitzer in Palo Alto. “Combining both current and previous positions,” he says on his Web site, “I’ve estimated that I’ve performed for over 750,000 Bay Area movie patrons over the last 10 years. For my money, there’s simply nothing like hearing (and playing!) a good Wurlitzer in the setting for which it was intended. Period!” The Oakland crowd, obviously, agrees.

2025 Broadway, (510) 465-6400 |

Best Reason to Take the Ferry

The Last Friday Ferry Ride
    On the last Friday of each month there tends to be a phenomenal little party on the altogether charming Oakland-Alameda Ferry. This slap-dash, rider-inspired fiesta isn’t organized, and in the dark months or in rainy weather, the party might not happen at all. Having said that, when the Last Friday party happens, it’s a hoot. Regular riders bring snacks, local musicians may (or may not) bring their musical instruments on board, and things get so convivial that riders might take one, two or sometimes three roundtrips. (You give your ticket when you disembark, not when you board, so riders can just make a continual loop between San Francisco and Oakland or Alameda.) The party begins on the 5:20 p.m. boat out of San Francisco. Pick up the ferry on the East Bay side at 5:40 p.m. in Alameda and 5:50 p.m. at Jack London Square, and don’t forget to have a great ol’ time.

Best Industrial Outdoor Entertainment

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
    Middle Harbor Park is so tucked away, so unapparent, that the only people who really know about it are the ferry riders who ride the boat in and out of the Oakland Estuary. But wow, huh? It has great views from a dramatic observation tower, an amphitheater, free viewing scopes, three miles of pedestrian and bike paths, parking, restrooms and water fountains. What it also has is one of the dangdest views of the Port of Oakland at work. The big cranes swing this way and that, lifting containers to and from the ocean-going vessels, while shorebirds shriek along Oakland’s only beach. Betcha didn’t know we had a beach. Middle Harbor Road, Oakland

(510) 272-4810 |

Best Tats for Us

Temple Tattoo
    Tattoos have served as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, pledges of love, punishment, amulets and talismans. The symbolism and impact of tattoos vary in different places and cultures, but if it’s the United States we’re talking about, California is at Ground Zero. What’s more, the Bay Area has emerged as the leader of the Tat Pack, and Temple Tattoo in downtown Oakland is among the leaders of the leaders. Affable owner Freddy Corbin and his talented crew bring state-of-the art ink to anybody’s skin, and they have a great eye for color and design. The shop itself serves somewhat as an ornament to the tree-lined and leafy 17th Street, and passersby just can’t help stopping to peer inside. The studio is festooned with Christian art, but it’s not a one-dimensional deal. Also, the business has a pretty rockin’ YouTube video online, and it’s worth a look-see to learn about Corbin’s method.

384 17th St., (510) 451-6423 |

Favorite Place to Find Three-Wheeled Scooters

Rockridge Two Wheels
    It’s possible to see College Avenue traffic slow noticeably when the gang at this small motorcycle
and scooter shop are moving their three-wheeled Piaggios onto the street from the show room. “What the heck is that?” the rubberneckers exclaim. It’s a scooter, kind of. But wait! Those are two wheels in the front, and you’re just going to have to stop in the shop and talk to friendly store manager Darren to find out exactly how they work. Short answer: For road grip, stability, safety and ease of handling—yes, handling—these scooters rock. Moreover, they’re powerful, ranging from 250cc neighborhood-friendly models to a 450cc model that’s good to go on roads that have fast traffic, including freeways. The shop also sells the more conventional two-wheeled variety of scooters (Vespa, Kymko, Aprilia) and some truly imposing racing motorcycles.

3325 College Ave., (510) 594-0789 |

Best Place To Find a Lid

The Hat Guys (Men and Women)
    These guys have been around on Broadway since 1988, and they can get you fixed up with all manner of hats and caps. Mostly this is a men’s shop, but there are plenty of lids for women, too. Where to start? When we were looking, we had in mind something along the lines of an Australian Drover, perhaps a fedora, maybe a pork pie or a trilby. We got sidetracked by the collapsible top hats (“Hullo, Hugh Jackman”), then got steered toward some Homburgs and teardrops and finished up by trying on a bowler. Whew! The good brands are all here, such as Borsalino, Lagomarsino, Akubra and, yes, cowboy brands, too, such as Stetson. For the warmer months, try on a few Panamas or, our own favorite, the Stetson Milan straw two-tone fedora. Traveling? Yup, the Hat Guys have hat travel cases, too. And walking sticks. And … and … and …

1764 Broadway, (510) 834-6868 |

The Hat Library (Women)
    There’s a time for a hat and then there are times for really seriously fashionable women’s hats. There is church, of course, and weddings. And then there are the going-out-on-the-town hats, the Victorian hats and, once a year, the Easter bonnet and the Kentucky Derby hat. What to do and where to go? Our pick for the ladies is The Hat Library, which coincidentally is situated just two blocks away from The Hat Guys. These are one-of-a-kind designer original hats, and the Hat Library also has lots of accessories, including jewelry and gift items.

1946 Broadway, (510) 465-6523 |

Best Walk-Up Oysters

Rudy Figueroa’s Oyster Stand Montclair Farmers Market (Sunday Only)
    Every single Sunday is “Oyster Sunday” for the lucky gang of aficionados who gather on La Salle Avenue to pay homage to Rudy Figueroa. Figueroa is the self-effacing oyster shucker at the Montclair Farmers Market, where he sells the delicious bivalves for $1.75 apiece or $5 for three. He also sells clams, but the oysters are what keep people coming back. Nobody can shuck an oyster as fast or as cleanly as does this Santa Cruz-based monger, and his touch is so good that he never-ever-ever spills the “liquor” (or “soup”) from the shell. As a bonus, you might just run into Oakland best-selling author Mary Roach, (Stiff and, most recently, Bonk) who profiled Figueroa in a New York Times dispatch that ran shortly before Christmas last year. “He never says much, this Rudy Figueroa,” Roach wrote. “Once I asked him how Miyagis differ from Kumamotos, and he said, ‘One’s like macaroni and cheese, and one’s peanut butter and jelly.’ Figueroa is part of the luxury.”

La Salle Avenue between Moraga Avenue and Mountain Boulevard, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sundays, (510) 745-7100


Favorite Restaurant

Zachary’s Pizza

5801 College Ave.
(510) 655-6385
Also: Berkeley, San Ramon

Established Restaurant

3853 Piedmont Ave.
(510) 655-6004

Romantic Restaurant

3853 Piedmont Ave.
(510) 655-6004


La Farine
6323 College Ave.
(510) 654-0338;
3411 Fruitvale Ave.
(510) 531-7750
Also: Berkeley


Everett & Jones
126 Broadway
(Jack London Square)
(510) 663-2350;
2676 Fruitvale Ave.
(510) 533-0900;
3415 Telegraph Ave.
(510) 601-9377
Also: Alameda, Berkeley, Hayward, South Sacramento


Rick & Ann’s
2922 Domingo Ave., Berkeley
(510) 649-8538


Barney’s Gourmet Burgers

4162 Piedmont Ave., (510) 655-7180;
5819 College Ave., (510) 601-0444;
Also: San Francisco, Berkeley, San Rafael,
Santa Monica, Brentwood, Sherman Oaks,


Cactus Taqueria

5642 College Ave., (510) 658-6180


The Claremont Hotel & Spa
41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley
(510) 549-8510,


Miraglia Catering

2096 Burroughs Ave.
San Leandro, (510) 483-5210


Alice Waters
Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
(510) 548-5049

California Cuisine

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
(510) 548-5049


Little Shin Shin

4258 Piedmont Ave.
(510) 658-9799


La Note
2377 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley (510) 843-1535

Ice Cream

Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant

4226 Piedmont Ave.
(510) 658-7000


Italian Colors
2220 Mountain Blvd.
(510) 482-8094


Doña Tomás

5004 Telegraph Ave.
(510) 450-0522


Zachary’s Pizza

5801 College Ave.
(510) 655-6385
Also: Berkeley, San Ramon

Small Plates

À Côté
5478 College Ave.
(510) 655-6469



2100 Ward St., Berkeley
(510) 549-3486


Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery
5421 College Ave.
(510) 655-0889


Golden Lotus
1301 Franklin St.
(510) 893-0383


Le Cheval
1007 Clay St.
(510) 763-8495



1900 Telegraph Ave.
(510) 286-0100


Numerous Locations
(800) 999-2132


La Piñata No. 3
1440 Park St., Alameda
(510) 769-9110

Overall Bar

5356 College Ave.
(510) 595-4000

Wine Shop

Farmstead Cheeses and Wines
6218 Lasalle Ave.
(510) 864-9463;
Also: Alameda

Wine/Spirits Producer

St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch Ave.,
Alameda, (510) 769-1601

Sports Bar


6101 La Salle Ave.
(510) 339-2098


Bike Shop

Wheels of Justice
2024 Mountain Blvd.
(510) 339-6091


Barnes & Noble
98 Broadway
(Jack London Square)
(510) 272-0120


Greg Vrankovich
Healthfit Chiropractic Center
311 Oak St., Suite 115
(510) 655-3456

Chocolatier/Chocolate Maker

Charles Chocolates
6529 Hollis St. Emeryville
(510) 652-4412


Melinda Chan, DDS
Rockridge Smiles
5277 College Ave.
(510) 654-2226


Moderne Eye Optometry
5802 College Ave.
(510) 653-4242

Farmers Market

Jack London Square
Water Street
(near The Embarcadero)
(866) 295-9853

Garden Center

Grand Lake Ace Garden Center
4001 Grand Ave.
(510) 652-9143

Gift Shop

6134 Medau Place
(510) 339-7090

Golf Course

Tilden Park
Berkeley, (510) 848-7373

Grocery Store

Whole Foods

230 Bay Place
(510) 834-9800

Gym/Health Club

Club One
1200 Clay St.
(510) 895-1010

Yoga Studio

5416 College Ave.
(510) 547-9642

Hair Salon

Alexander Pope
5413 College Ave., (510) 601-5220

Hardware Store

Grand Lake Ace Hardware
4001 Grand Ave.
(510) 652-9143

Health Food Store

Whole Foods

230 Bay Place
(510) 834-9800 Stores/Oakland

Home Furnishings

4400 Shellmound St., Emeryville
(510) 420-4532

Jewelry Store

Pavé Fine Jewelry Design
5496 College Ave.,
(510) 547-7000

Live Music Venue

Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Japanese Restaurant

510 Embarcadero W.
(510) 238-9200


The Claremont Resort & Spa

41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley
(510) 549-8510

Movie Theater

Grand Lake Theater
3200 Grand Ave.
(510) 452-3556

Nail Shop Manicure/Pedicure

The Nail Shop
3326 Grand Ave.
(510) 832-6245


Jerry Brown
Attorney General

2633 Telegraph Ave., Suite 406

Outdoor Sporting Goods

1338 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley (510) 527-4140

Picnic Spot

Tilden Regional Park

600 Canon Drive, Kensington
(510) 525-2233

Place to People Watch

Jack London Square
(866) 295-9853

Radio Personality (Female)

Sarah (Alice Radio)
KLLC-FM, 97.3-FM
865 Battery, San Francisco
(415) 765-4097

Radio Personality (Male)

Ronn Owens, KGO
KGO-AM, 810, (Toll Fee) 808-0810

TV Personality (Female)

Julie Haener
KTVU-TV, Channel 2
P.O. Box 22222, (510) 834-1212

TV Personality (Male)

Frank Somerville
KTVU-TV, Channel 2
P.O. Box 22222, (510) 834-1212

Women’s Boutique

2967 College Ave.
(510) 849-0701


Children’s Clothing Store

Ruby’s Garden

5095 Telegraph Ave., Suite C
(510) 595-5325

Children’s Toy Store

Rockridge Kids

5511 College Ave.
(510) 601-5437

Kid-Friendly Restaurant

Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant

4226 Piedmont Ave.
(510) 658-7000

Place to Throw a Birthday Party

Pump It Up
2500 Embarcadero, Suite A
(510) 533-7867


Pet Shop

5523 College Ave., (510) 428-2785

Dog Care/Pet Spa

Happy Hound

1695 34th St.,
(510) 547-4067

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