Soul and Food in West Oakland

The revival continues in one of the most industrial parts of town.


Photo by Stephen Loewinsohn


West Oakland is far from down and out, high crime rates and gritty industrial zone notwithstanding. There are pioneers and other forward-thinkers who know there’s more here than meets the eye. They have welcomed what chefs, artists, historians, and others are bringing to the neighborhood, and together they’re working to make sure that West Oakland, sometimes known more as the last BART stop before The City, gets the notice it deserves.




The soul food menu at Brown Sugar Kitchen has gained praise from just about every major national media outlet and local publication you can think of. It’s hard to ignore a weekend-brunch cult made up of folks willing to wait upward of an hour for a seat in chef-owner Tanya Holland’s small Mandela Parkway café. One bite of the cheesy grits, and you might be able to justify the line too. 2534 Mandela Parkway, 510-839-7685,

In this part of the Town, KFC stands for something else at FuseBox. It’s Korean fried chicken, and you can order it in the Tokyo Po’boy, a tangy spin on the Southern staple thanks to a red cabbage slaw. The tiny restaurant on Magnolia Street is easy to miss among the neighboring warehouses, and getting a table is hard, too; be sure to make reservations for lunch or dinner. 2311 Magnolia St., 510-444-3100,

“Farm fresh food that feeds the soul” is the approach at Zella’s Soulful Kitchen, a countertop service within Mandela Foods Cooperative where owner Dionne Knox channels her grandmother’s home cooking in simple, flavorful fare ranging from salads and sandwiches to rotisserie chickens and grilled pork chops. You can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner here to go, or sit down on the recently opened patio. 14730 Seventh St., 510-452-1151,




After indulging in what might be a short-rib patty melt at Zella’s, stick around to check out Mandela Foods Cooperative’s selection of healthy goods. Colorful produce lines the walls, and a wide selection of bulk food is available at the pull of a lever. The worker-owned grocery store offers hefty discounts on healthy staples from local brands. Want something you don’t see? Fill out a request form or chat with one of the staff, and a member might just be able to get it for you. 1430 Seventh St., 510-452-1133,




In the mid-20th century, you could expect the sounds of blues, gospel, and jazz to spill out of clubs like Slim Jenkins Supper Club and Esther’s Orbit Room onto Seventh Street any given night. Today, that rich history is remembered on a stroll down the Music They Played on Seventh Street Oakland Walk of Fame. This March, the Bay Area Blues Society unveiled 88 commemorative plaques on a stretch of sidewalk in front of BART, with about 120 more on the way. 510-836-2227,

After honoring the past, look ahead on visits to colorful murals done by the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project. The Attitudinal Healing Connection program works with middle and high school kids to conceptualize and plan seven murals around West Oakland and part of Emeryville on what community super heroes would look like. Two have been completed, at Market Street and San Pablo Avenue, with the help of artists like Aaron De La Cruz, David Burke, and Senay “Refa” Dennis. A third installment by Javier Rocabado on West Street is slated to be finished in the fall.

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