Why is the food scene on such an upswing in Oakland right now?
I’ve lived in Oakland for 13, almost 14 years now. Where Berkeley always seems to be a little frozen in time, trying to hold on to some past, Oakland is more fluid. I’ve never lived in a place as diverse. It’s a little looser, the city is a little more welcoming business-wise, real estate is a little more accessible, and there are a lot of creative people living here. All those things feed into making the food scene what it is.
What are some of the highlights?
There are all the obvious new restaurants, but then there are so many other really cool things about Oakland, like International Boulevard with all the Vietnamese restaurants. There’s the Hodo tofu factory. Blue Bottle Coffee got its start here, and Blue Chair Fruit is here. I also think the Pop-Up General Store is really exciting because it’s got such a great collection of the local producers. It’s not quite a farmers’ market because it’s food products, not farmers, and you can order in advance.
The diversity of the cuisines available is sort of amazing too.
When you just sit down and wrap your head around it, it never ends. The very beginning of International Boulevard is so intensely Vietnamese that there is no English spoken. There’s the Lao community. And there’s a huge Korean scene on Telegraph, with a really cool supermarket called the Koreana Plaza where you can just wander forever. Ethiopian has a big presence too.
What’s one of your favorite restaurants right now?
Pizzaiolo is just a place I can’t say enough about. The food is really wonderful, but beyond that [chef/owner Charlie Hallowell] really understands the role a restaurant can play in a community, and it’s really important to him. In the morning you can get coffee and a doughnut and at noon they stop serving, but they won’t kick you out; you can sit all day while they cook and work. Charlie really gets it.