There were comments about all sorts of local trivia, long closed restaurants, streets that have undergone name changes …
Reading all of those comments brought back lots of memories and made me a bit homesick because Oakland, California, is my hometown. But I haven’t actually lived there for 30 years, and I left the Bay Area 20 years ago to live in Hong Kong.
So I decided to research a post on the Top 10 Spots to Taste the REAL Oakland.
Where’s the There?
Within minutes, I was beginning to feel a bit like another expatriate Oaklander, Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946), who spent most of her life in Paris.
From Jack London to Bret Harte to Amy Tam to Maxine Hong Kingston, Oakland has had more than its fair share of literary greats. But it is to its preeminent writer – Gertrude Stein – that the city owes its most infamous – and always misinterpreted – quote: “There’s no there, there!”
What Gertrude REALLY meant was that all of her childhood haunts were missing. She had been away for many years, and – when she returned – she found that many of the places she recalled as a little girl were no longer there.
Gone but Not Forgotten
And as with Gertrude, I discovered as I combed my way through the Internet, that many of the places I always made it a point to visit on my increasingly infrequent visits home have also closed.
Hooper’s Chocolate, Doggie Diner, Taco Cozy Corner, the Hof Brau, Biff’s, Lantern – they have all been swept into the dustbin of Oakland history.
Oakland’s eating out scene appears to have undergone revolutionary changes since I left the Bay Area two decades ago. It has now suddenly gone a bit upscale – a bit trendy – a bit sophisticated …
But happily, a few of those old school eateries appear to have survived!
For a taste of the REAL Oakland, the Oakland I grew up in, head for these Top 10 Spots. Each one is an Oakland original. Included are bakeries and ice cream parlours.
(We Oaklanders used to have quite a sweet tooth.)
Kwik Way Drive-In
500 Lake Park Avenue, between Rand and Lakeshore Drive, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 832-1300.
This classic 1950s style burger joint was almost torn down and replaced with a McDonald’s a few years back, but saner heads prevailed. Apparently Gary Rizzo, owner of a nearby restaurant called Somerset, got the green light to breathe new life into the once shuttered drive in. It re-opened earlier this year (April 2011) with a full menu of burgers, “fries”, fried chicken, and milkshakes.
But this is what I want to know: are those French fries or are they those ever so greasy shoestring potatoes that we all loved?
What about those barbecue beef sandwiches? Are they on the menu?
And what about those fabulous apple pies, which one snooty food critic in San Francisco ranked as the best apple pies in the Bay Area a few decades back?
Neldam’s Danish Bakery
3401 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California.
Generations of Oaklanders celebrated their birthdays with birthday cakes from Neldam’s Danish Bakery. After 81 years in business, the landmark bakery was going to close. Employees – with the support of a sympathetic landlord – managed to reopen it last year as a sort of workers’ co-op. I understand that dentists in the neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Fentons Creamery and Restaurant
4226 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 658 7000.
Established in 1894, Fentons moved to its current location in the 1950s in what had formerly been a grocery store (they weren’t called supermarkets in those days). Famous for its hand made ice cream – from which the most decadent milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, banana splits, and black and tans were made – it is also famous for its burgers and fresh crab sandwiches. Fentons was especially popular with my parents generation.
Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream
5925 College Avenue, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 594 9466.
You will find Dreyers ice cream all over the world – every supermarket in Hong Kong sells it! But the best place to enjoy it is on College Avenue is Oakland’s then working class, now upscale Rockridge section, a short walk from the Rockridge BART station. Everything – even ice cream – tastes better at the source!
Mexicali Rose Restaurant
701 Clay Street Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 451 2450.
Move over taco trucks on East 14th Street (International Boulevard to out-of-towners)! Long before Fruitvale became one giant parking lot for taco trucks, Mexicali Rose was serving up yummy Mexican American food the way we like it – with rice and beans and lots of cheese. This Oakland landmark is one of the city’s oldest restaurants, and its serves killer Margaritas (last time I ate there).
Everette & Jones Barbeque
126 Broadway, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 663 2350.
The original Flint’s at 69th Avenue and East 14th Street had the best Q in town, but – now that it’s closed – you’ll have to settle for Everett & Jones. On the upside, there’s indoor seating. At Flint’s, it was purely take away – and it was usually taken away in a hurry!
Casper’s Famous Hot Dogs
5440 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California 94609 (510) 652 1668.
As all Oaklanders will tell you, there was Casper’s with a C and Kasper’s with a K, and we all had our preference. Loved those yummy franks enveloped in those steamed hot dog buns and slathered with mustard, diced raw onions, relish, and sliced tomatoes. Accompanied, of course, with a bag of potato chips. Better than New York’s Coney Island Red Hots by a long shot!
Heinold’s First and Last Chance
48 Webster Street, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 839 6761.
Opened on the Oakland waterfront in 1883 by Johnny Heinold, this old fashioned saloon was your first chance for a drink after disembarking from a ferry from San Francisco and your last chance for a drink before boarding a ferry for San Francisco. According to legend, Jack London penned some of his novels there.
Joy Luck Restaurant
327 8th Street, Oakland, California. Tel: (510) 832 4270.
Chinese American author Amy Tam grew up in Oakland, and I’ve always wondered if her first novel, “The Joy Luck Club”, was named after this restaurant. If I ever get to interview her, you can rest assured, this will be my first question.
I’m sure the menu has changed over the years, and it is now probably “more authentic” than it was when I frequented it in the 1970s. Having spent so much time living in Hong Kong, however, I sometimes hanker for that good old Chinese American food that we all used to love.
Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill
15028 Hesparian Boulevard, San Leandro, California. Tel: (510) 317 0200.
Okay, this place isn’t physically in Oakland, but its heart is in Oakland.
As the nation’s Number Two Sports Bar (according to Sports Illustrated Magazine), Ricky’s has been around since 1946, and it has been Mecca for Oakland Raiders fans since the city got a professional football franchise in 1960.
From Mexico to Great Britain to Japan, the Raiders have fans all over the world, and all Raiders fans must make a pilgrimage to Ricky’s at least once in their lives!
Reader Feedback Wanted!
Okay, readers. What is your favourite hometown restaurant – or bakery or ice cream parlour or whatever?
Send your comments to: Accidental Travel Writer. Don’t forget to include your name (or first initial if you prefer to remain anonymous) and where you live.