What’s Eating You is a semi-regular feature wherein I provide incredibly helpful answers to your most pressing East Bay-centric food questions. Send questions to Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com, with the subject line “What’s Eating You.”
Tian Jin Dumplings for the win.
Like most working stiffs, I eat out for lunch pretty often, which is starting to burn a hole in my wallet! What are some places in Jack London/Downtown Oakland where a girl can get a decent lunch for under $10? Signed, Brokeland
I’m with you. The way I was raised, anything other than last night’s leftovers or a sandwich assembled by my own hand feels like an unspeakable luxury. Fortunately, here in Oakland, ten bucks can go a long way at lunchtime. Full disclosure: Whenever I think about “cheap, delicious lunch,” my mind goes immediately to Asia and doesn’t want to come back. That said, I tried to include at least a little
bit of diversity in the following list.
1. Ben’s Restaurant
(398 Third St.)
I once dubbed Ben’s the “best Chinese restaurant that you’ve never heard of
,” and that still might be the case. Tucked away in the Jack London produce district, Ben’s is a small, unassuming spot, but its $6 rice plates are hard to top. The Wednesday-only fried chicken special is the stuff of legend, but really, I’ve never had a bad dish. Make sure you ask for the house-made black bean chili sauce.
2. Dragon Gate Bar and Grill
With its private karaoke rooms and servers decked out in slinky, high-cut qipao
, Dragon Gate is a night spot through and through. But did you know that the Taiwanese street food specialist
also serves lunch? Be glad that now you do: On the discounted lunch specials menu, everything is under $10, including the best Taiwanese beef noodle soup in town.
The feijoada at Rio California.
3. Rio California
(1233 Preservation Park Way)
If there’s a Downtown Oakland restaurant with a more pleasant outdoor patio than Rio California’s
, I haven’t found it yet. Located in the elegant, tree-lined Preservation Park, Rio serves Brazilian-style sandwiches and a rotating selection of daily specials. My favorite, available on Wednesdays and Thursdays only, is the feijoada
($9.95), Brazil’s national dish: a slow-simmered black-bean-and-sausage stew, served with collard greens, rice, and toasted yucca flour. It's delicious.
4. Tian Jin Dumplings
(989 Franklin St., Ste. B)
Sixty-cent pork buns and $6.80 for a generous portion (15 to an order) of the best dumplings in town
— what’s not to like? Pro tip: This little takeout window doesn’t have much seating to speak of, so I like to bring my dumplings across the street to the Pacific Renaissance Plaza. The benches facing the fountain are some of my favorite seats in Chinatown.
(499 Ninth St.)
A $10 limit is kind of pushing it here, but how many sit-down Italian restaurants in the Bay Area would even be worth discussing with that kind of budget constraint? For lunch
usually serves one or two pasta dishes at around that $10 mark, but my pick would be the Piadina Desco ($9): a flatbread sandwich that’s loaded with thinly sliced pork belly and sauerkraut-like braised cabbage.
6. Anula’s Cafe
(1319 Franklin St.)
Even after recent troubles with the city
forced Anula’s to (very slightly) raise its prices, the tiny deli-cafe’s daily lunch special — now $8 — is still one of the better deals in town
. The best day to go is Tuesday, when the aforementioned special lunch plate features jerk chicken, peas and rice, steamed vegetables, and a scoop of house-made mango chutney. Vegetarians will be happy to note that there’s always a non-meat lunch special as well.