Anyone who's been paying even cursory attention to the state of Oakland development can repeat the mantra "Uptown is the new Downtown" practically in their sleep. Nowhere is this idea — and the ambition that underlies it — more evident than at the corner of Broadway and Grand Avenue, where in the last couple years a slew of trendy, conspicuously upscale restaurants and bars have managed to make genuine good on what may have seemed like nothing more than a boostery pipe dream a few years ago: Uptown Oakland as a bona fide dining destination.
Exhibit A: Ozumo (2251 Broadway, 510-286-9866, www.ozumo.com/oakland), with its black-slate interior, upscale Japanese menu, and reputation for attracting Oakland's elite (Governor Jerry Brown is rumored to be a fan). The restaurant, which also has outposts in Santa Monica and San Francisco, specializes in what it describes as Japanese food for American palates: Think slow-roasted short ribs in red miso and grilled pork belly, though it does offer more traditional Japanese sushi and robata dishes, as well as a head-spinning sake selection.
Meanwhile, Luka's Taproom & Lounge (2221 Broadway, 510-451-4677, LukasOakland.com) was among the first of the new wave of businesses to settle the intersection, and it continues to anchor the neighborhood. In the early evening, it acts as a casual dinner joint and bar, but later it morphs into a full-fledged dance club, with a 1,000-square-foot dance floor and DJs spinning seven nights a week. It's also one of the few places that serves food late.
And even though it's scarcely a few months out of the starting gate, having just opened in October, Plum (2214 Broadway, 510-444-7586, PlumOakland.com) is already the neighborhood's culinary crown jewel. Chef Daniel Patterson's pedigree as former chef at Coi and Il Cane Rosso, combined with an all-star cast of supporting chefs, was enough to bring people in the door, but it's Patterson's preparations — pepper-dusted potato chicarrones, braised cauliflower with dandelion salsa verde, lamb stew with sunchokes and wheatberries — that kept them there and made Plum one of the best-reviewed restaurants of the year.
Right next door, in the space vacated by the Franklin Square Wine Bar, The Punchdown (2212 Broadway, 510-251-0100, PunchdownWine.com) puts a natural spin on the wine bar concept, focusing heavily on wines that are local, organic, and biodynamic. But though owners Lisa Costa and D.C. Looney are undeniably sincere in their commitment to sustainable wine, this isn't the kind of place that'll hit you over the head with its greenness. Menu aside, this could be any trendy, candle-lit wine bar. The food's also better than it has to be, and the prices are reasonable.
There's a reason Bakesale Betty's Temescal location attracts around-the-block lines on a pretty much daily basis: Chef Alison Barakat's slaw-smothered, buttermilk-drenched fried-chicken sandwich is truly the stuff of legend. The restaurant's Uptown outpost (2228 Broadway, 510-251-2100, www.bakesalebetty.com) doesn't deviate much from its mama in that it still offers high-quality baked goods, cheerful service, and, of course, those chicken sandwiches — but the line is consistently shorter.
And finally, Oakland's got no shortage of soul food restaurants, but Picán (2295 Broadway, 510-834-1000, PicanRestaurant.com) puts a slightly more gourmet spin on the classics. Here, the fried green tomatoes come with sheep's milk feta and radish salsa, the pork ribs are smothered in homemade molasses barbecue sauce with a side of peanut-jalapeno coleslaw, and the bourbon selection is the biggest in the Bay Area.