A couple blocks east of Uptown and long populated by down-market retail, empty storefronts, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, not to mention a truly staggering number of psychics, barbers, and wig shops, the area around 17th and Webster streets was, until recently, something of a no-man's land. But as Uptown's retail and nightlife spills off Broadway and mixes with the businesses already lining Franklin and Webster streets, the area is now becoming a distinct neighborhood unto itself, with a growing, diverse scene that melds some of Uptown's snazz with the area's scrappy charm.
One of Franklin Street's most recent additions, No Worries (1442 Franklin St., 510-444-4466, FilipinoVegetarianFood.com) encapsulates the neighborhood's new ethnic-with-a-foodie-flair ethos. Philippines-born, Oakland-bred chef Jay-Ar Isagani Pugao brings the authenticity, but with one glaring difference: No Worries is absolutely vegan.
Part of Oakland's lounge renaissance, The Layover (1517 Franklin St., 510-834-1517, OaklandLayover.com) is, indeed, a place you'd want to spend a few hours: The drinks are reasonably priced, the chairs are comfortable beyond belief, and the walls are covered with original art. On weeknights, the vibe is quieter, but on the weekends, the dance floor is packed.
A few blocks up Franklin and around the corner, Bar Three Fifty-Five (355 19th St., 510-451-3355) is another example of the emergent lounge-bar-hybrid breed. It's got the energy of a dive, but with an auspiciously non-sticky floor and a lovingly curated playlist.
Among taco aficionados, there are two distinct schools: the purists and the revisionists. The former camp will go to the ends of the earth to find the grubbiest, greasiest hole in the wall, all in the name of authenticity; revisionists tend to get their fix in well-scrubbed places serving locally grown vegetables and organic beef. Lucky for everyone, then, that Antojeria El Chilar (365 17th St., 510-835-0746) manages to bridge the gap beautifully: Its menu includes authentic Mexican mainstays like tongue and pig skin, but the beef is Niman Ranch. The tacos – bright with flavor, bursting with meat, and coming in almost two dozen different flavors – are hands-down among the best in the East Bay, but don't miss the aguas frescas and the greasy-in-a-good way tortilla chips.
With its gorgeous, green-tiled Art Deco building and a high-profile, artistic management team — including former Eccolo and Farallon chef Douglas Bernstein, food writer Kevin Cook, and Damon and the Heathens front man Damon Gallagher — the expectations were high and the buzz was deafening for Disco Volante (347 14th St., 510-663-0271, DiscoVolanteOakland.com) long before it opened in November. And the hype machine was entirely right on this one. The place seems to do it all: It's got a decadent, adventurous menu; a full bar; and live music three nights a week.
A slightly earlier, but no less worthwhile, addition to the neighborhood is Spice Monkey Restaurant (1628 Webster St., 510-268-0170, SpiceMonkeyCafe.com), a high-ceilinged, lunch-and-dinner joint known for its eclectic, international-oriented menu and its commitment to social justice (its annual free Thanksgiving dinner, which offers a full meal free in exchange for a donation to the Alameda County Food bank, is legendarily popular). Don't skip the fried chickpeas appetizer.