When it launched several years ago, the Jack London Square farmers' market was a great portent for the then-transitional port district, where loft-dwellers mingled uneasily amid warehouses and a small cluster of hip-hop nightclubs. Now, that whole area of Oakland is on the come-up, and it's become something of a gourmand's destination. Small artisanal cafes flank the old produce trucks and industrial buildings, while new restaurants serve everything from tapas, to barrel-aged beer, to vegan cuisine. With all the changes that have occurred in spite of a bad economy, it appears the area will only keep growing.
Even those of us who consume ten cups of coffee on a given morning might occasionally care about the way said coffee looks, or tastes. It's always a treat to find a place that actually brews drip coffee with "citrus" or "chocolately" flavors, particularly if the cups come in portion sizes, and the espresso milk drinks have that little leaf drawn on top. Blue Bottle Coffee (300 Webster St., 510-653-3394, BlueBottleCoffee.net) is teaching us to appreciate caffeinated drinks at peak freshness, with high-quality, organically-grown beans.
And as far as intoxicant beverages go, we couldn't dismiss beer, which has spawned its own renaissance in Oakland over the past couple years. Beer Revolution (464 3rd St., Oakland, 510-452-2337, Beer-Revolution.com) has a shocking 42 varieties on tap, along with coolers stocked with inexpensive international beers. Better yet, the brewery's front patio has tables and umbrellas, and a panoramic view of 3rd Street.
Chop Bar (247 4th St., #111, 510-834-2467, OaklandChopBar.com), with its savory Vietnamese pork sandwiches and occasional pig roasts, is another favorite neighborhood eatery in the warehouse district. The owners are adamant about locally sourcing their food, and they also offer drafts from several Bay Area breweries, including the beloved Linden Street.
And wait, locavores, there's more. Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar (202 2nd St., 510- 832-9463, EncuentroOakland.com) is as inclined as any other eatery to fetishize all things organic and sustainable, but it also places a premium on haute cuisine. The menu includes stuffed prunes, bruschettas, red quinoa, and other delicacies, all nicely garnished and reasonably priced. Not to mention the decor features eco-friendly, scavenged materials, to accord with a new decorating trend.
Venture a little deeper in the square and you'll find Bocanova (55 Webster St., 510-444-1233, Bocanova.com) a "pan-American kitchen" launched by a classically trained French chef who fell in love with Latin cuisine by accident. Rick Hackett's wandering palate shows in the menu he's conceived for Bocanova, which includes rabbit tamales, pan con fava, and mini conchas with homemade ice cream.
Global cuisine has a lot of currency in Oakland, but it's tempered by a certain desire for rootedness. One of the newer editions to the lower Broadway corridor is a restaurant that combines two rootsy culinary styles — healthy vegetable and Southern soul. The aptly named Souley Vegan (301 Broadway, 510-922-1615, SouleyVegan.com) serves collard greens, fried kale, yams, okra, black eyed peas, wheat cornbread, and a spicy red-beans-and-rice dish. The tofu burgers come in four different varieties — "jumpo crispy" is the best.
And as long as you're in the area, don't forget that the Oakland Metro Operahouse (630 3rd St., 510-763-1146, OaklandMetro.org) moved operations from its original 4th Street locale. It still offers all-ages punk shows, Grind Time battles, and the famed monthly variety show, Tourettes Without Regrets. In the past couple years, Oakland Metro has even staged a couple genuine operas, including one about the life of Fannie Lou Hamer.