My Oakland Secrets
After living in Oakland for nearly five years, I am jumping ship and moving across the Bay. It's crazy. I haven't really come to grips with it yet, as I've been so busy packing/ moving out/ moving in/ unpacking/ selling furniture/ buying furniture/ trying to settle in; all while remembering to eat, stay hydrated and take a shower once in a while. Moving blows. But alas, new adventures lie ahead, as Johnny and I cozy up in our shoebox apartment on Upper Haight. I hope I just didn't make a huge mistake.
Oakland is very special to me. All of my friends are here, Umami Mart is here, and I feel at home in this sprawling urban-yet-suburban landscape. My yoga studio is down the street, I run on the lake every chance I get, and hell, I have a five minute commute. I have a routine here and it is comfortable. Will San Francisco take me in, as Oakland has?
As I make my exit, I know that many, many people are pouring in from San Francisco into Oakland for a more affordable lifestyle. So here are my top three Oakland secrets to share with all you newbies. Bookmark this!
SEOUL GOM TANG
I drove past Seoul Gom Tang for years without ever knowing what it was; and then when I found out it was a Korean restaurant, I was intimidated to step in. Sitting in a house-like structure on the corner of Telegraph and MacArthur, Seoul Gom Tang's windows are boarded up, with only flashing neon signs letting passerbys know that there is life inside. It's very ominous and not conducive to random walk-ins.
But when I finally made it inside, I was floored by the giant mandoos (dumplings), filled with pork and tofu.
These babies take the longest to come out of the kitchen and are worth the wait. Doused in Seoul Gom Tang's jalapeno soy sauce for dipping, these are dumps are the real deal.
The pajeon (seafood pancake) is a testament to the golden rule of the culinary arts: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside.
Another favorite here would be the naengmyun noodles, which are cold buckwheat noodles in an icy vinegar bath, accompanied by thin slices of beef brisket and Asian pears. They don't serve this dish during the winter sadly, although in Korea, this is a dish to enjoy during the cold months.
I love the homey atmosphere here, and appreciate that they stay open quite late (late night dining options in the East Bay is sadly lacking). The banchan here are three plates of kimchi: cucumber, daikon radish and napa cabbage. All excellent, and must be cut with scissors.
AHN'S QUARTER POUND BURGERS
Ahn's is an awesome neighborhood joint that has not been discovered by the foodie community in Oakland. Come here if you want a spectacular $5 burger, real milkshakes, and a reprieve from the hipsters.
I always sit at the diner and watch the mamas and papas flip burgers, turn bacon, clean the grill, take orders, and hand over bags of food out of their "to-go" window.
Best burger in the East Bay:
Lettuce, onions, tomato, pickles, mayo and mustard are included. Ketchup comes on the side. Get extra onions.
Johnny would agree:
Don't bother getting the fries here, they are not great (unless you like the frozen crinkle-cut variety). But the service is friendly, fast and the burgers are not to be messed with.
Johnny and I have never stepped foot into Souk Savanh, thanks to DELIVERY. They are a unicorn, as it is close to impossible to find a restaurant the delivers in the East Bay. I found out about Souk Savanh on Check Please!, a local tv show, and we're indebted to them for turning us onto this Laotian restaurant in East Oakland.
We practically have Souk Savanh on speed dial and get the same dishes every time.
From top left:
#19 Yum Pla Muk, calamari salad tossed with fresh garlic and lemongrass.
#17 Lao-style Papaya Salad with crab paste, tomatoes, garlic, lime juice and peppers. Served with noodles and cabbage.
#43 Pad Thai, Spicy
#1 Spicy Wings, with fresh chili, garlic and lemon. Get it spicy.
#8 Nam Kao, Deep fried rice with pork and special sauce. Served with lettuce and mint.
#3 Lao Sausage, with ground pork, garlic, onions, lemon grass, chili and lemon leaves.
They always give us plenty of utensils, thinking that this is a feast for 6+ people. Nope, just me and Johnny!
The dish that I will probably miss the most in all of Oakland is Souk Savanh's Lao-style Papaya salad.
This is the most umamiful dish in all the land, satisfying the sour, savory and spicy cravings all in one bite. The crab paste is unreal -- bring on the funk!!!
Beware, this might be too funky a dish for some -- Johnny does not really care for it. All for me, every time. It's good with added prawns too.
That's it! My three secret spots in Oakland. Enjoy!
SEOUL GOM TANG
3801 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
AHN'S QUARTER POUND BURGERS
439 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
1927 International Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94606