The Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge
The Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge

Secret Eats in Oakland, California

When you’re visiting California, Oakland isn’t always the first place you think to visit when looking for great food. However, when it comes to authentic cooking, you’ll struggle to find better. From residential houses masquerading as restaurants, to tucked away basements serving inventive offal, this is the lowdown on Oakland’s finest hidden gems. Happy eating!

Rio California

For a taste of Brazil, you’re going to have to do a little hunting. Situated in a row of historic houses in Preservation Park, shrouded by greenery, Rio California couldn’t be in a prettier spot. Inside the restaurant you’ll immediately feel right at home, partly because you’re in a house and partly because the staff here couldn’t be more welcoming – if you come back more than once Ney, the owner, will know you by name. It’s worth remembering that they close after 2:30pm, so if you’re planning a dinner then you’re out of luck, but for a sunny lunchtime spot, you’ll struggle to find better.

The jerk chicken is what they sell most of and with good reason. Slightly charred, deeply flavourful, succulent and served in generous portions, if you try nothing else then get yourself some of this. It comes with rice and salad, but make sure to ask for plenty of cilantro sauce. Other dishes that are worth a mention are the Fejoida, which is a very traditional black bean and meat stew, rich, delicious and oh so comforting. The Coxinhas are lovely little mouthfuls of chicken, deep fried in crispy breadcrumbs. Order your food at the counter and remember to take your plates back and you’ll be welcomed time and time again.

Oaks Card Club

Oaks Card Club is a very small, family owned casino, that perhaps isn’t the most glamorous. To put it bluntly, you’re more likely to see someone wearing a sports t-shirt and track pants than making a fashion statement with a suit and hat! Anyway, whilst the main draw for most are the games on offer, there’s one well kept secret – the breakfast. If you’re after a proper American style cooked breakfast be sure to swing by here. 

Breakfast is served from 11pm right through until 3pm, so for those of you that fancy breakfast most of the day, this spot is perfect! Hungry people should opt for the chicken fried steak, which is delicious! It’s served with eggs, and grits or hashbrows, so you definitely won’t be left hungry. Purists should plump for the Classic Breakfast – although you are free to choose your own combination, the best has got to be the pork sausage, with eggs over easy and grits. Perfect.

Reina’s Restaurant

Reina’s Restaurant is a closely-guarded secret, particularly amongst sports fans. Before the ever-exciting Golden State Warrior’s matches, be prepared to find Reina’s full to the brim with hungry game followers! If you also happen to be staying in Oakland to visit the Oracle Stadium, you’ll be pleased to hear there are plenty of sporty hotels in this area of town.

Reina’s offers traditional food from El Salvador and as such her restaurant has been painted with the national colors of blue and white. The food here is obviously home cooked, with comfort food being high on the list. The Pupusa is a must have, thick cornmeal flatbreads stuffed with cheese, refried beans or chicharron (not one for those watching their figure!) For something warm and hearty, try the pork and beans and wash it all down with a horchata. It’s not fine dining, but its a real taste of Salvadorian cuisine.

Blind Tiger

Enter down the stairs into a dark, high ceiling basement, lit only by dangling paper lanterns. The atmosphere in The Blind Tiger is closer to a club than a restaurant, but the food here is top notch. The menu really does change seasonally, not just four times a year, but more like twice a month. The offerings are always a little unusual, with less used cuts of meat taking pride of place and a true fusion of different cultures. Offal usually features, with skewered duck hearts being what was on offer on this occasion – sticky and bursting with flavour.

You can choose to sit at bench seating or at the bar if you’re dining alone. Pick at least two plates per person and prepare for a tasting experience. The food is served late into the night, with naughty snacks like a mac n cheese ramen being too tempting to pass up. Fries are always on the menu, but with a curry or wonton twist. Enter with an open mind and leave with a full stomach.