Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
This week, we’re checking out all that Oakland, California has to offer our palates. Guiding us on this culinary tour is Chef Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club. A contestant on season six of Top Chef, and Google cafeteria alum, she opened Juhu Beach Club in the spring of 2013, following the success of her 2010 pop-up of the same name.
Her dishes feature component made from scratch with ingredients sourced from local from farmers’ markets. Profiled in Food & Wine and praised by Anthony Bourdain, Juhu Beach Club has made its mark on Oakland’s culinary scene and beyond, bringing cheffed-up Indian street food to the hungry Bay Area masses.
That’s not the only project the star chef has on her plate:
“I have a cookbook coming out from Running Press, Fall 2017,” she says. “It looks like it’s going to be called The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul. My new restaurant will be open at the end of February. It’s called Navi Kitchen — it means “new” in Hindi — and it’s on the border of Emeryville and Oakland, pretty close to Juhu Beach Club, maybe about ten minutes away. It’s going to be an all-day cafe/wine bar at night. We’re going to have a DIY chai bar, where people can pick their dairy, sweetener, and spice. We’re going to do Neapolitan-style Indian pizza and a rotisserie chicken in the evenings for both eat-in and takeout with a masala brine I invented.”
Fortunately, amidst all this activity, Chef Mistry still has time to share her 15 ‘can’t miss’ food experiences in Oakland!
The Star and Pizzaiolo and Rotten City Pizza
This is a really hard one. First of all, I love pizza. It’s probably one of my favorite foods. One of my cooks who works here, from time to time the two of us obsess over pizza, it’s all we talk about. I bought her a pizza compendium as a gift. So, first of all, I’d like to think that Navi Kitchen, which we’re opening soon, will have some of that going on and will become one of my own favorite places. But aside from my own restaurant, that is not open yet *laughs*: I would say for delivery, New York style, I usually go for Rotten City, which is actually in Emeryville. For a dine-in restaurant, I would say Pizzaiolo or Boot & Shoe Service for your wood-fired Neapolitan style.
There’s also a place on Grand Avenue called The Star; they do a cornmeal crust deep dish which is really awesome. Those are three really different styles of pizza: New York style, Neapolitan, deep dish. I’m a connoisseur of all. I’ve actually had a birthday party where I got different pizzas from all these different places, different styles; it was really a pizza party. I told you, I love pizza.
For tacos, I would say Tacos Mi Rancho, which is a little taco truck on First Avenue by the lake. Their al pastor tacos will just blow you away. I’ve been to Mexico City three times and I have to say, Tacos Mi Rancho, in terms of your street taco, really takes the cake. They also serve this gigantic burrito that’s like as big as your arm.
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There’s so much in the Bay Area. Hawker Fare is always a spot that I try to get to as much as possible. That’s James Syhabout, who also has the only Michelin starred restaurant in Oakland, Commis. They have really great specials.
[Editor’s Note: the Oakland location of Hawker Fare is sadly closing on February 18th – try it now, and show the San Francisco location some love.]
There’s one place that I’ve been really into lately; she’s actually working on a brick-and-mortar location that’s going to open this year. It’s called Reem’s. She has a stall at the old Oakland farmer’s market which I go to every Friday, for the restaurant and for shopping, and I always stop there and get a snack for myself and for whoever’s working that day back at the restaurant. She makes this thing called a man’oushe; it’s like a flatbread thing that they make right there onsite. It’s fluffy, it’s crispy on the outside, and then they put in all these yummy ingredients.
My favorite is the MLM: it has a fermented beef sausage, hot sauce, mozzarella cheese, za’atar, olive oil and mint, and then they wrap it up like a little wrap. It’s delicious. Also, a lot of times I’ll just get the pita they make right there. It’s pillowy fresh and soft. I love this place. I really look forward to it. There was this period of time where every Friday I was like, “Ok, yeah, we’re gonna get Reem’s after I buy all my produce,” and this one time she wasn’t there because she was catering something else and I was like, “OH MY GOD! I’m devastated!”
She’s opening the brick-and-mortar location in the Fruitvale district.
I’m going to go with Doughnut Dolly. She’s just down the street here. She’s a sweetheart, I love her. Her mother was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse, so she’s grown up in the industry. She makes these amazing, yeasty, filled-donuts. They’re all made fresh that morning, and then you pick out the cream and filling that you want, and she fills them right in front of you. They’re just so ridiculously delicious. If you loved a cream or strawberry-filled yeasty donut when you were a kid, this is the ultimate gourmet version of that. She has all of these delicious fillings; there’s a bourbon-laced vanilla cream, a dark chocolate, and whatever fruit is in season, whether it’s berries or a Meyer lemon curd. Just really over-the-top, awesome, delicious, and seasonal. She has one location just down the street from us, and another in Berkeley.
This is a tough one, this is a tough one, people. We in Oakland, you know, we like to keep it casual and fun. I would say Duende is a really great place. It’s in Uptown, it still has that fun, hip vibe going on. It’s a Spanish place — Paul Canales, he was the chef at Oliveto, he’s really talented — a gorgeous space right across from the Fox Theater.
They have musical performances upstairs, a lot of the art in the restaurant is done by his artist friends. There’s always something exciting on the menu.
Dominica, the chef, worked at Chez Panisse, and she’s amazing. I got a whole bunch of tamales for the holidays from Cosecha. Her braised-beef tacos blow me away. All the tortillas — everything — is made in-house. She sources the best ingredients. Her frijoles verde that she has on Mondays is one of my favorites as well. It’s one of my hangover go-tos.
My wife and I, when we got married, we had a small celebration in our backyard in August, and then when our family was here for Christmas we had another dinner, and we had it at Cosecha. We had the whole space to ourselves and it was beautiful.
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Everyone builds their #salad with a personal touch. I – a seasoned falafel-eating pro – like dipping my #falafel into a mix of tahini and hot sauce (zhoug, harissa, or habanero), instead of mixing into my bowl. #falafelbar #saladbar #eastbay #oakland #oaklandeats #colorfulfood
Liba Falafel is really great. She started out with a food truck, and now she has a brick-and-mortar in Uptown. What it’s really about at her place is the pickle and salad bar. So you get your falafel, either in a salad or a pita, and then there’s this amazing, constantly evolving with the seasons, row of all of these different pickles and slaws and sauces etcetera that you can put on your falafel.
The place that we go to the most is Boot and Shoe Service. It’s the sister restaurant to Pizzaiolo. It’s a fun space. It’s close to the lake, it’s always packed, it feels like a party. They have the best bloody mary. I’ve also been getting into amaros and aperitifs lately, and they have a really great selection of those. There’s always really great seasonal salads. There’s always going to be interesting entrees, and the pizzas are delicious. My wife and I often sit at the bar. It’s just a fun scene on Sundays.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
I gotta say, Brown Sugar Kitchen, fried chicken and waffles. Tanya Holland is the chef there. I don’t think there’s anything that could be more iconic in terms of Oakland. Tanya herself is an icon in Oakland, I mean, there’s a Tanya Holland Day. She’s classically trained, French-trained, been on the Food Network. Then she opened this restaurant. The first time I had her chicken and waffles, I think I took two bites, looked up and was like, “Oh my God, somebody did this.” I mean, as a chef, if you slow down and think about every aspect, how to make it, and how to make it as great as it could possibly be — that’s how I felt when I took that first bite.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
There’s this place that opened kind of recently called Stay Gold Deli. They’re doing something interesting. It’s run by these young hipster kids, and they’ve taken this spot that, I don’t even know if it was open before, or abandoned or what, but they’ve made this deli in there. One of the chefs I know is from Texas. They’ve got all these old records on the wall, a pinball machine, there’s weird mannequin parts in the beer garden, but then they’ve got a smoker out there and an herb garden, in a very industrial in town. It’s quirky and fun. The sandwiches I’ve tried have been really good; I’ve had an Italian gyro, a meatball sandwich that was really good. I’ve also had their baby back ribs which are really fantastic; fall off the bone, smoky and sweet.
They’re definitely trying, from a culinary perspective, to do more than you expect from that location. I mean, they’ve got their own little vegetable and herb garden, they’re smoking their own meats, they’ve got a beer selection of local craft brews!
A kouign amann from Starter Bakery. Starter Bakery makes all of our bread. Brian Wood is the pastry chef and owner. He makes this pastry that comes out of Normandy, the kouign amann, that has gained a lot of popularity in the last two years. He just has a way in general with your laminated dough — so all of your danish, croissants, etc — that will just blow your mind. He has a chocolate one and a custard one and then he has different seasonal ones that will have different fruits, and they’re just insane.
They look so tiny, and you eat like half of one and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to pass out.’ They’re so buttery and flaky, and he uses a little bit of salted butter, so you get that salty with the sweet.
I mean…I kind of want to say my restaurant. We have a really awesome brunch filled with really spicy things. We have a dish called The Hangover Cure that has bacon fried rice with curry, mustard seed, hot sauce on top and a fried egg. It’s got diced mango for a little sweetness. I mean, I had it on New Year’s Day. We also do this called the doswaffle, which I created, which is where you put dosa batter in a waffle machine. It comes with sambar, which is a spicy lentil soup that really will cure you. I mean, we have a chai-spiced brown sugar bacon — it’s stupid-good.
We have some pretty damn good hangover food at Juhu Beach Club.
I would go to Ramen Shop. It’s run by a Chez Panisse alum as well. They have really great starters, great cocktails, a great bar, and the ramen is awesome. My favorite is the tantanmen, which is a spicy ground pork ramen and the Meyer lemon shoyu is really good as well, which is their vegetarian ramen.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
The Cook and Her Farmer and Miss Ollie’s
This is so hard! We, in the industry, are really friendly with each other. We really go out of our way to support each other. There’s two places I can think of, where, I really like the chefs there, I respect them a lot, they’re friends of friends, and they haven’t been mentioned in any of these specific categories.
Romney from The Cook and Her Farmer. She does oysters and insanely tangy slaw, this oyster po’boy, and the best damn grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Just over the top and rich. Everything is farm fresh California cuisine.
The other one, which is just right around the corner, is Miss Ollie’s. Sarah Kirnon, who is also a friend of a lot of friends of mine, she’s been a chef in the Bay Area for a long time. She’s from Barbados originally. It’s Caribbean soul food, using the California aesthetic in terms of regionality and freshness. Her fried chicken is also off the hook.
Thank you, Chef Mistry for taking us on a culinary tour of Oakland!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!