Only accessible by water, tube or bridge, the island of Alameda has managed to keep a quiet existence. In the 20 years since the shuttering of the defining Alameda Naval Air Station, the area has retained its small-town mystique while hosting a community of longtime denizens and young families, all of whom have carefully watched from across the water as surrounding locales boomed.
But now, Alameda's time warp elements—think vintage arcades and a World War II–era aircraft carrier museum—are being paired with more modern spots: a number of art galleries, craft breweries, and waterfront cafes dreamed up by islanders looking to help Alameda grow without selling the soul of the city.
The area is also becoming a food-and-drink destination thanks to East End Park Street restaurants serving authentic fare from as far away as Lithuania and Ethiopia, plus the solidified reputation of the West End's Spirits Alley, a popular stretch of U.S. Navy hangars turned urban tasting rooms.
And with the long-awaited $500 million redevelopment project underway at the Navy base site, now known as Alameda Point (plus hotshot companies such as VF Outdoor and Google's Makani Power having settled in town), Alameda is continuing on its inevitable path to revitalization.
Trabocco Kitchen and Cocktails
After running a trattoria in his native Italy and establishing himself stateside with a 19-year career at Il Fornaio, chef Giuseppe Naccarelli set out to bring authentic Italian dining to his new coastal home of Alameda. Despite its shopping center address, Trabocco is transporting with decor evocative of the Italian seaside as well as a menu of wood-fired pizzas, stuzzichini (small plates), Abruzzo-style gnocchi, and a loaded seafood spaghetti. Sip from a selection of 10 house cocktails featuring Alameda-made spirits, as well as wine blends exclusive to the restaurant. // 2213 South Shore Center (Alameda), trabocco.com
An Alameda institution thanks to its famously stacked cheeseburgers, the tiny but lively Park Street location even delivers meals to the Lucky 13 bar next door. Owners Dan Nichols and Michael Boyd continue to expanded the business, having added Scolari's at the Point—adjacent to Rock Wall Winery at the Alameda Naval Air Station—and a roving Airstream food truck. Order fried chicken (choose white or dark meat) with Nashville hot sauce, pork belly collard greens, and biscuits. // 1303 Park St. and 2301 Monarch St. (Alameda), scolarisgoodeats.com
Expect colorful plates of meat and vegetables such as doro wat (chicken stew) and tikil gomen (cabbage and potatoes) at this authentic Ethiopian eatery. Eritrean-born Alamedan Aron Haile runs the kitchen and named his restaurant after Ethiopia's national dish, a spongy, sourdough-risen flatbread. // 1305 Park St. (Alameda), injeraalameda.com
This Bay Area favorite is one of the smallest yet most popular restaurants on the island—put your name in early to snag a table for dinner. Fans live and die by the tea leaf and rainbow salads. // 1345 Park St. (Alameda), burmasuperstar.com
Black Bull Tacos y Cerveza
From the brains behind Scolari's, Black Bull elevates Alameda's taco scene with upscale options that pair chicken, pork belly, steak, and more with artisanal ingredients such as grilled sheep's milk cheese, pumpkin seeds, and fried avocado. Stop by between 8 and 10pm for $3 happy hour tacos, beer, and sangria, and sit out on the patio to catch vintage films on a wall projector. // 1635 Park St. (Alameda), facebook.com/blackbulltacos/
Abigail's Moroccan Cuisine
The waterfront Abigail's is unassuming, set in an office complex with signage advertising the locale as a cafe and deli. This rings true for lunch when sandwiches are served, but come 6pm Saturdays, the family-run venue transforms with the introduction of glitzy belly dancing performances and multi-course dinners. Try the Moroccan mint tea, but also go ahead and bring a bottle of whatever you're in the mood for—Abigail's has a sweet BYOB policy with no corkage fees. // 1132 Ballena Blvd. (Alameda), abigailsalameda.com
Neptune's is your new go-to weekend spot—the bright interior, coffee window, and inviting back patio are prime for slow mornings. Chef Naomi Elze-Harris has compiled a menu of fresh takes on standard brunch and lunch fare, including shrimp and cheesy grits, lumpia and eggs, and chilaquiles. // 630 Central Ave. (Alameda), neptunesalameda.com
Off the Grid
You've got options at Off the Grid, where a fleet of rotating food trucks pulls up on Saturdays from 11am to 3pm. Regulars including Señor Sisig, Bombzies BBQ, and the Lobsta Truck are accompanied by live music, fold-up chairs, and plenty of parking. Bonus: The beach is only steps away. // 2310 South Shore Center (Alameda), offthegrid.com
Ole's Waffle Shop
A Park Street mainstay since 1927, Ole's draws patrons with its authentic retro feel and friendly wait staff. Grab a seat with the regulars at the bar to order a homestyle breakfast or the signature waffles (you can also buy the mix at Dan's Fresh Produce around the corner). For date night, check out Wine and Waffles, the diner's counterpart next door. // 1507 Park St. (Alameda), facebook.com/oleswaffleshop
Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House
This rustic restaurant pairs Medieval-style tables, wrought-iron chandeliers, and a beer garden with authentic Old World dishes such as an electric-pink summer borscht. For dessert, try the seven-layer honey cake—if you fall in love, you can buy a whole sheet at the bakery next door. // 1241 Park St. (Alameda), mamapapalithuania.com
A destination for whiskey lovers, this upscale, saloon-style gastropub pairs a sophisticated menu of comfort food (think flat iron steak accompanied by grits and gravy) with an impressive selection of some 200 malt, rye, bourbon, and Scotch labels from 150 distilleries. // 2319 Santa Clara Ave. (Alameda), americanoakalameda.com
Q's Halal Chicken
Kabob lovers rave about the budget prices and big flavors at this unassuming Middle Eastern spot across the street from the Alameda Theatre. Favorites include the gyro salad, saucy halal wings, and heaping falafel plates. // 2306 Central Ave. (Alameda), qhalal.com
This French eatery is frequented for its breakfast menu, sidewalk seating, and charming live jazz jams. If you have trouble choosing between the 10 omelet options, go ahead and customize your own. // 1500 Webster St. (Alameda), cafejolies.comKoJa Kitchen
This buzzy food truck-turned-restaurant has been opening outposts all over the Bay Area, and you can now get the inventive Korean-Japanese bowls, "burgers," and tacos at Alameda Landing. // 2680 5th Street, Suite D (Alameda), kojakitchen.com
This upscale bistro sets the mood with an intimate brick-and-wood interior, plus al fresco dining across the street from the Alameda Theatre. Try the crostini and truffled burrata cheese plate to start, and choose from entrees such as the locally sourced pan-seared halibut or housemade gnocchi. // 2320 Central Ave. (Alameda), papporestaurant.com
Set on the Oakland Estuary, this spot draws both Alamedans and Oaklanders with outdoor patio views of the Park Street Bridge and Vietnamese staples. // 2337 Blanding Ave. (Alameda), dragonrougerestaurant.com
It turns out Alameda is big enough for two wildly popular ice cream parlors—while 75-year-old Tucker's is an East End classic, Cookiebar dominates the West End with its ice cream cookie sandwiches. Standout flavors include purple ube, Vietnamese coffee, and the 1606 (peppermint, cookies 'n cream chunks, and Oreos). // 647 Central Ave. (Alameda), cookiebarcreamery.com
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