Ask longtime Oakland residents for the geographic constraints that define the city's Uptown district, and you'll hear everything from the sliver of space between 14th and 17th streets to the blocks that stretch from 12th to 25th. Ask them when it first received the moniker Uptown (despite being located in what other municipalities would consider decidedly downtown), most will reference the renovation of the Fox Theater or the turn of the new millennium as benchmarks. But ask which area of the city most encapsulates Oakland today, with its juxtaposition of old and new mixed with rapid gentrification, opportunity, and possibility, and there's no ambiguity: It's Uptown Oakland.
A decade ago, before the area was officially dubbed "the Arts and Entertainment" district of the city, Uptown's potential felt largely unfulfilled, with abandoned storefronts and longtime mom-and-pop shops. Although beloved by locals, the neighborhood failed to entice visitors from the surrounding communities, especially San Francisco. Now one of Oakland's hippest hoods, Uptown, with its robust mix of dining, shopping, and nightlife, has been luring San Franciscans with (slightly) cheaper rents, a little more space, and the same quality of life and range of options.
Stroll Telegraph Avenue during the district's wildly popular First Friday events, and you'll find 20-somethings spilling out onto the closed-off streets from galleries and bars while music thumps from the stereos of street performers and food vendors ply much-needed hot dogs on the small batch whiskey–fueled masses.
As tech giants and other companies continue to move into the district (Pandora has called Uptown home since 2000), some fear the area's affordability may vanish, and with it, much of its diversity and "Oakland soul." But if there's one thing Uptown has proved over the years, it's a district that's always primed for reinvention—and poised to defy definition.
Eat: The Best Restaurants in Uptown Oakland
Art meets the plate at permanent dinner series Abstract Table.
SIT-DOWN SAVORY EATS
Tucked away inside The Gastropig, this multi-course dining experience manages to mix the quality and innovation of an upscale prix fixe meal with the laid-back atmosphere of a friend's dinner party. A sort of "permanent pop-up," Abstract Table offers just two seatings (6pm and 8:30pm) every Friday and Saturday, with reservations for either a five- or seven-course meal only available on Resy ($50–70). The menu, which changes seasonally, merges Japanese flavors with other global inspiration, with dishes ranging from tender beef cheek atop a turnip puree with a sake glaze to trout served with pickled cucumber on a wild arugula nage to charcoal beet paired with furikake granola and fish caramel—definitely expect the unexpected. // 2123 Franklin St. (Oakland), resy.com/cities/sf/abstract-table
After gaining a reputation for innovative fusion fare as co-owner and executive chef of Uptown's Hopscotch (see below), chef Kyle Itani set his sights on a slightly more casual venture, opening the much-anticipated Itani Ramen in 2016. Counter service and slurpable cuisine keep the vibe relaxed, but the seasonally changing menu shows finesse and an intimate familiarity with Japanese food. Daily "genki" happy hour specials (from 3-6pm and 10pm to close) and a dessert and snack vending machine sweeten the deal. // 1736 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), itaniramen.com
As the unofficial centerpiece of The Hive, the multi-use complex on Broadway that opened in 2015, Calavera immediately beckons with exposed brick, soaring ceilings, an open kitchen, and a meticulously organized wall of spirits. Adventurous diners will get a kick out of duck confit tacos and guacamole topped with Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers), but less esoteric dishes, such as the queso flameado made with aged mezcal, still satisfy. It's hard to go wrong with one of the bar's tequila and mezcal selections, but the salt air margarita is a favorite for a reason. // 2337 Broadway (Oakland), calaveraoakland.com
This Japanese-inflected diner, which helped solidify Uptown Oakland as a dining destination five years ago this summer, churns out unexpected riffs on more traditional menu items. A sea urchin and salmon roe–topped oyster and a burger with griddled beef tongue remain among the can't-miss options. The to-go bucket of fried chicken is one of the tastiest take-out options in the area. // 1915 San Pablo Ave. (Oakland), hopscotchoakland.com
alaMar Kitchen and Bar
At the end of 2016, alaMar chef-owner Nelson German rejiggered the restaurant's concept, ditching table service for counter ordering but retaining many of the menu's popular seafood dishes. Now, the more casual vibe makes alaMar the perfect place for dollar oysters and drink specials on game day, girls' night out, and a relaxed evening over craft-your-own seafood boils or Cajun crawl packs with peel-and-eat shrimp and crab to feed a crowd. // 100 Grand Ave. (Oakland), alamaroakland.com
Beauty's Bagel Shop
Montreal-style bagels are now available in Uptown Oakland, with this Temescal favorite finally branching into downtown in 2018. This second location brings the same menu of wood-fired bagels topped with silky cream cheese and smoked salmon, sandwiching fried chicken, or alongside chicken scrapple (cornmeal laced with chicken and pan fried). // 1700 Franklin St. (Oakland), beautysbagelshop.com
The streamlined, ramen-focused menu at Shiba lends itself to a satisfying yet casual experience just steps from the 12th Street BART station. The five menu standbys for ramen vary by broth (clear, spicy, soymilk), and sides include Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, gyoza, and other seasonal specials. For an inside look at what it takes to run a restaurant, check out the Ramen Chemistry blog, where the owners document the building of their slowly growing empire. // 1438 Broadway (Oakland), shibaramen.com
This Oaxacan-infused restaurant features a colorful folk art mural, authentic renditions of dishes such as molcajete and prawns diabla, and an impressive array of mezcals. Many of the farm-raised ingredients are sourced from Mexico—to double down on Agave's emphasis on authentic south-of-the-border cuisine. In line with its location in the Kapor Center for Social Impact, Agave attempts to build on the center's mission to narrow gaps in opportunity and access for underrepresented communities. // 2135 Franklin St. (Oakland), agaveuptown.com
The same team behind Bar 355 opened this rustic Cal-Italian spot with a focus on the open kitchen's wood-fired oven, which churns out roasted chicken, house-made sourdough, and seasonal pizzas with perfectly blistered crusts. // 357 19th St. (Oakland), parlouroakland.com
One of the first restaurants to recognize Uptown's potential, this veteran in the district's dining scene capitalizes on its Art Deco exterior and proximity to the Fox to serve elevated seasonal dishes and cocktails. Stop by for brunch, when a painstakingly crafted milk punch pairs perfectly with the buttermilk Belgian waffle. // 1900 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), floraoakland.com
Kingston 11 Restaurant
Caribbean flavors collide in dishes such as salt fish fritters and jerk chicken, which involves marinating and smoking the poultry for hours. Weekends bring a lively crowd for island-inspired libations and classic roots and reggae music. // 2270 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), kingston11eats.com
You'll find the beloved burger chain's signature stamped buns, hatch chile–topped burger, truffle fries, and hulking ice cream sandwiches at this Oakland iteration, which features striking wall murals in muted tones. // 2100 Franklin St. (Oakland), umamiburger.com
dosa by Dosa
This East Bay spin-off of popular San Francisco restaurant mini-chain Dosa brings the same vibrant, spice-forward flavors to a more casual—yet still striking—atmosphere. Located near The Hive, dosa by Dosa has garnered a buzz of its own with an interior complete with counter service, an open kitchen, and soaring high-vaulted ceilings. Enjoy lunch and dinner, or order both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails and chais from the all-day bar. Favorites from the street food–inspired menu include the butter chicken street wrap, the masala potato dosa (wrapped in a savory crepe), and idli fries inspired by the south Indian iteration. // 2301 Broadway (Oakland), dosasf.com
One part "permanent pop-up" and one part punk rock, this sliver of a restaurant gives Japanese fried chicken and other izakaya-esque fare a California spin by sourcing its produce from local farmers markets and making everything from scratch in-house. While the array of options for the four- or eight-piece fried chicken can be daunting, beginners often choose between the Aburaya Japanese BBQ glaze, agave ginger teriyaki glaze, or garlic miso dry rub. Round out the meal with deviled avocado bites, one of the 7x7 Big Eat Oakland selections for 2017. // 362 17th St. (Oakland), aburayaoakland.com
Bare Knuckle Pizza
Bare Knuckle doesn't mess around with pizza, especially the wood-fired, from-scratch Neapolitan kind. All the dough is made fresh daily, and owner Viet Nguyen keeps things local by sourcing vegan cheese from the Butcher's Son in Berkeley and flour from Giusto's in South SF. Make sure to show up when doors open on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, when the restaurant has a tendency to sell out of its limited-run pizzas. And if you like things spicy, keep an eye out in late summer for the TNT pizza, which showcases Thai chilies grown by Nguyen's father-in-law and guaranteed to be "burn your tongue off" hot. // 351 12th St. (Oakland), bareknucklepizza.com
Expect Korean-Mexican fusion influenced by Los Angeles street food: kimchi-stuffed tacos, steak and French fry burritos, and tempura-topped burgers, plus house-made lemonades and potent truffle fries. // 1901 San Pablo Ave. (Oakland), bellyuptown.com
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs, breakfast burritos, and crispy beef tacos are among the highlights at this Mexican taqueria from the same team behind Tacubaya and Doña Tomas. // 1916 Telegraph Ave (Oakland), xolotaqueria.com
The Halal Guys
New York export The Halal Guys
hit Uptown Oakland with chicken, gryo, and falafel platters and sandwiches doused in its signature red and white sauces, which are now available by the bottle. // 2214 Broadway (Oakland), thehalalguys.com
A favorite with the lunchtime worker bee crowd, this weekday-only spot is modeled after Amsterdam falafel shops. Liba lets you dress your choice of menu item with made-in-house salads, sauces, and pickles from the bar. Pair a leafy falafel salad—the most popular item—with sweet potato fries, soup, or spiced pita chips to help power you through the rest of the workday. // 380 17th St. (Oakland), libafalafel.com
Night owl vegetarians and vegans will feel right at home with the seven meat-free sandwich options available until at least midnight, paired with a heavy dose of nostalgia courtesy of VHS tapes, an original Nintendo, and a jukebox filled with 45s. // 414 14th St. (Oakland), analogoakland.com
Get your hands on toothsome breakfast pastries, buttery sweets, and seasonally changing lunch sandwiches made on slices of crusty-loafed bread. If you're inspired to try your hand at baking after you've dusted yourself with crumbs, Firebrand offers baking classes on bread, cookies, and pretzels. // 2343 Broadway (Oakland), firebrandbread.com
Uptown Oakland faced a severe breakfast sandwich shortage before The Gastropig brought its wildly popular #Baconslut to the bleary-eyed masses in early 2017. The applewood-smoked bacon sandwich—featuring an over-easy egg, cheese, and Aleppo chili oil on a brioche roll—is just one of the early A.M. options. While the focus is decidedly on breakfast, grab-and-go deli sandwiches (including an ode to longtime Oakland deli Genova) and a Monday-only burger keep the lunch masses well-satiated. // 2123 Franklin St. (Oakland), thegastropig.com
Art, cocktails, and inventive bar food collide inside this industrial space, rumored to be a postgame favorite of Warriors players. Stop by for the daily happy hour, when you'll score the best deals on small bites such as mushroom crostini and fried blue cheese olives, plus seasonal cocktails and wine and beer. // 2442 Webster St. (Oakland), muaoakland.com
Pick your favorite lines from the wall plastered with pages of poetry, and recite them to your table while sipping an EE Cummings–inspired cocktail alongside food from the now frequently changing menu, which often highlights rotating restaurants and chefs. // 2216 Broadway (Oakland), plumbaroakland.com
This Spanish-inspired restaurant offers an array of pintxos and tapas, plus larger dishes meant to be split between two to four diners. Order the patatas bravas and fried fava beans to accompany one of the bar's list of 13 sherries to start, and don't skip a paella de carne and bottle of Spanish wine for the table. // 468 19th St. (Oakland), duendeoakland.com
The restaurant specializes in sophisticated yet approachable seasonal cuisine, ranging from fried Brussels sprouts served with a lemon garlic confit aioli to a slow-cooked pork sugo plated alongside crispy rosemary polenta. Grab a spot at the roomy 20-seat bar and sip a cocktail made with locally produced spirits. // 416 13th St. (Oakland), mockingbirdoakland.com
The dining and drinking experience at Small Wonder is delightfully offbeat, with vintage furniture, plentiful plants, and colorful murals combining to create a cozy if quirky vibe. Ephemera hangs from the ceiling, live jazz music frequently fills the air at night, and both classic and house-invented cocktails clink at tables. Linger over fish tacos and artichoke dip, or stop by during the day for coffee and free WiFi. // 37 Grand Ave. (Oakland)