Regulars line the sidewalk at Cole Coffee. (Photo by cdrin)

A Modern Guide to Rockridge: Top-Notch Eats + Kitschy Boutiques in one of Oakland's Toniest 'Hoods

Located conveniently by a BART stop on the borders of Berkeley and Oakland, Rockridge has long served as one of The Town's toniest neighborhoods, where locals go to frequent upscale boutiques and restaurants.

But with a slew of trendy new places to eat, locally owned businesses offering excellently curated wares at affordable prices, and a hidden origami workshop, this area of Oakland—particularly the long stretch of businesses on College Avenue—has cemented its status as a destination worthy of a day trip.

EAT

Asian Influences

Expect a well-worth-it wait for the sauced-up noodles at Noodle Theory (6099 Claremont Ave.), a sliver of a Japanese-fusion space at the corner of College and Claremont avenues. Start with the hand-wrapped pork and Chinese chive dumplings or one of the rotating appetizer specials; graduate to grilled salmon over curried sauteed noodles or the Niman Ranch beef udon soup noodles; and chase it all down with a couple of Singha beers. If you swing by at lunch, you'll save a few bucks on the dinner menu staples. // Come early or expect to line up at Ramen Shop (5812 College Ave.) for innovative takes on your college noodle standby. Weekend brunch ranges from a trout- and pungent pickle-laced Japanese breakfast to matcha beignets; uni butter– or Meyer lemon–tinged ramens dominate the dinner menu. Don't sleep on the enviable drink menu, which boasts an array of experimental microbrews, sours, and cider—plus whiskey-forward high balls and spirit-heavy cocktails that lean on local distilleries for artisanal spirits. Make sure to save room for the black sesame ice cream sandwich. // Oori Rice Triangles (6000 College Ave.) expanded beyond its original Albany location with this fairly new Rockridge offshoot, bringing the same handheld, seaweed-wrapped rice triangles to College Avenue. Each little bite of geometric goodness comes packed with protein ranging from short rib to unagi to ume (pickled plum), and plates and salads are also available for diners who don't want to be reminded of the Pythagorean theorum when ordering.


Italian Inflection

Crafted in the same vein as Chez Panisse and its other East Bay farm-to-fork forefathers, the two-story Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe (5655 College Ave.) combines uber-fresh seasonal ingredients for simple yet elevated twists on Italian classics—the daily-changing menu tends to include house-made pasta (grab the short-rib gnocchi if it's available) and charcoal grilled meats broken down and cured in-house. The more relaxed downstairs cafe is ideal for a quick bite, while the hushed upstairs fine dining area is designed for lingering. For a truly next-level meal, time your visit for one of Oliveto's special annual dinners, with focuses that range from whole hog to tomatoes to truffles to the ocean. // You may find it slightly easier to sneak into the East Bay location of the Marina's buzzy Italian joint A16 (5356 College Ave.), where the wine bar and chef's counter are always available for walk-ins craving house-cured meats, fried olives, wood-fired pizzas, or fresh pastas—always close out with a scoop of gelato if you know what's good for you. // Wood Tavern (6317 College Ave.) owners Rich and Rebekah Wood manage to maintain that rare balance of crafting both fine dining dishes and a welcoming atmosphere, with both the service and wine list just as impressive as the rustic fare. Standouts from the meat-centric menu include the pan-roasted half chicken, seafood risotto, and crispy pork belly, with ample portions and plating that's never fussy. // If you can't swing a visit to Wood Tavern due to prices or wait times, you won't run amiss heading next door to Southie (6311 College Ave.), a more relaxed (yet tiny) space from the same owners that specializes in hangover helpers like a breakfast sandwich or burrito in the morning, drool-worthy sandwiches at lunch (the meatball and spicy pulled pork are favorites), and assorted crostini and Italian-inflected mains at dinner. // Plan on arriving early or making a reservation if you want to slip into the sliver of a space that is Belotti Ristorante E Bottega (5403 College Ave.) for fresh, house-made pastas, including tender beef-stuffed agnolotti or bolognese-topped gnocchi, best paired with a bottle of Italian red.


New (and Old-School) American

Vegan restaurant Millenium (5912 College Ave.) had a meat-eschewing cult following in San Francisco, and the Oakland reincarnation manages to continue that boundary-pushing ethos to high-end vegetable-forward food, with a cocktail program to match. The back patio serves as the ideal place to savor glazed tempeh, arborio-crusted oyster mushrooms, veg tamales, and a chocolate hazelnut layer cake paired with a rustic redwood martini (St. George terroir gin and redwood syrup) or the playful First Kiss cocktail, which combines elderflower liqueur, Fernet sugar, and sparkling wine. // Anyone lamenting the closure of Bourbon & Beef can find solace in its replacement, The Hideaway (5634 College Ave.), which does a brisk lunch and dinner service with an equally serviceable bar menu. Come for the juicy burgers (or the hummus plate, if you're feeling virtuous), and stay for the spiked milkshakes, which make a perfect boozy ender to a meal. // Pick you pizza poison at Rockridge's adjacent places for pie: stuffed deep dish doused in tomato sauce and baked to a buttery brown at Zachary's Chicago Pizza (5801 College Ave.), or crisp thin crust topped with daily house-made tomato sauce and organic ingredients at Jule's Thin Crust (5804 College Ave.), which also offers gluten-free options. // The Golden Squirrel (5940 College Ave.) replaced beloved neighborhood mainstay Barclay's, so it could be easy to compare the two, but the family friendly pub manages to still bring the beer (24 rotating taps) Barclay's was known for while also elevating the food and non-beer drink options. Standouts from the menu—which highlights sustainable and organic options from local farms—includes addictive fried pickle chips and deviled eggs for starters, a loaded intermezzo salad, and any of the fried sandwiches (chicken, mushroom) to sop up your suds as you catch a game on the TVs or play an old-school board game at your table.


Snacks, Coffee + Sweets

Rockridge offers always-solid Bay Area mainstays Philz Coffee (6310 College Ave.) and Smitten Ice Cream (5800 College Ave.) to satiate any caffeine and ice cream needs (make it a one-two mint punch with a mint mojito iced coffee and the fresh mint chip ice cream), but if you want a taste of something truly local, you've got a few Oakland-only options. French-style bakery La Farine (6323 College Ave.) boasts three Oakland locations, and the Rockridge iteration does a brisk morning business with flaky croissants and cult-favorite morning buns. // Grab a pour-over—they've been doing it for more than 17 years, since before it was cool—and hit up one of the outdoor tables at Cole Coffee (6255 College Ave.) for some prime people-watching as you snack on locally made pastries or house-crafted sandwiches such as oven-roasted turkey on La Farine bread or a curried egg sandwich with spices from Oakland Spice Shop. // The Chocolate Dragon Bittersweet Cafe and Bakery (5427 College Ave.) is the ideal place to curl up with a creamy cup of spicy drinking chocolate and double-down on the cocoa with a whoopie pie, chocolate croissant, or bar of house-made chocolate. // You don't necessarily need a special occasion to treat yourself to a refined cake from Katrina Rozelle Pastries and Desserts (5931 College Ave.), but it certainly doesn't hurt. The bakery specializes in pre-ordered multi-tier cakes, but also stocks a selection of cookies, cupcakes, and "everyday" cakes available by the slice and whole—the dark chocolate ganache options are particularly rich and satisfying.

DRINK

You'll find no shortage of welcoming dives with plenty of personality around Rockridge, ranging from hybrid billiards-and-sports-bar George & Walt's (5445 College Ave.) to more-than-80-year-old Irish pub McNally's (5352 College Ave.) to diner-esque The Graduate (6202 Claremont Ave.), a strangely well-let dive that offers free popcorn and a killer jukebox. // New entrant to the Rockridge drinking scene, Beer Baron (5900 College Ave.)—which also secured prime locations in downtowns Pleasanton and Livermore—boasts more than 25 taps, an enviable whiskey selection (400+), and one of the best patios on College Avenue. Swing by on Tuesdays for $5 bourbon and bites selected by the chef—if the brown stuff tickles your fancy, be sure to inquire about the whiskey club. // Rockridge mainstay Ben & Nick's Bar and Grill (5612 College Ave.) is equal parts bar and restaurant and excels at both, with a surprisingly good menu—think an earthy beet-and-goat-cheese salad, savory lemongrass tofu bahn mi, and loaded "totchos" (tater tot nachos)—to match its rotating list of local and hard-to-find suds. Come early if you want to snag a spot at popular Tuesday night trivia that kicks off at 8:30pm or Sunday karaoke. // Anyone who haunted Rockridge in the early 2000s probably has begrudgingly fond memories of Ye Old Hut, an old ping pong and end-of-the-night haven housed in a 1912 building that has since been reincarnated as The Rockridge Improvement Club (5515 College Ave.) or "RIC," a decidedly classier yet pretense-less watering hole. Now, you can score craft cocktails to sip from plush chairs near the front fireplace while a DJ spins low-key jams, or bring your pup and order in some food for an easy weeknight date. // If you're catching a theme, most Rockridge outposts have lived past lives as other incarnations before settling on their current name/feel, and Mikkeller Oakland (6309 College Ave.) is no exception. Once known as Trappist Provisions, Mikkeller now serves as the more-relaxed East Bay outpost of the SF beer hall, with plenty of the Danish roving brewery's beers, plus other hard-to-find imports, local limited releases, and a once-a-month Saturday morning run club so you can sweat out your suds.

SHOP

Pretty wares populate the interior of home-goods store Atomic Garden.

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Clothing

Perfect for badass boss babes, Lesley Evers (5501 College Ave.) manages to merge preppy and printed styles for office-appropriate separates that make a statement. The flattering fits seamlessly transitions from the boardroom to happy hour, and owner Evers prioritizes using real-life women for her online store to illustrate how her clothes look on non-model bodies. // Hawthorn (5854 College Ave.) is one of Oakland's best destinations for well-crafted women's clothing in a wide range of sizes, with materials and silhouettes that should fit the bill for anyone looking for well-cut staples that last more than a season. The emphasis is on local brands with sustainable production practices—such as Freda Salvador and Ali Golden—so you you'll not only look good in the clothes, but feel good buying them, too. // If you walk by Bella Vita (5511 College Ave.), don't mistake it for just a children's boutique. While the cheery shop does sell clothing for little ones (along with artisan-made toys), Bella Vita also specializes in brightly printed jumpsuits, tops, skirts, and dresses that would make Zooey Deschanel proud. Favorite recent finds include a bag shaped like a watermelon slice, banana-printed pleated skirt, and an ubersoft "girls support girls" tee that's perfect for our next networking event or book club meetup.


Home Goods and Gifts

Whimsy meets functionality at Atomic Garden (5453 College Ave.), where wood-hewn homegoods and playful gifts fill the space, run by a pair of moms who met at a soccer game. You'll go in for the hand-carved serving spoons, gilded trays, and vibrant indigo pillows, and somehow find yourself leaving with a hammered metal bangle, hand-woven hat, or airy scarf. // Nathan and Co. (5636 College Ave.) is like your neighborhood Jonathan Adler but sassier. Office staples for the disgruntled worker? Check. Swear word-laden celebratory stationery for a recent promotion or engagement? You bet. An old-timey mug emblazoned with the word "wench"? We're shocked you even asked. Nathan and Co. promises gifts with personality—you'll be the definitive hit of any upcoming parties or events. // Next door, Maison d'Etre (5640 College Ave.) keeps the gift vibes going, but with a slightly less tongue-in-cheek approach. The offerings here are more home-focused, with colorful doormats, artisanal soaps, and expertly designed serving trays and glassware that you'd be hard-pressed to find at big box stores. Pick up tea towels and an indie cookbook for an easy gift. // A neighborhood mainstay since 1969, the Oakland location of Pegasus Books (5560 College Ave.) not only stocks an enviable selection of new and used novels—especially for any kids or gift-giving needs—but also an impressive array of magazines and notebooks. The personable staff is more than happy to help you hunt down a rare tome or put you on the waitlist for the hard-to-score bestseller, and in-store events help locals connect with likeminded book lovers.

PLAY

Rockridge is best-known for its shopping and dining, but there are a few hidden diversions to be found amidst the restaurants and boutiques. You can not only pick up all of your paper-folding needs at Taro's Origami Studio (5322 College Ave.), but also drop-in and learn the meditative art of origami in a dedicated area of the shop, where you'll be helped along every step of the way. Looking for a date night or girls outing alternative? You can also sign-up for private and group workshops or rent out the space for origami parties, which will help you graduate from simple flowers to full-blown dragons in no time. // You can always wile away some time perusing the wares at Rockridge Market Hall (5655 College Ave.) while sipping a nitro cold brew from the market's Highwire Coffee Roasters. In addition to a bakery, flower market, wine shop, fishmonger, and butcher, the hall hosts frequent events that range from cookbook signings to food-focused outdoor festivals. // If you're looking for an urban hike hidden in plain sight, make a beeline to the secret stairs of Upper Rockridge. The loop trail goes from Rockridge BART up past some of the homes and bedrock of Upper Rockridge, rewarding with views out to San Francisco. // And make sure to time a visit for Rockridge's annual Out + About Street Festival in September, when people from around the Bay Area celebrate the neighborhood with a picnic and dance, live outdoor entertainment up and down College Avenue, and plenty of community, artisan, and food booths dotting an eight-block stretch from noon until 6pm.