3340 E. 12th St., Oakland
Nyum Bai is all about contemporary takes on Cambodian classics with a soundtrack of sixties, Khmer rock and roll for the hungry diner. Savory clams in lemongrass broth, Khmer fried chicken, zingy shrimp, and what feels like a million spicy-salty-sweet-sour soups and sauces crowd the casual tables. Don’t leave without trying a Thai iced tea (the perfect ratio of black tea to cream to condensed milk) and the durian crème brûlée.
Peony Seafood Restaurant
388 9th St., Ste. 288, Oakland
“Peony has recently really stepped up its game, and the dim sum here is now simply fabulous. Master chefs in the back make just about everything to order: stellar har gow, garlic chive packets, and fried fun gor (filled half-moon dumplings) with a dipping sauce, while their crackly suckling pigs and lacquered ducks are slowly cooked over open flames. The truffled baozi are beautiful and delicious, too. This cavernous place fills up quickly at lunch and is almost impossible to squeeze into on the weekends, but the service is great and the prices are reasonable.” —Carolyn Phillips
Gum Kuo Restaurant
388 9th St., Oakland
More deli than regular teahouse, this is where you go for amazing Cantonese tamales (braised pork with peeled mung beans and sticky rice bound with bamboo and lotus leaves), roast duck, char siu (sweet roast pork), congee (rice porridge), and cheong fun (silky rice sheets). Gum Kuo, in low-key Oakland Chinatown, has an enormous oven in the rear for homemade roast meats and birds. Service is good and the prices are amazingly low. Cheap parking is located down below the shopping center.
5812 College Ave., Oakland
What's cool about this awesome little ramen shop is that it's the brainchild of Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman, and Sam White—all three are Chez Panisse alums. So it's really no surprise that the food, though not super authentic Japanese, is prepared with insane skill. Everything on the modest menu, from the pickle plate to the squid fried rice to the Hokkaido buttercorn-miso ramen is legit, but it's the veggie ramen that really rocked our world. Be prepared for a longish wait as the 45 seats are filled up on a first-come, first-served basis.
3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
Commis holds the title for being the first and only Michelin-starred restaurant in Oakland. And honestly, once you try Chef James Syhabout's multi-curse tasting menu (at a little over a hundred bucks a pop, they’re a fairly reasonable treat), the accolades totally make sense. Stellar food aside, it's the kind of place you want to dress up for, making the sleek, minimal dining room ideal for celebrations.
3917 Grand Ave., Oakland
Russel Moore has been running this lively, industrial-looking spot with his wife Allison Hopelain since 2008. The massive wood-fire oven is the focal point, both aesthetically and practically, as the majority of the dishes (oysters with absinthe, grilled king trumpet mushrooms, shellbean gratin) on the pared-down, constantly evolving menu pass through it. Check back often, as they sometimes do special edition culinary events. September, for example, brings with it Paella Mondays.
5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
The folks at Pizzaiolo value their suppliers as much as they value their customers—an obsession Chef Charlie Hallowell picked up during his tenure in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. And it's this belief in good ingredients (organic flour, responsibly raised wild stock from local ranchers) that manifests itself in some of the best casual food in Oakland: veggie-centric antipasti, incredible proteins, and pretty epic thin-crust pizza. Oh, and the breakfast is not to be missed.
4721 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Borrowing liberally from Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisine, Burmese dishes are rich, flavorful, and inventive, and no one does them better than Burma Superstar. A California standby since 1992, this family-operated institution has grown to include three locations (including one in Alameda and one in Inner Richmond). While every outpost has its own specialty, each menu is guaranteed to include insane noodles, soups, and tons of veggie options. Portions are massive, so order accordingly.