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Unique or Traditional Foods of Oakland, CA

Fellow Chowhounders, I come to you for help...

During the NFL season the past few years my friends and I have kept up with the tradition of serving food unique to, ubiquitous in or traditionally from the city or immediate region of my home team's opponent the day of away games. My home team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and two Sundays from now we play the Oakland Raiders. So I am looking for dishes, ingredients, recipes, anything related to Oakland, CA. Various searches of the interwebs have not been terribly fruitful.

(I understand San Francisco is just across the bay, but since they have their own NFL team I would prefer not to do anything that is more closely related to San Francisco - or San Diego, further down the coast, for that matter.)

During the Steelers loss to Denver last week, for example, we had Green Chili smothered Enchiladas, Chile Rellenos and Maharaja Beer. Typically we like to do something similar - a main and a side or two.

So far, the only thing I can turn up that even closely relates to Oakland is Tri-Tip. Even though I don't have a ton of experience with this cut, I know it can be quite tasty and am not opposed to using it. I'm considering various preparations now. I've also thought of some Cali-Mex type dishes - seafood tostadas or ceviche or something.

Right now I'm just looking for options in terms of ingredients, dishes, or recipes that relate to Oakland. Can anyone help me out?


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  1. I would say Portuguese, although there is not so much in Oakland anymore, but south in San Leandro and Hayward, and a few other places in Central California. Go to Luso Mercado on International Blvd. in San Leandro.


    1. As an Oakland native, I'm not aware of a tri-tip tradition in Oakland; tri-tip is more associated with Santa Maria-style barbecue in Central California. And there hasn't really been a Portuguese presence in my lifetime.

      In the past, Oakland was known for its barbecue joints, so that might be a way to go. But I'd suggest thinking Mexican, and in particular, taco trucks, of which there are a plethora in the Fruitvale neighborhood and which are a culinary fixture locally. So yes, ceviche tostadas, and small tacos on soft corn tortillas, and lots of other stuff. Beer, aguas frescas, horchata.

      Check out some older threads from the SF Bay Area board that describe the kind of food you'll find at Oakland taco trucks:


      1. How about something having to do with Jack London, who was raised in Oakland and after which many of the City's landmarks are named? http://www.jacklondons.net/writings/j...


        1 Reply
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Jack London was an oyster pirate - so you could serve oysters.

          John Madden, the great former Raiders coach, wrote a tail gating cookbook. So you could try a recipe from his book.

        2. Consistent with the barbecue joint input, I do know that the area upon which Oakland rests was originally redwoods and oak trees so that suggests lumberjack cooking. Along with timber, Oakland provided an agricultural base for San Francisco. It grew into an active shipping port and railroad terminus for the transcontinental railroad just prior to 1870. After 1906, the San Francisco earthquake drove a lot of San Franciscans to Oakland; that included a lot of immigrants who had doubts about San Francisco's stability. Around the WWII period Oakland's industrial job opportunities drew a lot of African-American workers which greatly influenced it's population. A lot of ships were built in Oakland during WWII. Those workers brought southern cooking (including a lot of southern barbecue) to the city. Whether or not the majority of residents who settle Oakland prior to 1906 were Portuguese or not depends on when you look at the history. Between 1870 and 1900, Oakland's population grew with the arrival of the Irish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese and Mexican people and even a few German folks, so I guess you'd have to say that Oakland has always been a very diverse ethnic mix of hard working people. Matching a list of recipes and/or ingredients, dishes that relate to Oakland, other than southern barbecue favorites, isn't going to be easy.

            1. when I think about what Oakland is known for, i immediately think of the good soul food that used to be more common, along with Genova deli, and the classic Caspers hot dog.

              In recent years, there's been a resurgence of good pizzerias and bakeries (Pizzaiolo, Bakesale Betty) popping up, so you could create a modern-day Oakland theme, too.
              Neldam's coconut cake screams Oakland to me, if you want to go old-school.

              1. I'd say Oakland is known for taco trucks and soul food.

                1. As an Oakland resident, I'd second the Mexican recommendations and add Thai-Lao as another food that makes Oakland unique. Because there is a decent sized Lao and Thai population there are quite a few restaurants serving Thai and Lao dishes that I haven't seen in any other city. Think larb and sticky rice. If we're thinking food trends, there seems to be a growing movement for artisinal donuts in Oakland. Never heard of tri-tip as an Oakland tradition.

                  1. I'll put this under the "unique" category and say that anything served by Food Not Bombs is completely unique to the area: every bit of the food they serve to whomever needs it is locally grown, donated, scavenged, or foraged. So why not do a huge, really cool vegetarian spread with excellent breads and desserts? Otherwise, Oysters, a seafood boil, or soul food are your best bets -

                    1. One thing for certain, you can make up a large number of humble pies because, regardless of the outcome, one of those teams is going to have to eat some. But avoid following the literal modern interpretation of humble pie and focus on making straight forward medieval meat pies with a mixture of meats (like beef, pork, chicken, etc.) and let that metaphorically represent the literal.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I just wanted to thank everyone for the informative replies and fantastic suggestions. As it stands, I'm still up in the air between tacos, soul food and BBQ.

                        Tacos would go well with the guacamole I make for all NFL weekends, and the idea of recreating some of the tacos described in the posts linked by Caitlin (Thanks, Caitlin!) appeals to me; however, Mexican and Tex-Mex style dishes have become a fairly common sight at our parties.

                        Soul food is another great suggestion. I never would've guessed Oakland was known for its soul food. I don't have a whole lot of experience with such cooking, but that is a plus. I'm always looking to try something new.

                        BBQ with some Southern-style sides is also a great idea. BBQ always works great for these parties because we can just start roasting the meat low and slow, and it requires no supervision, allowing more time for watching the games and commisserating with friends.

                        Anyway, thanks again for all the input. I really appreciate it.

                        1. Sorry to add this late, but Oakland as most cities are a combination of many ethnicities and so you won't get just one cuisine. To dine in Oakland these days, you're going to have a choice of Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, etc.. you know? But for those that tailgate and have parties around football games here, we do go to tri-tip. Tri-tip on the bbq is big, and then you can eat it like steak with ranch style beans, tri tri-tip nachos, or french dip sandwiches. The other item everyone loves is wings, done from Buffalo style to Chinese. Penne with sausage, sushi, and the ever present lumpia! With diverse friends we always have a little bit of everything!

                          1. Kasper's hot dogs and Nation's Burgers are an Oakland/East Bay foods you can't find where I live.