Old Oakland Is Quickly Becoming the East Bay’s Most International Food District

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Two tamales in their corn husk wrappers on a paper plate, with red and green salsas on the side.
Tamales from La Guerrera's Kitchen will be one of the many international offerings available at the Old Oakland block party. (La Guerrera's Kitchen)

It has been a year and a half since pandemic shutdowns wreaked havoc on Bay Area restaurants—about a year since the restaurants in Old Oakland, specifically, parkleted up in the hopes that outdoor dining might keep their businesses afloat. It hasn’t been easy, but the neighborhood’s much-vaunted food scene—centered on the Swan’s Market food hall—has largely survived. 

To commemorate this very coronavirus-era anniversary of sorts, Old Oakland’s restaurants, galleries and other businesses are throwing a big block party, dubbed “Old Oakland Celebrates,” on Saturday, Oct. 9, from noon–6pm. Many of the neighborhood’s restaurants will set up sidewalk tables to show off a deliciously diverse mix of signature menu items and specials only available that day—everything from tamales and birria tacos to sashimi and omurice. 

According to Tommy Wong, co-founder of the Oakland nonprofit Good Good Eatz, which is helping to organize the event, the goal is to highlight the neighborhood’s international flavors. “Old Oakland is a cultural and creative hub,” he says. And a big part of that, Wong notes, is the global character of the local food scene. That has only become more apparent with the new crop of restaurants that have moved into the neighborhood during the pandemic, including handmade noodle specialist Huangcheng Noodle House; worker-led Understory, with its focus on spotlighting immigrant and refugee chefs; and, opening soon, La Guerrera’s Kitchen, which specializes in masa-based dishes.

Add those to the existing businesses at Swan’s Market—where you can eat excellent Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Japanese, Ethiopian and more—and Old Oakland is quickly becoming one of the East Bay’s most international food districts.

Exterior of the Swan's Market food hall with red tables set up outside for outdoor dining.
For the past year, outdoor dining has been the dominant feature at Swan's Market. (Good Good Eatz)

For food lovers who aren’t familiar with the neighborhood, the block party will be a great opportunity to try several of the area’s most exciting restaurants at once. La Guerrera’s Kitchen, which is moving into the former Cosecha space inside Swan’s, will be on hand not only to sell its signature tamales but also several new specials, including a torta de chicharron en salsa verde and a torta de chilaquiles roja (yes, a chilaquiles sandwich). Dela Curo, another relative newcomer, will be selling its signature omucurry—Japanese black curry and rice cradled inside an airy omelet—for a discounted price. Meanwhile, neighborhood staples like Annapurna, Sincere Seafood and Yammy’s Cafe will be out on the street slinging Kashmiri lamb rogan josh, sashimi and Ethiopian chicken doro tibs, respectively.

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The celebration won’t only be about food, either. As Wong notes, another thing that’s happened over the past few years is that Old Oakland now has a burgeoning art scene, which will be on full display on Saturday, with augmented-reality murals, gallery exhibits and about 20 different vendors selling their art. In fact, the block party is simply building onto an existing artists’ market that E14 Gallery—another of the event’s co-organizers—puts on the second Saturday of every month. 

If all goes well, then, there’s potential for the block party to turn into a semi-regular event that happens a few times a year. “This is a kickstarter to just get the recognition out about this, and then we’ll see what the merchants want to do beyond that,” Wong says.

Old Oakland Celebrates takes place on Saturday, Oct. 9, from noon–6pm throughout Old Oakland (from Broadway to Clay Street between 10th and 7th avenues), with many of the outdoor food options concentrated in the area around Swan’s Market (538 9th St.).