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.
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.