By now you have surely heard (probably many times over) that Oakland is the East Bay’s new gourmet ghetto. The city’s nascent food scene even made it one of The New York Times’ 45 Places to Go in 2012. But not all of the great food in Oakland is made by arty young chefs cooking in wood-paneled dining rooms. This city’s real food heritage lies further afield, in an array of taco trucks, $2 bahn mi shops, and cheap Chinese soup joints. These old-school ethnic options still make up one of the Bay Area’s cheapest (and perhaps, tastiest) food scenes. Here are five of our fave old-school Oakland eats.
1. Noodle Soup: Than Ky Restaurant
Calling the Ho Fun Combination at this East Oakland hole-in-the-wall “noodle soup” is really an understatement. What you get is a steaming bowl of noodles, with pretty much the entire kitchen sink piled on top: wontons, shrimps, pork slices, tofu, chicken meatballs, pork meatballs, and sausage, plus a few other animal parts that are less readily recognizable. Broth is on the side, so you can pour it over as you explore — don’t forget to add the hot jalapeno oil on top. (659 E. 12th Street, East Oakland. Take BART to Lake Merritt, then catch the 62 bus to 5th Ave and E 12th St, then walk one minute to Than Ky.)
2. Cambodian Catfish: Phnom Penh House
We’d say Cambodian is ready to get trendy any minute now. Say you knew about it back when by visiting this three-decade-old Chinatown spot, where the signature seafood option is hamouk trei — sliced catfish steamed with coconut milk, lemon grass and collared greens. (251 8th Street. Take BART to Lake Merritt, then walk 3 minutes to the restaurant.)
3. Tacos El Grullo
In the interest of not starting any fights, we won’t say that this is the best taco truck in Oakland, but we will say that it is pretty damn hard to beat. The al pastor (spicy pork) tacos, topped with red and green salsa, jalapenos, carrots and radish, just maybe the best $1 you’ll ever spend. Bonus points for providing two tortillas per taco to account for extra soppiness. (International Blvd, & 26th Avenue. Take BART to Fruitvale, then catch the 62 bus towards 62 West Oak, getting off at E 12th St and 25th Avenue)
4. Torta: El Ojo de Agua
Similarly, there are any number of places to pick up an authentic Mexican sandwich in Oakland. Our favorite, if only for utter audacity, is the beso de novia torta at this Fruitvale truck. Milanesa (crispy breaded chicken), jamon (ham), pastor, and pierna (succulent pork leg) — yes, that’s three kinds of pork, if you’re counting — are all piled high on a doughy roll, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, chili and cheese. (3132 E 12th Street. Take BART to Fruitvale)
5. Ice Cream: Cinco De Mayo Neveria
Any Oakland food crawl should end with a palate cleansing stop at this Mexican ice cream joint right by the Fruitvale BART stop. It serves up far-out flavors like tamarind, hibiscus, elote (corn), and even cheese (yes, cheese ice cream!) all at an entirely reasonably $1.50 a scoop.