The Great Outdoors

Where to Eat and Drink Alfresco

It’s hard to imagine a time when parklets and bistro table–dotted sidewalks were not an integral part of East Bay street life. Here are some outdoor spots I hope will stay as restaurants return to full capacity.

In September 2020, a devastating fire in Oakland’s Chinatown claimed the original Huangcheng Noodle House, which had gained a following for handmade Shanxi-style noodles. Local donors as well as community organizations like Save Our Chinatowns and Good Good Eatz stepped in with fundraising to help the business recover and rebuild. Months later, Huangcheng Noodle House reopened at Swan’s Market, 911 Washington Street in Old Oakland, complete with outdoor picnic tables. The Chongqing Street Noodles­—a warming bowlful of thick-cut, toothsome noodles, topped with minced pork, bok choy, and housemade chili sauce—is the perfect balm for a brisk Bay Area evening.

Pomella’s sunny California-meets-Israeli cuisine is the quintessential outdoor food. Take a seat on their patio at 3770 Piedmont Avenue, Unit B in Oakland, and snack on the rice-stuffed grape leaves, which are infused with a concentrated tomato paste for an extra dose of umami. For something heartier, dig into the wrap, a soft laffa flatbread packed with rich lamb kefta and balanced by cucumbers, tomato, hummus, and sharp feta. The herbaceous schug, a sauce made from green herbs and jalapeños, brings a welcome jolt of heat to every dish.

The fabulous Hella Bagels popup makes home deliveries, but it has also been serving classic, chewy, East Coast–style bagels every Sunday morning from The Hidden Café, 1250 Addison Street, Suite 111, at Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek Park. There’s only a handful of tables, but staff graciously supply blankets you can spread out on the park’s lush lawn while you enjoy your Miami Vice—a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, cucumbers, red onion, capers, and dill—or Hyphy Wifey, which arrives with a luscious scoop of smoked whitefish salad.

Sobre Mesa, the vibrant Afro-Latin cocktail lounge, opened just days before the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place was enacted in March 2020. A year later, it opened for outdoor service with a chic parklet and sidewalk seating at 1618 Franklin Street in Oakland. Sunday brunch is an exquisite assortment of tapas reflecting the Afro-Latin diaspora. Rockfish Chilaquiles (a generous portion of shatteringly crisp fried rockfish atop tortilla chips, chickpeas, and avocado purée with a runny fried egg) and the Braised Oxtail Hash (tender, shredded oxtail juxtaposed against sweet plantain) will make you into a regular.

Before it was destroyed by a wayward automobile, the colorful and popular parklet at La Frontera Mexican Restaurant (4481 International Boulevard, Oakland) was the place to enjoy quesabirria, a juicy, quesadilla-taco hybrid sensation that’s now sweeping California. La Frontera’s quesabirria is a tortilla that’s been crisped on a flat-top griddle and stuffed with rich shredded stewed beef capped with melted cheese. The restaurant’s Que Rico variation is laced with extra spice, guacamole, and cabbage. The consommé—a cup of crimson-tinted beef broth made from birria drippings—is a must-have for dunking. Luckily, La Frontera is still open for takeout, or you can enjoy their quesabirria alfresco at sibling location Que Rico, an LGBTQ+ restaurant and nightclub, recently opened at 381 15th Street in Oakland. ♦

 

Meredith Pakier is an Oakland-based food and wine professional. When she’s not writing as part of the Market Hall Foods marketing and communications team, she’s hiking with her dog, Nico, and dreaming about starting a garden.