Dining for one in the East Bay
March 22, 2017 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'll be traveling to the East Bay (Oakland, to be precise) in July, and I'll be alone. Can you recommend places that are good for solo diners? Difficulty level: I really want dim sum.

I've been to Oakland a bunch of times, but I've never been there alone, and for various reasons I stuck mostly to bars and bar food. This time, I'd like to try some slightly higher end food. So other than bars and pubs, are there places you'd recommend that are especially good for solo diners? Any type of food is ok except vegan (no offense, but I'm sort of a carnivore), and I'm not going to worry too much about price.

Also, as I noted, I'd really like to have dim sum (we have dim sum in NYC, but the stuff out in SF/East Bay generally makes it look pretty limp by comparison). I've actually never been to dim sum alone, since it's sort of a group dining experience. Is there anywhere in the East Bay that would be suitable for solo dim sum? I'm not worried so much about the staff looking askance at me or something (although that's sort of a consideration, tbh), but I'm thinking that maybe there are places that have something like dim sum samplers so I won't have to have a zillion leftovers from the usual 3-4 piece plates of dim sum.

I'll be there in July during the week (Wednesday to Friday) and the hotel is directly across from a BART station. I could have access to a car if I needed one, though, so somewhere I could reach only by car is fine too.

Thanks, you guys!
posted by holborne to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you okay with going into San Francisco? If so, I would suggest Clement Restaurant (621 Clement St), which is to-go dim sum -- you order at a counter and can order by the piece, so you can get exactly the amount you want. Obviously this isn't quite the experience of getting dim sum at a sit-down place with the carts, but the food is really delicious and there are some tables to sit at if you want to eat there (or if the weather is nice, you can take it with you and eat at a nearby park).
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I won't threadsit, but: yep, I'm fine with going into the city.
posted by holborne at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2017

Oh also, for more general solo dining (non-dim sum) that's more upscale than bar food, in Oakland I'd recommend Burma Superstar and in Berkeley (but near BART) I'd suggest Gather -- I have eaten solo at both with no problems/weird looks from waiters. And they are both have a very "Bay Area" feel to me in different ways.

If you want to go really fancy, of course there's Chez Panisse in Berkeley (also walkable from BART, though a bit farther). For a solo diner, I would recommend making a reservation at the upstairs cafe.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:12 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

on a recent visit I had the Japanese fried chicken from Aburaya and it was excellent. They do lunch out of a dive bar and dinner our of a day-time worker-bee deli, but I think both are (semi) permanent pop ups.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend a trek in to the Richmond/clement street (although the sit down, menu-ordered dim sum at HK Lounge II out that way is superlative) as it really is a looong way to go by public transit (and potentially by car depending on traffic and the always regrettable parking). The NYC analogy would be some version of asking "im staying in jersey city but willing to go to manhattan for great food" and having someone suggest you hit up a spot at 145th street.

Definitely seconding the Burmese suggestion - I also always try to get in at least some Vietnamese when I am in the bay, as we just don't do it that well here in NYC. Oakland (and San Jose) both have many spots which would just destroy the competition in NY, and ive never felt weird eating alone in a Vietnamese place.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2017

To expand a bit on what rainbowbrite is saying, the great dim sum I've had is always at the kinds of places that people go for their big family meals, so sharing isn't an issue. Dim sum by the piece just isn't done that I'm aware of, outside of to-go places. (It's also not done for dinner, for the most part, though I feel like there's a place in San Francisco's Marina that does.) However, the ones I've been to in Oakland proper, while very cheap and perhaps atmospheric in their own way, have been mediocre in quality. Like, just go to Ranch 99 and steam a few packages in your hotel coffeepot type quality. Not that they aren't a convenient and affordable option for lunch, such as Sun Sing Pastry Dim Sum 382 8th St, Oakland, CA. Note that they are officially open till 6 but all the food is made at the beginning of the day and they (probably illegally) turn off the heat on the steam trays well before close, so you don't want to go late.

However, I see that Yank Sing, which is a high-end place in San Francisco, has a couple to-go options, which might be your best bet. Get shu mai, char sui bao (BBQ pork buns steamed and baked), har gao (shrimp dumpling), plus whatever small pieces look good, and finish with a sesame ball. Again, daytime only.
posted by wnissen at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2017

For East Bay dim sum, my Taiwanese friend takes us to Saigon Seafood Harbour in El Cerrito. It's pretty busy and casual, so I thing you'd be ok solo.

Hong Kong East in Emeryville is a little more upscale, has a view, and is less far afield. It's good, and gets generally good reviews (I saw it on a list of best dim sum in the whole country). It's also fine for solo dining.

You might end up over-ordering at these places, since they are geared toward groups, but particularly the place in El Cerrito is cheap enough that it might be ok.

(As mentioned above, these would be lunchtime choices).
posted by vunder at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are many dim sum take out places in Oakland Chinatown. I usually go to Sum Yee Pastry, but there are others around (you can window shop). Gum Kuo is good for porridge and their noodle soups (beef tendon wonton soup is awesome).

Cam Huong has gone down in quality years ago. Go to East Oakland (eg. Ban Mi Ba Le) for much better Vietnamese food and pho.

Higher end places: Camino, Bocanova, Soi Four (excellent Thai), A Cote, Wood Tavern.
posted by extramundane at 9:58 AM on March 22, 2017

Best answer: For general Oakland solo dining - a lot of it just depends on your tolerance for that, but here are my thoughts:

The food in the Swan's Market (old 'housewives market') in Old Oakland is excellent. If I go there, I am always torn between B-Dama (Japanese) and Cosecha (Mexican), though people like the other stuff too. This is food court style, so totally normal for solo dining. Assuming you're staying in downtown Oakland, this is walking distance.

Most of the Charlie Hallowell restaurants will be fine for solo, but I particularly like Boot & Shoe Service (pizza and Cal-Ital). The seating area is less friendly for solo eating but you can eat at the bar in the back. This is a bit of a trek from BART but you can take a pretty nice route from downtown along the Lake. Pizzaiolo in Temescal is similar and a little closer to BART. Coming from NYC, the pizza is not going to be anything special but honestly the rest of the food is among the best mid-range California-style dining I know.

I'm trying to think of things that are particularly less-available or less good in NYC than in the Bay, and that's usually going to be certain types of Asian food and of course Mexican. And California cuisine and wine. And anything vegetable and seasonally driven.

Someone mentioned Burmese - there's a Burma Superstar in Temescal. I find it unbearably loud.

Mua is sort of near Uptown: this place is super Oakland to me. Pan-Asian/fusion, small plates, cocktails. It's a giant restaurant that starts with a ton of families with kids early and the volume and the party turn up a little at night. I have heard people complain that the food isn't that good, but I really like it.

For fancyish tacos, we like the fish tacos at Cholita Linda in Temescal, the aforementioned Cosecha is good, Xolo in Uptown. I haven't been to Belly but I have heard it's tasty. I also really like Casa Latina on San Pablo in Berkeley but it's kind of a trek out there unless you're going over there for another reason.

Camino on Grand is maybe my favorite Oakland restaurant, but it's not going to be super welcoming for solo dining. Possible (and you'll need a reservation).

Wood Tavern on College is sort of a California-cuisine staple - it's very good but busy. However, Southie is the more casual place next door very suited to solo dining, though they are intentionally trying for an East Coast feel in their menu so maybe less interesting.

Fusebox is interesting Korean fusion. When I went it was tiny and had a huge wait (odd for its location in a non-descript, not-excellent neighborhood), but that was a while ago.

We recently had a nice meal at the Duchess on College - that was kind of gastropub style, so also friendly for solo.

Oh, you might like to go to Shan Dong? It's a terrible-looking dive in Oakland Chinatown with really great hand-made noodles (if you order a noodle dish, pay the extra buck for hand-pulled) and they are particularly known for their dumplings, so that might satisfy your dim sum craving. You can eat there if you want. Maybe you have stuff like this at home.

If you have time for a breakfast/brunch out, Brown Sugar Kitchen on Mandela Parkway is super Oakland.
posted by vunder at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

My favorite dim sum place of all time is Legendary Palace in Oakland. Man that place is great. I am salivating now just thinking about it.
posted by number9dream at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2017

Revival in downtown Berkeley is great and has ample bar seating, so dining by yourself wouldn't be a problem. It's also right next to BART.
posted by asterix at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2017

Couple more I thought of:

Chop Bar is lively and the food is good and it's good for solo dining as you can eat at the bar.

Piedmont Avenue has a lot of dining: Kronnerburger has an fancy burgers but also an otherwise innovative menu and should be ok for solo. It gets busy but I've been able to walk in. Adesso specializes in charcuterie, so eating at the bar or at a table if it's not too busy should be fine. I really like Homestead - if it's not too busy, it will be ok for solo.

None of these are all that close to BART but they are an easy Lyft ride away.
posted by vunder at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2017

I'm surprised that the people who suggested College Avenue places didn't mention Osmanthus, which serves a small menu of broadly-wandering Asian dishes, including a tea leaf salad in homage to the Burmese place that used to be in that location. I used to live a couple blocks away and those were the happiest couple of restaurant years of my life. If I were back in Oakland for a single night, that's where I would go.
posted by xueexueg at 6:12 PM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hopscotch is probably my favorite restaurant in Oakland. Japanese-influenced, but not Japanese. Great cocktails, good for brunch or dinner, there's a bar. Starline Social Club has dinner 4 to midnight, plus events and bands. I would also recommend calling (in order to get a seat at the bar) Commis if you want to try our only Michelin starred restaurant by Oakland chef James Syhabout. Prix fixe menu. Camino is great, and I would have no problems solo dining there at one of their two enormous communal tables. YYMV.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:53 PM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in Oakland's Chinatown and wanted to second the recommendation for Sun Sing if you want a smash-and-grab dim sum kind of place. Cam Huong is also nearby and has good banh mi (I agree Ban Mi La Be is better but that's a trek out of the easy transit zone). There's roughly a million places you can window shop. By far the best noodles/dumplings are Shan Dong on 10th. It's definitely a family style place but that doesn't stop me from dining solo there regularly.

Syhabout's cheaper spot in uptown is Hawker Fare - I know it's closing soon but I'm pretty sure it's still currently open (there's another one in the Mission in SF). Highly recommend.

Starline Social Club is another good recommendation if you want more of a bar + good food. Hutch on Telegraph would be another good solo place like that.

Probably my favorite thing to take out of town guests to is get take out from Solely Vegan and eat it at Beer Revolution next door. I'm from the south and it's blasphemy to have 'vegan soul food' but damn that place is good, plus beer.

My favorite dim sum place of all time is Legendary Palace in Oakland.

Been closed for like 2 years homie. I'd recommend East Ocean on the other side of the Webster tube in Alameda. Worth a cab ride.
posted by bradbane at 7:04 PM on March 23, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone -- so many great suggestions!
posted by holborne at 2:43 PM on March 24, 2017

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