North Oakland’s tony neighborhood undergoes a resurgence in food-forward diversions.
Ramen Shop owners L-R: Jerry Jaksich, Sam White, and Ray De Guzman
Rockridge has long been established as one of the city’s most desirable, affluent areas. And with popular, gourmet restaurants such as Oliveto Restaurant & Cafe, Wood Tavern, and À Côté, it boasted the dining scene to match. But as the rest of the city’s dining scene exploded in recent years—Plum in Uptown! Commis on Piedmont Avenue! Bocanova in Jack London Square!—the grand dame of Oakland neighborhoods was starting to seem a little, well, stale in comparison.
Not any longer. An impressive string of buzz-worthy new restaurants along the district’s College Avenue corridor has helped Rockridge regain its culinary mojo. Places like San Francisco import A16 Rockridge, Belgian beer bar Trappist Provisions, and the elegantly modern Toast Kitchen + Bar, not to mention Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout’s upcoming project Box and Bells Eating House, have upped the neighborhood’s hipness factor while providing new eating and drinking options to join the old standbys.
“There has definitely been a new crew, a younger generation, that has come in to take their turn,” says the Rockridge Business Improvement District’s Chris Jackson.
Ramen Shop, serving traditional Japanese noodle soup with a Bay Area emphasis on high-quality local ingredients, was one of the most hotly anticipated of the newcomers. The food blogosphere posted near daily progress updates in the months leading up to its debut earlier this year, while near constant crowds (not to mention hour-long waits) have followed. Co-owner Sam White, a Chez Panisse alum along with his two partners, says it’s been fun to be part of the new dining wave.
“The Trappist guys are down the street now, A16 has been great, and everyone is excited about Box and Bells: It’s such a good group,” says White. “It’s become the kind of thing where people are coming to the neighborhood to check out multiple places.”
Indeed, instead of just increasing competition, the new restaurants seem to have helped bring more diners to the area. Oliveto owner Bob Klein says business is way up from last year, and his 26-year-old restaurant is drawing younger customers than it has in years. “There has been some good energy at the restaurant, and in the district as a whole,” says Klein. “This has been a really good year for Rockridge.”
San Francisco East
Not only is Rockridge a destination spot for some of the East Bay’s top culinary talent, but it’s become something of a landing pad for San Francisco restaurateurs looking to dip their toes into Oakland waters. While certainly not unprecedented—the owners of Wood Tavern and the shuttered Garibaldi’s had dining roots across the bay—the arrival of A16 Rockridge seems to have been something of a tipping point. Since its debut in June, owners of two other SF businesses—Smitten Ice Cream and Barrel Room wine bar—committed to opening on College Avenue, at least one of which directly credited A16 for the move. Says Barrel Room co-owner Sarah Trubnick, “We were in Rockridge and peeked into A16 when it was under construction. We ended up really liking the area and finding this great spot.”