Once a tiny village scattered with horse and buggies, now a hipster heaven, the neighborhood of Temescal Oakland is as vibrant and colorful now more than ever.
Edible Excursions is a company founded by Lisa Rogovin, formerly of Gourmet Magazine. The concept is simple – meet with a group led by one of her expert trained staff for a day of restaurant hopping.
Since I consider myself a bit of a pro at this glutinous foodie pastime I was all over it.
So, I get off BART at Rockridge station, walk down Shafter street past the twentieth century homes decorated with succulent gardens proudly displaying “black lives matter” signs, hang a left on 51st and arrive at Telegraph ave, the epicenter of Temescal.
This multicultural ‘hood just about defines the word gentrification these days. Housing is expensive, the streets are becoming safer and there’s an abundance of excellent restaurants and trendy retail shops.
I have to admit I was pretty much in heaven when I saw what Temescal had to offer. Vintage clothes, barber shops, hand-made jewelry, a punk rock record store, locally made ice-cream, apothecaries and a DIY shop not to mention amazing ethnic cuisine and plenty of gourmet food establishments, including a few owned by Chez Panisse alumni.
We met Sarah outside of Juhu Beach Club (positioned between a pawn shop and a check cashing store) which, looking back now, I realize I could have spent all day hanging out at.
Juhu Beach Club is the brainchild of former Top Chef contestant, Preeti Mistry. But after tasting her food the TV show is not her claim to fame, the way she navigates around indian spices and innovatively redefines the foods of her culture to make them more “oaklandish”, is.
The theme of her menu is Indian street food like you would find at Juhu beach in Mumbai. It’s fun and playful but still complex in flavor.
Sarah sampled us on three items there – the iced masala chai, the vada pav and desi jacks.
Preeti makes a beautiful house-made chai spice which she expertly crafts with black tea, whole milk and a dash of sugar to create her refreshing iced chai. It’s the perfect palate cleanser and fatty buffer to pair with the spicy vada pav we tasted – India’s version of a slider.
She starts with a perfectly crispy fried potato puff, tops it with three house-made chutneys – ghost chili, tamarind and cilantro and pickled red onion. Then she sandwiches it in-between two pieces of glazed squishy buns, baked fresh daily from Starter Bakery.
The bread is reminiscent of what is used to construct the sweet pork buns you would find at a dim sum restaurant.
The spicy, crunchy, pickly, sweet concoction of this sandwich lights your mouth on fire but keeps you coming back for more. I could have eaten two more of these things but I knew I needed to save room for the rest of the day’s offerings.
On the way out, Sarah provided us with tiny cups filled with what Preeti calls desi jacks. A tricked out version of cracker jacks that I would rather have over the ballpark kind any day. It was a mixture of indian spiced popcorn, pistachios and peanuts. Salty and sweet and wonderfully addictive.
It also touched my heart to notice that for every bowl of “Mom’s guju” chili Juhu Beach Club sold a dollar went to the fire relief fund for victims of the Ghostship Oakland fire. That’s true community spirit right there.
The next stop on our adventure was the Temescal Urban Village Farmers Market, or the DMV farmers market as the locals call it, due to it being located in the DMV parking lot.
Being the farmers market junkie that I am I wanted to stop at every stall but we were on a schedule so aside from sneaking in a taste of turmeric-almond milk at The Living Apothecary and stopping by the Farmhouse Culture stand I stuck with the group.
We had baja style fish tacos waiting for us when we walked up to the Cholita Linda stand. Crispy battered tilapia, topped with salsa roja, green cabbage slaw and mexican crema on soft warm tortillas. The stand also offers tacos de carnitas, tacos de tofu and a variety of aqua frescas.
If you want to see what else Cholita Linda has to offer you can walk a few blocks down the street to their brick and mortar shop. You’ll know when you get there because there will be a line out the door.
After our tacos we cruised over to the Starter Bakery stand. The same guys that make the crazy good sweet buns for Juhu Beach Club. Here we sampled their Kouign-Amann, a pastry they have become famous for.
It’s a french style crunchy, laminated dough. Think of it like a compressed glazed croissant. It’s heavenly. I took a few bites and wrapped up the rest to take home with me to have with tea the next morning. Which I did.
After the farmers market we headed over to to the Temescal alleys, a collection of mom and pop businesses set up in the same stalls trolley car horses were kept back in the day.
We had a scoop of house-made ice-cream made with Straus milk at Curbside Creamery, I ogled over tinctures and spices at Homestead Apothecary and bought a bracelet at Marisa Mason. Again, I could have spent most of the day just hanging out there.
From there we landed at The Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop. A shop that has been on my to do list for years now. We were greeted with trays of warm PBR infused tomato soup and crispy grilled mac n’ cheese squares drizzled with sweet chili sauce by the shop’s cheese expert, BJ. Um, hel-lo delicious comfort food! Apparently they hold the title of “best mac & cheese in the bay area” and I can see why. The flavors are bold and white trash fabulous. A concept after my own heart.
We took a spin around the shop where you can find local artisan goods, gift baskets and of course lots and lots of cheese. Bring a few shopping bags when you come here, you’re going to need them.
Abesha Restaurant was our next stop where we sampled Ethiopian Cuisine. Sarah explained to us that we would be eating with our hands in the traditional manner and thoughtfully directed us to a hand sink in the back of the restaurant.
Our server brought us out a wonderful assortment of slow cooked vegetarian delights accompanied by injera, a fermented spongy flatbread made with teff used for scooping up each bite of food with.
We had YeAter Kik – yellow split peas simmered with onions, herbs and spices, YeMisir Wot – lentils in berbere (a classic ethiopian spice blend) sauce, Tikil Gomen Carrot and Dinich – cabbage, carrot and potato in a vibrant yellow sauce, Shirro – chickpeas simmered in berbere sauce and Mushroom Wot – quartered mushrooms cooked with onion, herbs and spices. The flavors were mild but fragrant and comforting. I could imagine lingering over a tray like this with friends for hours catching up on old times.
The finale of our tasty tour of Temescal was a Korean feast at Bowl’d. We arrived to a long table set with an array of kimchees and pickles, known as banchan..
Minutes later spicy kimchee pancakes, jhap chae – sweet potato glass noodles tossed with mushrooms, carrots and cabbage and hot steamy bowls of bimimbop hit the table, one with beef one vegetarian. A warm soothing barley tea was served along side.
I didn’t think this meal could get any better until Sarah arrived at the end with a tray full of Job’s tear shots. This Korean drink is made with nuts (traditionally walnuts, almonds and/or pine nuts) and job’s tears (also known as Chinese pearled barley). The nuts are coarsely ground so what you get is almost a porridge consistency. To me it tasted like warm peanut butter milk. So good!
The Oakland Temescal Tastes tour, curated and led by Sarah Henry is a delicious way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Come hungry, wear your walking shoes and be prepared to want to come back.
Temescal is a neighborhood worth being savored.
Edible Excursions leads walking tours in SF, Oakland and Berkeley. Join a group or book a private tour and experience behind-the-scenes experiences with some of the best Chefs in the bay area.
The Temescal Tastes tour is held on Sundays from 11-2pm in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.