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A Gut-Busting Tour of the East Bay’s Immigrant Food Enclaves

Here, it’s easy to eat your way around the world. You can even take BART.

SLIDESHOW

Pork sisig at Parekoy Lutong Pinoy.

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Lu pulu (creamed taro leaves) and slow-roasted turkey tails at Katalina Island Grill.

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Afghan bread at Maiwand Market.

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Charcoal-grilled chicken at La Selva.

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Mesir wot at Barcote.

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Boiled fish at Chengdu Style Restaurant.

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Hu tieu Nam Vang at Tasty Pho.

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Tacos at Taqueria El Paisa@.com.

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Editor’s Note: This is one of many stories San Francisco is publishing over the next month as part of the June 2018 East Bay Issue. To read stories as they become available online, click here.


Put down your
Michelin guide. Close that Yelp tab. If you really want to eat fabulously well in the East Bay, you need to tap the region’s greatest natural resource: its immigrant food enclaves. From the butter-scented East African mom-and-pops of North Oakland to the Afghan kebab shops of Fremont, the East Bay is dense with these pockets of immigrant-centered commerce. If you’re willing to drive up and down the I-80 and I-580 corridors, wander along working-class stretches of San Pablo and Telegraph Avenues, or get off at almost any stop on the Richmond-to-Fremont BART line, the world is your oyster—or, perhaps, your Taiwanese-style oyster vermicelli. Here’s your guide to the bounty.

Filipino in San Leandro
Filipinos are well represented in the East Bay—especially in the stretch of southern cities that include Union City, Hayward, and San Leandro, the last of which is home to Parekoy Lutong Pinoy, a family-run restaurant that serves some of the best home-style Filipino cooking in the Bay Area. Don’t miss the pork sisig, which comes out wonderfully crispy on a sizzling stone plate and crowned with a runny egg yolk. 14807 E. 14th St. (near 148th Ave.), 510-614-8112

Tongan in Hayward
Hayward has the East Bay’s densest concentration of Pacific Islanders, including large numbers of Fijians, Samoans, and Tongans. The next time you’re in town, skip your basic Hawaiian fast-food chain and head to Katalina’s Island Grill, a Tongan steam table restaurant where you’ll find Polynesian specialties such as lu pulu (creamed taro leaves) and slow-roasted turkey tails. 821 Sycamore Ave. (near Mission Blvd.), 510-200-9504

Indian in the strip malls of Fremont
The East Bay has no shortage of Indian eateries, but sheer demographics dictate that you have to trek down to the South Bay for the really good stuff—or at least as far south as Fremont, where Indians make up roughly 20 percent of the population. At Chaat Bhavan, Bangalore-style chaat is served alongside Punjabi specialties like makki di roti, a toasty corn flatbread similar to a thick tortilla. 5355 Mowry Ave. (near Farwell Dr.), 510-795-1100

Afghan in Fremont’s Centerville District
With one of the largest Afghan communities in the country, Fremont is where Afghan Americans head when they have a craving for bolani or lamb kebab. Located amid a handful of blocks in the Centerville district known as Little Kabul, Maiwand Market is worth a detour if you want to stock up on long sheaves of fresh-baked Afghan bread. 37235 Fremont Blvd. (at Bonde Way), 510-796-3215

Mexican in Richmond’s 23rd St. corridor
This roughly mile-long strip of 23rd Street in Richmond is packed with delicious taco after drop-dead delicious taco. At the rainforest-themed La Selva, the specialty of the house is charcoal-grilled chicken, sold by the half or whole bird with rice, beans, and tortillas. You’ll smell the smoke all the way down the block. 1049 23rd St. (near Hellings Ave.), 510-237-0913

East African in North Oakland
One of the coziest of the Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants and coffee shops that line Telegraph, Shattuck, and Claremont Avenues from North Oakland into Berkeley, Barcote features an especially silky and well-spiced version of mesir wot and a kitchen suffused with the comforting smell of clarified butter. 6430 Telegraph Ave. (near 65th St.), 510-923-6181

Cantonese in Oakland’s Chinatown
Even as more of the Bay Area’s Chinese immigrant diaspora moves out to the suburbs, it’s still hard to top Oakland’s Chinatown for old-school Cantonese fare. One of the neighborhood’s real gems is Yuen Hop Co., a grocery store specializing in fresh housemade noodles, available by the bagful in upwards of a dozen varieties. 824 Webster St. (near 9th St.), 510-451-2698

Laotian in San Pablo
Pockets of Lao refugee families settled in the East Bay during the 1970s and ’80s, mostly in Oakland, Richmond, and San Pablo, bringing with them a diet heavy on sticky rice, chili dips, and the pungent fish paste known as padaek. Dating back to the early ’90s, San Pablo’s That Luang Kitchen was one of the area’s first Lao markets; it has since shifted over to become a full-fledged restaurant, slinging plates of mok pla (steamed fish custard) and porky rice-ball salad. 1614 23rd St. (at Bush Ave.), 510-232-6265

Regional Chinese near UC Berkeley
Nearly 2,300 international students from China enrolled at UC Berkeley in the fall 2017 semester, a figure that’s crept up year by year. Catering to their tastes, Berkeley has seen a tremendous blossoming of high-quality regional Chinese restaurants. For instance, Chengdu Style Restaurant serves some of the tastiest Sichuan-style “water-boiled” fish around, in a dining room populated almost exclusively by young scholars conversing in Mandarin. 2600 Bancroft Way (at Bowditch St.), 510-845-5807

Southeast Asian in the San Antonio
Adjacent to Fruitvale, the San Antonio district is best known for its Southeast Asian markets and restaurants—a veritable gold mine of Thai, Lao, and Vietnamese eats. At newcomer Tasty Pho, the pho is tasty enough, but the real find is the hu tieu Nam Vang—a Cambodian rice-noodle dish served the way Vietnamese people like to eat it. Order it “dry” style, with broth on the side and a scattering of fried shallots and hard-boiled quail eggs on top. 200 International Blvd. (at 2nd Ave.), 510-788-4282

Korean on Telegraph Avenue’s “Kimchee Row”
Korean-owned businesses dominate large stretches of Telegraph Avenue, extending well beyond the borders of Oakland’s officially designated Korea­town. In the heart of Temescal, Pyeongchang Tofu House is the go-to spot for soul-warming tofu stews, served with a side of rice heavy on the crunchy scorched bits from the bottom of the stone pot. 4701 Telegraph Ave. (at 47th St.), 510-658-9040

Mexican in Fruitvale
With its wealth of menudo shops, fruit carts, and panaderias, Fruitvale’s hub of Latino immigrant-run businesses is a whole lot more than just tacos. But if you want the best tacos, head beyond the cluster of restaurants near the central plaza and hit up the bombastically named Taqueria El Paisa@.com, where the salsa is fiery hot and every cut of meat is exquisitely cooked, from the tender carnitas to the soft, squishy, and luxuriously rich tripa (beef tripe). 4610 International Blvd. (at Bancroft Way), 510-534-2180

  

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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