I am an Oaklander.

Even though I only spent six years of my early childhood in Oakland (late 70s to mid-80s) and I now live more than 2,000 miles away, my experience in the Town had a profound effect on who I am at my core. I lived on the block of 9th Street and Grove Street, before it was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Way. There was still construction happening on I-980 and Old and Downtown Oakland was largely avoided by those that didn’t live there. It was during this time, my parents separated, leaving my mom and grandmother to raise three kids in a small subleased space on the first floor of run-down, rat-infested, two-story home.

I fondly remember walking with my family a few blocks East through Chinatown, sending me into sensory overdrive. The intoxicating smells emanating from the restaurants, markets, and bakeries made me forget about the old mildew smell of my home. I was enamored by bronzed duck carcasses and roasted pigs’ heads showcased in windows, as well as monstrous Dungeness crabs and other sea creatures on display in aquariums. My mom haggled with everybody before buying anything in Chinatown, which was not only common practice in the market, but also a necessity to get as much as you could within our meager budget. When we went clothes shopping, it was usually at the Salvation Army amazingly still standing on Webster, where I would scour for the cleanest Kangaroos (the kicks with the zippers) and clothes that looked the least like hand-me-downs.

My neighborhood was made up entirely of African American and first generation immigrant families. Kids’ birthday parties commonly included a hodgepodge of cuisines – soul food, Mexican, Filipino, and more. I didn’t give it any thought at the time, but we lived in a categorically “white flight” area. Before nightfall, we secured our front door with four deadbolts, and often slept to the symphony of police and ambulance sirens. Oakland’s reputation as a high crime area was rooted in truth, but I truly never felt in danger living there. I thought of everybody in my community as good people that looked out for one another.

We knew times were tough for everybody in my neighborhood, but we all did what we needed to do to survive. Facing and overcoming adversity is a huge part of being an Oaklander.

Supporting your community and embracing diversity is part of being an Oaklander.

Fighting for what you believe in is part of being an Oaklander.

Blazing your own path is part of being an Oaklander.

Feeling pride in seeing someone else from Oakland gaining success is part of being Oaklander.

This was my first time back in Oakland in years, and while the Town has evolved significantly – most notably through gentrification – I believe the same spirit still exists today. In fact, proudly waving your Oakland flag is more en vogue than ever. Oakland clothing and merchandise store Oaklandish has been waving the flag most prominently, making the Town’s tree logo known beyond the 510 and giving us another way to proudly proclaim our “Oakland-ness.” In addition to Oaklandish, store founder Angela Tsay says there are five other shops that represent Oakland to the fullest.

 

Ask a Local: Top 5 local shops for repping Oakland (not named Oaklandish)

(1) Beast Oakland: proprietor Rush Santos’ popular crane monster design presides over his shop celebrating Oakland with an East Oakland perspective.

(2) Dope Era: pop and hyphy culture expressed as candy-colored sweatsuits and tees make Mistah Fab’s shop a destination for rap royalty and fans.

(3) Beast Mode: Marshawn Lynch’s shop on Broadway features men’s, women’s, and kids’ tees and athleisure pieces, with a good selection up to 6X.

(4) A’s Team Stores at the Coliseum: With the Raiders and the Warriors leaving Oakland, you’ve gotta support the A’s to stAy in Oakland.

(5) Oakland Museum Gift Shop: Museum shops can often come off a bit pretentious, but th folks at OMCA do a good job of mixing high and low, with a highlight on local makers and lots of gifts for the little ones.

Angela Tsay, Founder/Owner of Oaklandish

Visit www.oaklandish.com for Oakland merchandise from a company that has become synonymous with local love and Oakland pride.

Food

Kingston 11’s Head Chef Nigel Jones’ “One Love” approach and mission to create a community meeting place fits like a glove in diverse and community-centric Oakland. My walk through Chinatown brought back memories, as I saw ducks hanging from the window, most notably from Gum Kuo. I also met with Chef Jimmy Huang at Huangcheng Noodle House to learn about his unique Shang Xi knife-cut noodles, as well his plight from China to Oakland by way of Las Vegas. Oakland’s diversity is probably at its most glorious in the Fruitvale neighborhood, where I visited Obelisco, Red Bay Coffee, Reem’s, and La Guerrera’s Kitchen. I visited the hip Temescal neighborhood to treat myself to some of the best Burmese food in America at Teni East. During my recent visit, I was unable to get to breakfast-centric spots, so I leaned on Oakland-based food writer “Foodie 510” to provide her favorite list of Oakland breakfast spots below.

Ask a Local: Top 3 Oakland restaurants for breakfast

(1) I’ve seen the growth and success of Grand Lake Kitchen over the years.  The original restaurant near Lake Merritt started in a small space where eventually when the next door tenants moved out, the walls were knocked down for expansion.  This year, another Grand Lake Kitchen opened up in the Diamond district.  The hardest decision to make is whether you want sweet or savory French toast.

(2) Mama Royal’s Cafe at 40th Street and Broadway has been around since 1974.  Two years ago, the long time owner of the restaurant retired.  The menu and the employees remained intact when new owners purchased it. This diner has old school charm with a broad variety of breakfast items including corned beef hash, huevos rancheros, and eggs benedict.  While you’re there, browse the napkin art on the walls.

(3) Brown Sugar Kitchen is owned by Top Chef contestant Tanya Holland.  She might be the only classically trained chef who’s specialty is buttermilk fried chicken and corn meal waffles.  If you don’t want a long wait, weekday mornings are a great time to go.

Lisa Lau, Blogger, 510foodie.com

Lisa is a local food blogger that has been writing about food since 2010. Her website www.510foodie.com has been named one of the Top 15 Oakland Blogs and Websites to follow. To stay up to speed on what Lisa is eating or cooking up, follow her instagram account: @510foodie.

Cannabis

In 1995, the all-time classic “Five on It” by Oakland-based rap group Luniz was regularly bumping in cars well outside East Bay. With the legal weed game a full go in California, if you didn’t think the Town was going to be rich with top notch dispensaries, you are “hella dum-da-dum-dumb.” To me, ECO Cannabis should be at the top of any short list, not just locally but nationally. ECO Cannabis has the clean, modern look of an Apple Store, with the most efficient customer service process I’ve experienced in my visits to dispensaries across the U.S. Additionally, ECO Cannabis invests in its community by hiring Oakland residents formerly incarcerated during the “War on Drugs,” mentoring local Cannabis Equity Businesses to position them for a better chance at success, and carrying/selling local product such as Peakz at their store. At Magnolia Oakland, shoppers are allowed to consume product at communal tables in the main shopping area. Each table is stocked with board games and situated in front of flat screen TVs. You can also do the same in a separate the Dab Bar down the hallway.

Special Notes

Oakland native and master photographer Alex “Ghost” Hernandez is responsible for many of the dope photos accompanying my Oakland content. This dude has a special eye for taking pics and local Oaklanders have recognized this for a while (see Marshawn Lynch, Oaklandish, and others).

Special thanks to all the Oaklanders giving me deep insight into what they love to do, eat, and everything else Town-related. For example, I got to chop it up with several Oakland movers and shakers, like Kingston 11 Chef Nigel Jones and ECO Cannabis GM Andre Bustos.

Thanks for the love and support, Oakland!

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