Emeryville, CA

Enjoy eating? Explore Emeryville's Public Market

Clay Kallam

Clay Kallam

So there’s this movie studio called Pixar, worth about $8 billion. And a company called Clif Bar that just sold for $2.9 billion.

Almost everyone has seen a Pixar movie, and lots of us have gobbled down a Clif Bar, and both are headquartered in Emeryville. Yes, Emeryville, that little dot on the map between Oakland and Berkeley, a classic don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it community stuck in a little L-shaped enclave in a gritty old industrial area.

And then there’s Ikea, worth about $18 billion. Some love that Swedish maze with its impenetrable instructions and dorm-room style, enough so that they take the Powell Street exit off of I-80, search for a parking spot and disappear for hours.

But the reason we go to Emeryville – and we go more often than you’d expect – is right across from the Amtrak station, and if you’ve been reading my stories for long, you can guess why: The food.

The Emeryville Public Market appeared in the late 1980s, when food courts were first springing up in the huge malls that are now struggling to survive. The large hall wasn’t exactly glamorous – OK, that word “gritty” springs to mind again – but there were all sorts of ethnic foods clamoring for your taste buds’ attention. (And remember, way back then people weren’t exactly rushing out to try to latest Korean-French-Peruvian menu mashup. The food court menus at the malls were burgers, fries, hot dogs, ice cream and maybe, if someone was really daring, a Chinese place.)

But if you had a group of hungry folks who couldn’t agree on a place to eat, and didn’t mind a distinctly urban atmosphere, the Public Market was perfect. And there was even a door into the Borders book store, which had a huge CD section that served as an after-dinner treat.

Times, however, changed. The constantly rotating group of small restaurants varied wildly in quality, and Borders eventually shut its doors. A massive renovation then took place, and a lot of people forgot about the Public Market – or if they remembered, they returned to find many fewer food options and what seemed to be an endless construction project, both inside and outside.

And of course, there was that whole COVID thing, which even though we’re all doing our best to forget about it, was pretty much a killer for a place that relied on a bunch of strangers sharing their food at communal tables.

We’re halfway through 2022 now, however, and the Emeryville Public Market is once again on the rise. In some ways, it’s doesn’t resemble the Public Market of the ‘90s at all. For one thing, there’s hard liquor (check out the sake and whiskey at The Periodic Table). And for another, the food has undergone a serious upgrade.

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, for example, has received regional recognition for its fried chicken (light and dark meat, by the way) and Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery just got mentioned by the San Francisco Chronicle for its non-dairy ice cream (and as one who disdains such departures from tradition, I have to say Mr. Dewie definitely gets it done). Others, like C Casa and Shiba Ramen (go with the White Bird), have earned consistent thumbs-ups from us, and Pig in a Pickle has yet to let me down when I’m in the mood for barbecue.

But the great thing about the Public Market is that there’s always something new to try, and plenty of reason to try it. Paradita Eatery is an offshoot of a chain of good Peruvian places, and Pizzeria Mercato has an impeccable Italian lineage. Oh, and for those in search of the classics, Super Duper Burgers (with soft-serve, no less) is right there as you come in.

And no, you won’t find any Clif Bars. Pixar movies don’t show on the several screens (though sports fans gather for big games). The only instructions you need to read are the menus, so you can leave that looming Ikea nightmare in the box in the back of the car.

But if you want to find the real Emeryville, the Emeryville that’s the melting pot of the East Bay, the Public Market is the place to be. And most imporant it’s a place that will make your taste buds happy.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA

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