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Walnut Creek Magazine

Double Down at Uptown Oakland’s Belly and Sweet Belly

Jul 16, 2017 02:14PM ● By Fran Miller

By Fran Endicott Miller

When Kevin Durant arrived to the East Bay last summer, he candidly asked Golden State Warrior fans, via Reddit, where he should go. “New to the area,” he typed. “What places should I check out?” Several respondents suggested he try Belly, the Uptown Oakland favorite known for creative tacos, burritos, and burgers. Whether the 2017 NBA finals MVP has since become a Belly regular or not, the laid-back café's popularity is secure, and is evident in the daily crowds that form the counter’s quick moving queue.

Three years ago, when Belly owners Alice Woo and Alan Chun chose the site for their new venture, the San Pablo Ave. location was a slight outlier. But the two saw the neighborhood’s possibilities, and their real-estate sense proved prescient. As the Uptown area took shape, Belly became the serendipitous beneficiary of a residential and commercial development boon. Today, it finds itself in the thick of activity, near other popular spots like Hopscotch, Duende, and Xolo.

And as if one crazily popular Belly wasn’t enough, Woo and Chun sought to expand their venture with the recently opened Sweet Belly, located just a few blocks from the original. Hitting-up both creates a winning combination and makes for a quintessential Uptown Oakland evening; dine at Belly and work off a few of the calories with a walk to Sweet Belly for dessert. You’ll pass the ‘Remember Them: Champions for Humanity’ bronze monument at Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park, and you’ll graze the historic Fox Theater. (Doesn't it feel good to get out of the ‘Creek’ for a bit?)

Start your evening at Belly and order from the chalkboard menu, where the choices are so plentiful as to take up an entire wall. Famous for their tacos and burritos that meld Korean and southwestern flavors, they also make a mean burger. Salad lovers will also find several satisfying choices. Try the Shrimp & Avocado taco or burrito, with shrimp tempura, sesame slaw, avocado, pico de gallo, lime cilantro sour cream, and sambal aioli. The Grilled Chicken taco/burrito fuses house marinated chicken, rice, Korean slaw, pickled cucumber, garlic aioli and kimchi aioli. Pork Belly is a customer favorite: spicy honey glazed pork belly, sesame slaw, and house pickled cucumber. Every order is served with a choice of three house made salsas.

Each item yields an explosion of unexpected ingredients and flavors; kimchi aioli on a 6 oz. all beef burger patty? You bet. A plate of fries with house marinated sirloin, kimchi aioli, lime cilantro sour cream, pico de gallo, corn salsa, cheddar, fried egg, and kimchi? Yes, please. Enjoy your meal with homemade seasonal nectars, craft sodas, or a selection of beers and wines. And if you’re tempted to take a seat prior to placing your order – don’t. Trust in the wall signs that caution against it. The system works. A table will be ready for you by the time your food arrives.

Afterward, take that walk to Sweet Belly to indulge your dessert craving. The Pinterest-worthy interior, with sparkling white subway tile, bowls of fresh gardenias, and tiny potted plants draped in fairy lights is alone worth the short trek. The cozy shop features freshly baked creative cookies, made-to-order mini donuts in flavors such as cinnamon sugar, matcha sugar, strawberry sugar, and orange zest sugar, and two monthly rotating ice cream flavors such as jasmine and dark chocolate. Customers can fulfill multiple dessert desires by creating their own Sweet Deal with one ice cream flavor, a topping (i.e. cereal crunch, pretzel streusel, caramel coffee popcorn, maldon sea salt/EVOO and many more) a donut, and a donut drizzle (honey butter caramel, spiced chocolate, Nutella etc). “Ordering is daunting but exciting,” says 15-year-old customer Ari Gonzalez-Silas, an Oakland resident and Sweet Belly regular. “There are so many fun choices and endless combinations.”

P.S. To those KD fans who referred him to Belly – do the man a favor and alert him to the sugary pleasures of Sweet Belly. He’ll surely be grateful.

Belly: 1901 San Pablo Ave., Oakland

Sweet Belly: 435 19th St., Oakland

Photos by Jenny Diaz

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