Encompassing the Fruitvale and Dimond districts, the area known as International couldn't be more aptly named. German immigrants settled the area in the 1800s, and today it's a veritable United Nations, with Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders contributing to its vibrant multicultural scene. The now largely Latino Fruitvale (roughly Fruitvale Avenue to High Street, and International Boulevard to School Street) is still home to St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, a stained-glass-windowed beauty established in 1892 by the aforementioned Germans who also planted the orchards that garnered the "Fruit Vale" its name. The orchards reached well into the Dimond (Fruitvale from School Street north past MacArthur Boulevard) and boasted numerous beer gardens where the locals made merry — a festive history carries on today in these bustling neighborhoods.
The world is a better place thanks to the ten or so tamale varieties Maria handcrafts on a back table in her cafe, World Cup Coffee (1212 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, 510-436-7455). Each day brings two flavors made with farmers'-market produce or fresh meats, and she steams them, one pot-ful at a time, to an unforgettably moist, creamy deliciousness that inspired customers to dub her the Tamale Queen. Take a dozen home with you.
The namesake brothers of Los Hermanos Fruteria y Carniceria (1723 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, 510-536-2797) turned this former auto shop into a festive market and cook's resource for spices, pilonsillo sugar, five kinds of crema, and peppers from piquant ancho to blazing arbol. The butcher shop stocks basic cuts plus spongy menudo and whole lengua, and bargain-priced produce abounds.
Fill up on Salvadoran pupusas at the city's best lonchera, the Tamales Mi Lupita truck (3340 Foothill Blvd., near 34th Ave., Oakland, 510-436-3851). Its pupusas pair savory-sweet masa with cheese, carne, or combination revuelta; a scoop of curtido, a slaw of cabbage, carrots, vinegar, and red peppers, adds crunch and zing — all muy delicioso meal for a mere $2 to $4.
Up in the Dimond, the innovative Fernseed (3436 Dimond Ave., Oakland, 510-882-1598, Fernseed.com) performs alchemy on salvaged furniture and accessories, rehabbing them into stylish home decor. Gift ideas abound, like the succulent terraria that bring new life to vintage coffee cups and weathered silver trays.
Eco-conscious pets can trot over to Paws & Claws (2023 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-336-0105, PawsnClawsOakland.com) for natural and vegetarian kibble, biodegradable kitty litter, hemp collars, and homeopathic healthcare. A visit to the kennel-free Grooming Spa will top off the day; call for an appointment.
Farmer Joe's Marketplace (3426 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, 510-482-8899, FarmerJoesMarket.com) turned the Dimond into a foodie magnet with its well-priced organic and locally grown produce, natural foods, and gourmet selections. No time to cook? The deli makes the best sandwiches for miles around.
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