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Heartiest Bar Food 

Al-Omda Cafe

In Arabic, al-omda roughly translates as "the mayor" -- or "the boss," if you say it in the streets of Cairo. But Amir Eo Hamaki, who opened the Egyptian shisha bar, Al-Omda, on the first day of Ramadan in 2003, says he christened the place for his father Emad, whose nickname it was. Wedged behind a check-cashing place on Oakland's bustling East 18th Street, Al-Omda is spangled with red Christmas lights, colored pennants, brass Egyptian lamps with candy-cane curlicues, and wraparound skirts culled from the Ashby flea market, which serve as silky tapestries. Besides shisha (flavored tobacco that you smoke from an ornate hookah), the bar serves falafel, hummus, Egyptian-style fava beans (a little mushier than the Palestinian style), tangy baba ganoush, sweet hot drinks made with ground nuts, and the richest baklava you've ever tasted. Coupled with the traditional Egyptian menu and exotic decor, the crowd at Al-Omda provides an international vibe: The regulars form an eclectic mix of African and Middle Eastern émigrés who come to play backgammon or dominoes, and sometimes provide a conga beat to the bar's wall-to-wall Arabic pop soundtrack.

Readers' Pick:
Cato's Ale House
3891 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-655-3349
MrCato.com

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