In the anthropology of eating, food is what holds society together. We dine together at the table of life.

Never have I felt this more deeply than at chef Tanya Holland's Brown Sugar Kitchen new B-Side BBQ. Warm and inviting, this bluesy West Oakland cafe brings out the best in our town -- folks from all walks of life breaking bread and supporting a city that's had more than its share of struggles.

There's something seductive about B-Side. The soft conversation swirls through the room like cool jazz on a sultry summer night in Savannah. The heady effects of Holland's celebrated southern cuisine linger long after you've finished your meal. You'll find yourself smiling days later -- knowing you've found possibly the best barbecue on earth, as well as the true pulse of Oakland.

Forty-one restaurants come together Friday through Jan. 27 for Oakland Restaurant Week, proving we really are experiencing a culinary renaissance. Oakland's Lindsay Wright says some of San Francisco's best chefs are opening restaurants in Oakland because it's affordable, less formal and more diverse. In addition to B-Side BBQ, here are four more popular Oakland Restaurant Week participants -- each in a different culinary hot spot:

Montclair: Owner-chef Henry Vortriede's Montclair Bistro has become the go-to place for fine dining in Montclair. Trained in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, Vortriede has found a way to make elegance affordable with his $20 lobster dinners and seasonal offerings like this month's beef Wellington.


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Glenview: Sister to the celebrated A Cote, Rumbo al Sur's small plates and hip vibe make this place a favorite in a block packed with good restaurants. Each eclectic dish celebrates the best of Latin American and Mexican cuisine, including crimini mushroom empanadas, achiote chicken tamales and grilled flat iron steak with collard greens and yucca fries. Top it off with a spicy sangria or one of dozens of signature cocktails, wines, rums and tequilas.

Old Town: The slick wine and whiskey lounge, District, is bringing new love to Old Oakland these days. The sidewalks are lined with twinkling trees, and the cafes are buzzing with out-of-towners from the Marriott and other nearby hotels. With a sister restaurant in San Francisco, District mixes a sophisticated vibe with Oakland's down-home demeanor. Favorite small plates include the sweet and salty apple wood smoked wild salmon and the hand-cut steak tartar. The Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs are meaty and savory, and the roasted brussels sprouts partner perfectly with the butternut squash, house cured pancetta and gold raisin sauce.

Jack London Square: Farm-to-fork Mexican cooking makes this new cafe, Nido, irresistible. Run by husband-and-wife team Cory and Silvia McCollow, Nido is already getting attention from the "big boys." Bon Appétit magazine recently named it No. 1 when it comes to the cemita -- aka Mexican Big Mac. Served only for lunch, this supersized sandwich has pork, Oaxacan cheese, avocado and other goodies on a house-made bun. Nido means nest, according to Cory, and he and his wife hope their cafe provides just that -- a soft place to land for folks looking to celebrate our eclectic community.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I'll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at www.ginnyprior.com.

FYI
Oakland Restaurant Week from Friday through Jan. 27 celebrates the thriving culinary scene in Oakland with 10 days of specials and prix fixe menus at $20, $30 and $40. Tickets are not required, but reservations are strongly recommended. For more information see http://visitoakland.org/restaurantweek.cfm.