All photos by Cayce Clifford

Dish By DishSan FranciscoOakland

Friends and Family Is Quietly Creating Some of the Best Bar Food in the Bay Area


We’re just going to say it: Friends & Family is the cocktail bar serving some of the best and most exciting food in the Bay Area right now.

The colorful and cool bar was opened back in April 2020 in Oakland by industry vet Blake Cole. She wanted to create a very personal place, a safe space where everyone was welcome. “So much of my motivation was to create a love letter to the industry,” says Cole. “Everyone is invited and part of the dream.”

Fast-forward four years: Cole and her Friends & Family have received recognition by the James Beard Foundation and a spot in the famous World’s 50 Best Bars list. But why is the food better than ever right now?

Photo by Cayce Clifford
Photo by Cayce Clifford

One reason: Chef Gaby Maeda. Maeda was most recently the chef at the acclaimed State Bird Provisions where she spent the last nine years refining her craft cooking in one of the most creative kitchens around, capping it with being named one of Food & Wine Best New Chefs.

The menu she’s written for Friends & Family reflects her very personal story: “Most of the dishes will have the root inspiration of my background and upbringing in Hawaii through the lens of my time spent in the Bay Area food scene.” Let’s take a deep dive into some of Maeda’s creations, dish by dish.

Photo by Cayce Clifford
Photo by Cayce Clifford

Les Eggs

Les Eggs are not be missed—they’re the signature dish and an essential order, whether you’re popping in for a quick drink, or sticking around for the night and making a meal out of it. “It’s a simple dish consisting of five or six components but they are all saying something as one,” says Maeda. “I have had [this dish] on the back burner for years.”

Organic brown eggs are medium boiled, then brined for three hours in a shoyu mixture of tamari, ginger, garlic, serrano chile, sugar and water. The eggs are halved, plated, and smothered in a tangy creamy mayo a la oeufs mayonnaise, dusted with a burnt alium powder, and given little colorful spoonfuls of trout roe that pop. Hidden below it all are crunchy bubu arare pearls for additional textural contrast. The dish is a European wine bar classic remixed with the flavors of Maeda’s heritage.

Hot & Sour Mushrooms

The tangy, spicy hot-and-sour mushrooms come with toothpicks and is a nice small snack that isn’t your typical cocktail bar fare.  “When creating the menu, I was thinking of things that I can’t really find on wine bar and cocktail bar menus–the hot-and-sour mushrooms really hit a sense of nostalgia for me and can do so for many other people,” says Maeda.

Soft shitake, crunchy King trumpet, and velvety woodear mushrooms are sauteed until soft then marinated in a bright, spicy broth made with mushroom trims, onion, ginger, garlic, arbol, Sichuan peppercorns, and rice vinegar, which helps create a pickling liquid of sorts. Though they’re served with toothpicks, you just may want to ask for a spoon so you can consume every last drop.

Sushi Bar Salad

The Sushi Bar Salad is a brilliant dish that mashes up the classic crunchy gingery salad you’d find in mom-and-pop sushi bars with a wedge salad you’d find in a classic steakhouse. Maeda quarters and plates leafy little gems, tops with a bright umami miso-based dressing, sesame seeds, slivers of carrots and scallions, and the kicker: crunchy salty shitake bacon. “Our salad is in the form of a traditional wedge, so we needed something bacon-esque” says Maeda, who substituted the dehydrated mushroom to mimic the crispy pork bits. “It’s vegan, which is hugely important on our menu — we want every person to have the opportunity to eat and enjoy the bar.”

Photo by Cayce Clifford
Photo by Cayce Clifford

Rice Cakes Arrabiata

Maeda’s mom taught her how to make tomato sauce as a teenager, and Maeda later learned how to refine it by cooking in professional kitchens. In lieu of pasta to soak up the sauce, Maeda uses squishy Korean rice cakes, which are a nod to a mochi dish and menu mainstay over a State Bird that she contributed during her tenure there. There’s also plenty of crispy pancetta for that salty meaty kick, as well.

Maeda’s arrabiata is anything but traditional, and it’s so comforting, and so so good.  “The rice cakes are normally served in a vibrant red gochujang laced sauce, so I wanted to find the parallels to the color while providing a comforting eating experience. Sauce arrabiata was the one, says Maeda.

Carrot Cake

If the carrot cake tastes like someone’s mom made it, you’d be right—said mother is Blake Cole’s. She started doing it day one of opening because the bar needed to offer food with cocktails to go because of the crazy pandemic—and has been making every single carrot cake since.

Her version is pretty classic. She uses whole carrots (tops included), and makes a soft fluffy cake that isn’t too spice-forward and the classic cream cheese frosting isn’t too sweet. You can’t just take one bite. We asked Blake for the recipe, but she won’t budge. “The recipe is a secret.”

Guess you’ll just have to visit Friends and Family.

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.