Janice and Brandi Dulce’s new venture is an instant classic.
San Francisco’s loss has become the East Bay’s gain—in the form of lumpia with sweet chili sauce, triple-cooked pork belly, and island-inspired cocktails. The beloved Filipino pop-up FOB Kitchen has crossed the Bay to take up permanent residence (liquor license included) in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
With Janice Dulce as chef and her co-owner and wife, Brandi Dulce, on front of house and business operations, the restaurant is breathing new life into the building formerly occupied by Indian street food restaurant Juhu Beach Club. After over three years of running FOB Kitchen in pop-up form, including a residency at Gashead Tavern in San Francisco’s Mission District, the couple was eager for a space of their own.
“It’s very me and Janice,” Brandi says of the restaurant’s décor. “There’s black and white wallpaper, bright blue tile that made us think of the waters in the islands, lots of cool geometric woodwork, cozy dark wood.” Anything they couldn’t decide what to do with, Brandi laughs, “we spray-painted gold.”
The result is a setting that is as bold as the flavors Janice creates, drawing on the foods she ate while growing up in a family from the Philippines. Smaller dishes, like sticky wings flavored with caramel and Thai chili, are priced from $7 to $14, while larger dishes, like whole-roasted fish cooked with ginger and cilantro, are priced from $14 to $28. Brunch service on Saturday and Sunday features comfort foods like spam with garlic rice and arroz caldo, a hearty chicken rice porridge, for $9 to $16.
Janice cites the Shanghai lumpia as one of her favorite dishes on the menu. “We do house-ground pork with water chestnuts and carrots” inside a pastry-like wrapper, then ”we hand-roll those and fry them extra crispy,” she says. “That’s always been on the menu, and that was actually one of my grandma’s recipes.” Vegetarians will find plenty to love, too, with dishes like pancit sotanghon — glass noodles made with garlic, scallion, and soy — and tofu and mushroom adobo.
Janice has no formal culinary training, and she had no professional kitchen experience either when she and Brandi first started talking about launching a pop-up back in 2015. While both had extensive restaurant industry experience and Janice had always loved cooking for friends, she wasn’t sure she was ready to cook for the world.
“Okay,” she remembers thinking, “if we’re going to do it, I want to submerge myself more in the culture, so let’s go to the Philippines.” For a month, the couple travelled the country visiting rice terraces, markets, and Janice’s grandmother, who taught Janice to make dishes like kare-kare, an oxtail and peanut stew.
Shortly after their return, Brandi surprised Janice with the news that Brandi had secured a space for a pop-up. “I was at a grungy bar getting greasy brunch in the Outer Mission, and I saw that they had a kitchen and weren’t using it at night, so I talked to the owner and I kind of got the space one day a week,” Brandi says. “But Janice didn’t know this, and I came home and I was like, ‘So, I did something. I got you a pop-up space, and you start in three weeks!’”
After three weeks of what Brandi calls “mania,” the couple pulled off the launch, coming up with an irreverent name for their venture: FOB Kitchen. Janice grew up hearing the term FOB, or “fresh off the boat,” and she says she wanted to “take it and reclaim it” as a badge of pride rather than an insult.
Three years later, Brandi and Janice have more on their plates than a brand-new brick-and-mortar. They’ve also welcomed 21-month-old twins Phoenix and Sequoia, and the family has relocated to the East Bay along with the restaurant. “It feels perfect in all aspects,” Brandi says of the move. “There’s so much soul and heart in Oakland.”
Cali Gold of Beretta devised the cocktail menu, which features the Palawan Sunrise (tequila, orange, Thai bird chili, mango, hibiscus) and, fittingly, the Fresh Off The Boat (rum, coconut, lime, pandan, red bean). “We wanted to go tropical, but not tiki,” Janice explains. Wine and beer are available on tap.
For diners who already know and love Filipino food, Brandi says, “We want to do them a solid.” As for those encountering the cuisine for the first time, the couple hopes they get more than a meal out of their visit. “I want them to walk away thinking, I could eat Filipino food again,” says Brandi.
“Instead of them going, I want pizza tonight or I want Thai food,” Janice adds, “I want them to start craving Filipino food on a regular basis.”
FOB Kitchen, 5179 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, 510-817-4169.