Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Farewell to El Sabrosito, A Pupuseria on Wheels

Plus, Arizmendi’s Emeryville location is closed until further notice due to a fire.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 1:46 PM

This week will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food. - PHOTO BY MARIA ZAVALA
  • Photo by Maria Zavala
  • This week will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food.

Shortly after celebrating its three-year anniversary, Salvadoran food truck El Sabrosito reported on Dec. 10 via social media that the truck’s last day of business will be Saturday, Dec. 22.

The business is owned by sisters Maria and Claudia Zavala, who opened the truck in December 2015. Maria said they are closing the business for a “change of careers.”

The mobile pupuseria brought pupusas, tamales, bean soup, and other Salvadoran eats to Jack London Square during weekdays, as well as to Temescal Brewing on Saturdays. The truck also appeared at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire on the first Sundays of the month. El Sabrosito also garnered praise from the Express in 2016 for being an old-school food truck serving up comforting, homestyle food rather than catering to trends.

One of the most unique items on El Sabrosito’s menu was the Lola’s special: a pupusa of the customer’s choice topped with a fried egg, curtido, and Salvadoran chorizo. The dish is named after Maria and Claudia’s mother, Lola, who created the dish. “She was living with me for a while, and she actually made it for me one day when I was in a hurry. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast,” Maria recalled.

During its last week of operation, El Sabrosito will be open during its normal hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays at 333 Broadway in Oakland, and Saturday from 1 p.m.-8 p.m. at Temescal Brewing at 4115 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.

This Saturday will be the public’s last chance to taste the Zavala sisters’ food. According to Maria, they don’t have plans to relocate or reopen.

“It’s a good business, it works, but it does have some limitations, with the food setup and costs being the way they are,” she said. “Who knows what the future has, but for the time being, we’re not moving elsewhere.”

Maria expressed gratitude for the Oakland community. “The community here was very welcoming. Even though it’s a big city, everybody just makes it feel like it’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. They’ve just always been very supportive. I’m very thankful for everybody.”

…News of another closure also rattled the East Bay on Dec. 10, when cooperative bakery Arizmendi Emeryville (4301 San Pablo Ave.), known for its daily vegetarian pizza slices and corn-cherry scones, announced that it was closed due to a fire that occurred that morning. According to an Alameda County Fire Instagram post, multiple cars collided in the parking lot, causing one of the vehicles to hit the bakery’s back wall. A gas line was hit, causing a fire to erupt. One person sustained minor injuries but declined medical treatment. The bakery is closed until further notice.

On Dec. 13, Arizmendi Emeryville updated their webpage with a note stating that they will re-open in the future, but asked for space as they grieved for their communal workplace.

“The bakery is not just a workplace, it is a community space: a second home for us. Every day we meet there. We commune. We commiserate. We have conversations about so many things beyond just our products and our business. We are friends. We are loved ones. We all care deeply about one another as human beings,” the note read.

Cam Huong in Oakland Chinatown to Become Cam Anh

The sandwich shop will have a similar menu with more vegetarian options and may open as early as January.

by Momo Chang
Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 11:03 AM

Anh Nguyen.
  • Anh Nguyen.

Anh Nguyen’s dream was 28 years in the making.

Nguyen left Vietnam as a young adult on a boat for refugees, ending up in Hong Kong and then eventually reuniting with her brothers in Oakland. One day, one of her brothers brought her to eat breakfast at a modest shop in Chinatown, called Cam Huong. She remembers getting caphe (Vietnamese coffee) and a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich).

“I was happy that there was good Vietnamese comfort food in Oakland and always thought that it would be a dream to own such a restaurant,” Nguyen said, adding that the place reminded her of home. “It’s always busy, there’s excitement and activity going on.”

She put that dream on hold as she became a business owner in Oakland. For the past 20 years, she’s worked at Folks Art — originally on Piedmont Avenue, and recently relocated to the Montclair Village (6123 La Salle Ave.). The shop, which was founded by 14 local artists 43 years ago, and which Nguyen now owns, is a retail jewelry and gift store — including many handcrafted holiday ornaments right now.

Still, Nguyen never let go of the dream of owning the sandwich shop. She visited Cam Huong many times over the year. When she found out that Cam Huong in Chinatown was closing in September because the matriarch, Huong Luu, was retiring (the Cam Huong on International Boulevard remains open, as does the bakery), she was sad, like many loyal customers.

  • File photo by Momo Chang

She reached out to the owner of the building to inquire about leasing the space. “The keys dropped in my hands,” Nguyen marveled. She credits her family, friends, and the owner of Cam Huong, “who believed in me,” she said. “Sometimes, you want something so bad, you make it happen. I’m still blown away. I still can’t believe my dream is coming true.”

If you walk by now, you may see workers remodeling the restaurant. She hopes to freshen up the shop and open it in January. Fans of Cam Huong (920 Webster St.) — which were many, during the more than three decades it was in Chinatown — will be happy to know that much of the menu will remain the same, but with an upgraded interior. “I plan to keep the spirit of Cam Huong,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen will also add her touches, such as more vegetarian options, and for tea, using honey instead of sugar. (Nguyen has run more than 40 marathons and is very health-conscious.) “My goal is to make it the most healthy place in Chinatown, if I could,” Nguyen said.

And the store will be renamed Cam Anh. If her current business, Folks Art, is any indication, Nguyen is set for success. As customers walk in, she greets each one warmly, remember faces and what individual customers like. “Never give up on your dreams,” Nguyen added.

… In other news, one of the only Mongolian restaurants in the East Bay, Togi’s in downtown Oakland, has closed, according to Eater SF.

Friday, December 14, 2018

This Weekend, Mercado Latinx Comes to the Jack London Square Farmers Market

by Katherine Hamilton
Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 11:39 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Mercado Latinx
In case you need another reason to go to the Jack London Square Farmers Market this weekend, here’s one: this Sunday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., CUESA is partnering with Mercado Latinx Bay Area. Along with the usual farmer’s market produce stands and food stalls, there’ll be a total of 27 Latinx vendors selling handmade holiday gifts and refreshments.

More information about the Farmers Market is available at Cuesa.org.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where to Eat Dungeness Crab

Seven East Bay restaurants serving up the seasonal delicacy.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 11:59 AM

Time to get cracking! - PHOTO BY DENISE HUYNH OF TAY HO
  • Photo by Denise Huynh of Tay Ho
  • Time to get cracking!

We’re nearly a month into Dungeness crab season — and if you’re not sure where to find crab this season, there are plenty of restaurants serving up the prized crustaceans. As you’d expect from the East Bay’s diverse food scene, the types of preparations are endless, including Oaxacan mole, Vietnamese tamarind-garlic sauce, and Italian garlic and lemon. Time to get cracking!

1. On weekends, Oaxacan hotspot Agave Uptown (2135 Franklin St., Oakland) will be serving market-price Dungeness crab with mole sauce and seasonal vegetables. Round out the meal with Oaxacan specialties like the tlayuda: a gigantic thin, crispy tortilla topped with Oaxaca cheese, black beans, and your choice of meat or vegetables. There’s also a mezcal-driven cocktail menu to complete the Oaxacan dining experience.

2. Lake Chalet in Oakland (1520 Lakeside Dr.) offers views of Lake Merritt, along with Dungeness crab in all shapes and forms. On the smaller side, there’s a Dungeness crab tostada topped with blood orange mango salsa, habanero crema, and avocado, and a Dungeness crab bisque made with brandy, chives, and crème fraîche. If you’re looking for a full meal, there’s also a crab melt made with truffle cheese, a squid ink rigatoni topped with Dungeness crab and calamari, a filet mignon topped with butter-poached crab and crab-infused Béarnaise sauce, and a whole oven-roasted crab with garlic, lemon, and parsley.

3. Benchmark Pizzeria in Old Oakland (499 9th St.) might be best known for its wood-fired, Cal-Italian style pizza. But during Dungeness crab season, the restaurant will serve half crabs roasted in their wood-burning pizza oven, along with lemon, potatoes, and aioli, for $24. Or if you’re in the mood for fresh pasta — Benchmark makes it all in-house — there’s also a Dungeness crab pasta available for $18.

4. Oakland’s Tay Ho (344 12th St.) serves up regional Vietnamese specialties you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Oakland — and through the end of the year, they’ll also be serving Dungeness crab for dinner nightly. Choose from a whole crab with caramelized garlic and shallot sauce or tamarind garlic sauce, along with your choice of garlic noodles or gluten-free garlic rice for $38. Owner Denise Huynh recommends calling ahead (510-836-6388) to reserve your crab, since quantities are limited.

5. And let’s not forget the bay fung tong style crab at Bay Fung Tong in Oakland (1916 Franklin St.), which former Express staff writer Luke Tsai named as one of his favorite meals of 2016. It’s cut into pieces and fried, then topped with a heap of crunchy garlic, fermented black beans, and chilis. A variety of other preparations are also available, including a ginger-green onion sauce, fried salt and pepper crab, or golden egg crab, which is coated in a savory fried crust made from preserved duck egg yolks. Crab is sold at market price, which was $19.99 per pound at the time of writing.

6. In Berkeley, Trattoria La Siciliana (2993 College Ave.) will be serving up its famous Italian-style cracked crab marinated in lemon, garlic, parsley, and olive oil for $35. If that’s not reason enough to head to Elmwood, then the complimentary bread dipping sauce — a magical mixture of olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, and more — should be.

7. Or if pasta is more your style, Donato & Co. (2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley) will be serving squid ink tagliatelle with Dungeness crab and toy box tomatoes for $26. There’s also an all-Italian wine list and a full bar where you can enjoy classic Italian cocktails, like a Negroni.

Marshawn Lynch’s Restaurant, Rob Ben’s, Expects to Open Friday

Plus, a farewell to Ici in Berkeley, and Pinky & Red’s secures its place at Cal’s MLK Student Union.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Fans of Scend’s Restaurant on the Oakland/Emeryville border (3627 San Pablo Ave.) are scheduled to see the restaurant get new life soon — this week. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marshawn Lynch purchased the soul food restaurant in summer 2017 when its 80-year-old owner, Cassie Nickelson, decided to retire — effectively saving the restaurant from permanent closure. The restaurant now goes by the name Rob Ben’s; according to the Chronicle, it’s named in honor of Lynch’s best friend Robert Benjamin, who was shot and killed in Oakland in 2007 at the age of 25.

Now, after over a year in the works, restaurant staff told the Express that they expect to open to the public on Friday, Dec. 14. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner (although restaurant staff noted there will be no difference between the lunch and dinner menus). While the former Scend’s restaurant served fried catfish, fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, and red beans and rice, details regarding the new menus at Rob Ben’s are still in the works.

Meanwhile, Eater SF broke the story last week that Ici’s two Berkeley locations in downtown Berkeley and the Elmwood district closed abruptly on Nov. 29. Ici announced the closure via Instagram.

Ici ice cream in Berkeley closed abruptly on Nov. 29. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE HAMILTON
  • Photo by Katherine Hamilton
  • Ici ice cream in Berkeley closed abruptly on Nov. 29.

“After 12 amazing years/We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts/For the love, support and community/It’s been a wonderful ride/We couldn’t have done it without you/With gratitude — au revoir!!!/Mary and all that was Ici Ice Cream,” read the Instagram post. Similar signs were posted in the papered-up windows of the Elmwood location.

Ici’s original location at 2948 College Ave. opened in September 2006 under the ownership of Mary Canales, who worked as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse for nine years. The storefront drew lines for its small-batch ice cream, sorbet, and ice cream cakes made using quality local ingredients. The shop set itself apart with flavors like Earl Grey and cardamom-rose-pistachio, as well as its hand-rolled, chocolate-filled cones. A smaller second location opened in downtown Berkeley at 2079 University Ave. in November 2017.

The reason for the closure is unclear. The Express reached out to Canales for more information about the closure, but did not receive a response.

And Pinky & Red’s, a Black-owned La Cocina eatery located in UC Berkeley’s MLK Student Union, has secured its place in the food court for another semester. The business is owned by Bernadine Sewell and Sicily Sewell-Johnson, a mother-daughter duo, and serves dishes like burgers and fried chicken sandwiches.

A Change.org petition created by Cal’s Black Student Union stated that Pinky & Red’s was being threatened with potential eviction by the ASUC Student Union in order to make room for the nonprofit Berkeley Student Food Collective, even though Pinky & Red’s is profitable and had quickly gained a following within the Cal community.

“The ASUC Student Union has additionally tried to push P&R [Pinky & Red’s] into verbal agreements without legal knowledge of the situation, has given mixed, changing messages to the owners since September, and has offered little to no certainty to a family that relies on that certainty in order to survive and thrive,” the petition read.

The petition to keep Pinky & Red’s in the student union gained over 1,700 signatures within a week. On Instagram, Pinky and Red’s called for supporters to sign the online petition, write letters of support, and show up to the ASUC’s discussion on Thursday, Dec. 6. Later that day, the petition was updated to announce that ASUC had unanimously voted to keep Pinky & Red’s in the student union for the spring semester.

“Because of you all, we have retained one of the very few Black businesses in Berkeley,” the update read.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mixiote and E.E. Cummings-Inspired Cocktails

At Plum Bar, Mixiote, a La Cocina pop-up, has taken up temporary residence serving Mexico City-style mixiotes, as the bar debuts its first in a series of poetry-inspired cocktail menus.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 11:39 AM

Mixiote will be at Plum Bar through February. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIXIOTE
  • Photo courtesy of Mixiote
  • Mixiote will be at Plum Bar through February.

Alma Rodriguez is now bringing mixiotes to the masses at Plum Bar in Oakland. What’s a mixiote, you might ask? Rodriguez, who began her business through the San Francisco food business incubator program La Cocina, wanted to serve mixiotes because they were hard to find in Bay Area restaurants.

“We wanted to bring something a little bit different from Mexican cuisine,” said Rodriguez’s son Arturo Marin, who was a partner in Mixiote — a La Cocina pop-up now at Plum Bar — in the beginning but has recently stepped back to work on other projects. “Even in Mexico it’s kind of rare to find it, because it’s a really tedious preparation.” Marin said that while you can sometimes find mixiotes on the street in Mexico, they’re commonly served at special occasions like quinceañeras, weddings, and family gatherings.

Rodriguez is originally from Mexico City. Her mixiotes are slow-cooked meats or vegetables marinated with dried chiles including guajillo and pasilla, then wrapped in banana and avocado leaves and cooked for several hours. The mixiotes are served along with handmade tortillas, nopales, black beans, and pickled onions.

According to Marin, the lamb and chicken mixiotes, which are marinated in a red chile sauce, are relatively traditional. But Rodriguez is also creating her own interpretations of the mixiote, such as the pork in a green marinade. “That’s really not traditional at all,” said Marin. There’s also a mixiote made with king trumpet mushrooms and vegetables, which Marin said is also unusual.

“I’m trying to innovate the menu here at Plum Bar,” said Rodriguez. Mixiote has popped up at locations including Cala in San Francisco and at the UC Berkeley Student Union, and at Plum Bar (2216 Broadway), where Rodriguez continues to experiment with her menu. She’s serving small plates, including tortitas de papa: fried potato cakes stuffed with cheese and encrusted with bread crumbs. Marin said they’ve been a hit with customers. “It’s more of a homey dish,” Marin said. “She used to make those for us when we were little.”

Mixiote is still in the incubation stage at La Cocina in San Francisco. While Rodriguez originally planned to open a food truck, she’s now shied away from that idea and is deciding whether to operate Mixiote as a brick-and-mortar or as a catering business. The Plum Bar pop-up, Marin said, is an opportunity for Mixiote to gain experience running a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and they’re thankful for the opportunities that La Cocina and Plum Bar have provided. Plum Bar is currently hosting a series of La Cocina pop-ups, each lasting three months.

“Thank you for La Cocina,” Rodriguez said. “This is my dream, you know… [to] introduce our dish.”

Mixiote opened in Plum Bar on Nov. 12 and will stay through February. Kitchen hours are Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

  • Photo by Vanessa Solis
  • Chris Mansury.

Meanwhile, Nov. 12 also marked the launch of Plum Bar’s first poetry-themed cocktail menu, based on the poems by E. E. Cummings. Plum Bar’s new bar lead, Chris Mansury, developed the menu along with Alta Group beverage director Aaron Paul.

“There are pages of poetry lining the walls,” Mansury said, but Plum Bar’s previous cocktail menu didn’t reference poetry at all. Mansury decided to change that. He loves reading poetry, and the first book of poetry he owned was by Cummings. “[It] was gifted to me by my mother. It was kind of my introduction to poetry at a young age.”

Mansury also believes Cummings’ poems are still strikingly relevant today. One cocktail on the menu is called etcetera, made with Laird’s apple brandy, Liquore Strega, and Amaro CioCiaro. It’s named after the poem “my sweet old etcetera,” which is about the experience of a soldier’s family while he was away at war. “I think it kinda reflects a lot of what’s going on right now, where things are difficult, and there are so many people out there that just have a hope for something.”
Mansury said the E. E. Cummings menu is the first in a series of poetry-inspired menus, and the Cummings menu will be available until mid-January.

Mochi Donuts, a Force for Good

The owners of Third Culture Bakery hope to bring joy through their new mochi delight — and through their signature mochi muffins.

by Momo Chang
Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 11:29 AM

All the donut glazes are natural with no food coloring. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THIRD CULTURE BAKERY
  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery
  • All the donut glazes are natural with no food coloring.

Third Culture Bakery in West Berkeley is not your average Instagram-worthy donut destination. To be sure, there are photo-ops to be had. But the bakery, located in The Berkeley Kitchens (2701 Eighth St.), also hopes to be a sweet beacon of light in these dark times.

Owners Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu want to bring some joy through their popular mochi muffins and mochi donuts. The two initially met at a bakers’ brunch, started dating, then launched their new business together in 2017.

“We are two outward-facing gay bakers,” said Shyu, the bakery’s brand director. “We just want everyone to feel safe in our space. We see Third Culture and our mochi muffins and donuts as a symbol of acceptance and welcome, and a force for good.”

  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery

Culinary Director Butarbutar is formerly of Sam’s Patisserie while Shyu ran We the Minis, a bakery catering business in Oakland. Home of the Original Mochi Muffin, which Butarbutar and Shyu patented, Third Culture Bakery also recently started making mochi donuts. The business has expanded quickly and is now selling 12,000 pieces of pastries a week. They’re in about 60 retail locations now, including many cafes and shops in the East Bay.

But a visit to the West Berkeley storefront — which they call their showroom — is worth it. There, you can find an expanded menu and get a first peek at their experimental flavors, like a jasmine milk tea, ube coconut, and strawberry mochi donuts, or their savory, takoyaki-inspired mochi waffles. They also sell custard cakes as well as tea and coffee drinks; their coffee is made with 1951 Coffee Company roasts.

“Customers come in and see all that it takes,” Shyu said. “It is such a labor intensive process.” On a recent visit, their staff members were dipping, by hand, hundreds of donuts into a luminous purple glaze (all their glazes are all natural and with no food coloring, Shyu noted).

  • Photo courtesy of Third Culture Bakery

How did the mochi muffin and mochi donut come to life? When Butarbutar started selling pastries at pop-ups and events, people were asking for gluten-free options as alternatives to his croissants and tarts. He started making the mochi muffins, first selling them in 2014. From there, the mochi muffins took on a life of their own. (Note that the custard cakes have some wheat flour, while the other mochi products are gluten-free).

The muffins and donuts are made with mochiko (rice) flour, from Koda Farms using an heirloom rice and the only sweet rice flour growing in California. The mochi muffin was inspired by a Hawaiian dessert, a baked butter mochi, and Butarbutar infuses Indonesian flavors (he is from Jakarta and New York, while Shyu is from Taiwan and Los Angeles).

“I want our pastries to tell a story,” Butarbutar said.

“We’re third culture kids — immigrant kids who grew up in a different culture from our parents,” Shyu added.
(Note: Third Culture Bakery will be closed Dec. 23-Dec. 27).

…In other food news, Free Range Flower Winery is throwing a holiday party at alaMar Kitchen & Bar (100 Grand Ave., Oakland) and pouring free samplers of its lavender wine, “L,” and introducing the new rose hibiscus wine. Saturday, Dec. 8, 5-10 p.m. (free admission).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Get Your Cambodian Street Food Fix

Salaw machu kreung, pickled fruit, papaya salad, beef skewers, chow mein, Thai tea, and more are available at the Oakland takeout spot.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 1:59 PM

Best of all, everything on the menu is affordable. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF MALINDA BUN
  • Photos courtesy of Malinda Bun
  • Best of all, everything on the menu is affordable.

There’s a new spot in The Town to pick up Cambodian street food — and it’s aptly named Cambodian Street Food.

Owner Malinda Bun, along with her mother Mach, opened the tiny takeout spot on Nov. 3. Bun wanted to showcase her mother’s cooking and make it available to the community. “Cooking is one of [my mother’s] passions,” Bun said. “She’s been serving at temples every time it’s a traditional occasion. … She’s known to make really good food.” There’s a selection of traditional Cambodian dishes that her mother makes, along with a few dishes that Bun describes as “fusion.” And best of all, everything is affordable — most dishes clock in at $10 or less.

On the more traditional side, one of the top sellers is the salaw machu kreung — a sweet and sour soup made with eggplant, lemongrass, beef, and tripe. There’s also chicken chakreung, a soup made with lime leaves, bell peppers, string beans, and lemongrass.

Another popular traditional favorite is the steak with prahok sauce. Here, slices of grilled steak are served with prahok sauce, made of lime, baby eggplant, fermented fish, and red radish to create what Bun describes as a sour taste. The proper way to eat it, according to Bun, is to wrap the steak in lettuce leaves along with slices of cucumber, then dip the wrap into the prahok sauce. There are even some traditional snacks. One enticing option is the pickled fruit. Here, pickled baby grapes, guavas, and mangoes are served with a dip of sea salt and Thai chili peppers.

On the less traditional side of things are dishes like chow mein, fried rice, and egg rolls. But there are also some dishes people might not typically think of as Cambodian, though Bun said you can find those dishes in Cambodia, too. One of her favorites is the papaya salad.

There’s also larp, made with toasted, crushed rice and your choice of chicken or beef, then topped with fermented fish sauce. It’s served with fresh basil and lettuce for wrapping. There’s also banh xeo — eggy, savory crepes stuffed with onions and bean sprouts, served with lettuce on the side for wrapping, a sauce made of fish sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar for dipping, and optional crushed peanuts to top it off. Wash it all down with a Thai iced tea.

There are also some rotating weekend specials like amok, a steamed curry made with fish. To get updates on the weekend’s specials, you can follow Cambodian Street Food on Instagram @cambodianstreetfood.

Last but not least, Bun plans to roll out some dishes that are commonly served during the Cambodian New Year in April. One is Cambodian shaved ice, where flavored ice is served on top of basil seeds and grass jelly, then topped with sweetened condensed milk. Another is Cambodian rice porridge with chicken and three-layer pork. Bun said that in order to get these foods, “people literally drive from wherever they are to Stockton or Modesto when it’s Cambodian New Year.”

“So instead of having a lot of Alameda County residents … go all the way out to Stockton, just waiting around until April comes, they can just come to my restaurant.”

Cambodian Street Food is at 2045 Foothill Blvd., Suite B. Hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed.-Mon., and the shop currently accepts cash only.

Tacos Oscar Gets a Permanent Home

The beloved taco pop-up is about to open its first brick-and-mortar location in Oakland’s Temescal district.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 1:50 PM

Every taco comes on handmade tortillas. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF OSCAR MICHEL
  • Photos courtesy of Oscar Michel
  • Every taco comes on handmade tortillas.

After years of popping up all over Oakland and the East Bay, Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss of Tacos Oscar are gearing up to open their first brick-and-mortar location at 420 40th St., Oakland on Dec. 6. The brick-and-mortar has been in the works for over a year.

Tacos Oscar has popped up at Oakland locations like Temescal Brewing, Cole Coffee, Starline Social Club, and Subrosa Coffee, as well as Flowerland in Albany. While Michel and Weiss are accustomed to working with limited kitchen space, their new brick-and-mortar is much roomier, located inside modified shipping containers. There’s also enough outdoor seating for up to 49 people.
Michel told the Express he plans to keep the menu simple for now. “What I would like to see is people hanging out and drinking beers and just eating tacos like it was a stand in Mexico City or LA,” Michel said.

There’ll be a quesadilla, a carnitas taco, a vegan taco with persimmon habanero salsa, and of course, the fried egg tacos that Tacos Oscar has become famous for. Michel said he didn’t intend for fried egg tacos to become his signature item, although he certainly enjoys them. “I grew up in a Mexican household, and … I’ve had this growing up: a fried egg on a tortilla with some salsa, a little bit of cheese,” he said. But when Michel went to Austin to play music in a band, he became enamored with the breakfast tacos there. “We were looking forward to being hung over so we could get breakfast tacos the next day,” he said.

But back in Oakland, Michel didn’t know of any other place in the area that sold fried egg tacos. Drawing up his logo while working at his desk job as an office manager at Urban Ore, Michel wrote out “Tacos Oscar” in cursive letters, with fried eggs standing in for the letter “O.” Now, customers have come to expect fried egg tacos at every Tacos Oscar pop-up, and Michel says some customers have even brought their own eggs for him to cook.

And every taco comes on the handmade tortillas that Tacos Oscar is equally well-known for. The tortillas are made using masa from La Finca Tortilleria in Oakland, which is hand-pressed and then grilled on the plancha. According to Michel, good tortillas are key to Tacos Oscar’s style of tacos. “It’s like, if you go and eat a pizza … and the crust sucks, it just ruins everything,” Michel said. “It’s kind of the same thing. The base has to be just as good, if not better than the stuff that goes on top of it.”

The bigger kitchen at the brick-and-mortar space will also allow Tacos Oscar to expand its culinary offerings. Michel and Weiss plan to eventually introduce lunch service. They also plan to add sides, salads, and soups to the menu. The brick-and-mortar also has a unique physical layout with high walls, which Michel is thinking of using to screen movies. He’s also considering bringing live comedy to Tacos Oscar.

Tacos Oscar will be open Thursdays through Mondays for dinner only — the exact hours have not yet been determined.

… In other food news, West Berkeley-based Fieldwork Brewing has expanded to a total of six Northern California locations with its new outpost in San Ramon (6000 Bollinger Canyon Road, Suite 1206), which opened on Nov. 8. The space, located within the City Center Bishop Ranch shopping center, features a 2,400 square feet indoor taproom and a 2,700 square feet outdoor beer garden. Also, coinciding with its first anniversary, Copper Spoon in Oakland (4031 Broadway) has unveiled the Golden State Lounge, a revamped back room serving cocktails and a menu of bar bites. Notable offerings from the bar bites menu include a king salmon hand roll, Marin Miyagi oysters, and cauliflower served with fermented hot sauce. There’ll also be a happy hour from 4 p.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lucia’s Pizza Goes Mobile in a Piaggio Ape

The Berkeley pizzeria launches a custom-built, three-wheeled pizza truck, complete with a wood-fired brick oven.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Nov 20, 2018 at 5:20 PM

Alessandro Uccelli (left) and Steve Dumain designed the truck. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE MARACINEANU
  • Photo courtesy of George Maracineanu
  • Alessandro Uccelli (left) and Steve Dumain designed the truck.

At Lucia’s, there are pizzas for everyone, from breakfast pizza to classic margherita to vegetarian and vegan — and even gluten-free. And if you’ve never managed to make it out to Lucia’s brick-and-mortar location in downtown Berkeley, you’ll soon be able to sample their pizzas at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland and at Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley.

Lucia’s pizza is going mobile, thanks to a mobile pizza truck that was custom-built in Italy and designed by Lucia’s owners Alessandro Uccelli and Steve Dumain. The truck is a modified 1981 Piaggio Ape — an iconic, petite three-wheeled Italian truck made by the same manufacturer as Vespa. The Ape gets great fuel economy and is designed for driving through narrow Italian cobblestone streets. As for the on-board pizza oven, it’s a wood-fired brick oven designed especially for Neapolitan pizza, and can reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fans of Lucia’s brunch pizzas will be glad to learn that many of the same options will be available at the truck. There’ll be an American breakfast pizza with applewood smoked bacon, a farm egg, and basil. If your tastes tend toward the more Italian end of the breakfast spectrum, there’s also the Specky Break, made with speck (Italian cured ham), crispy potatoes, beet confit, mozzarella, and a farm egg. The veggie breakfast pizza omits the speck from the Specky Break, and there’s even the option for a vegan breakfast pizza.

As for lunch options, there are quite a few. Purists can opt for the margherita pizza, also available in a vegan version. For vegetarians, there’s also the Shroomy, with mixed wild mushrooms, gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella, and thyme, and the quattro formaggi, a four-cheese pizza topped with smoked maple syrup. And for meat-eaters, there’s the Pepe L’Pig, made with local sausage, pepperoncini, mozzarella, and oregano. For spice lovers, there’s the Lips of Fire, with tomato, mozzarella, spicy sopressata, and a drizzle of fiery ghost pepper maple syrup.

Lucia’s uses a combination of local and Italian ingredients in their pizza. They use Belfiore mozzarella cheese made in Berkeley and Miyoko cashew cheese made in Marin, while their mozzarella di bufala is produced in Battipaglia, near Naples. Meanwhile, the flour is milled from a single-source family mill in Salerno, Italy. That flour is used in Lucia’s pizza dough, which is a high-hydration dough that undergoes a 24-hour fermentation process. There’ll be limited quantities of gluten-free pizza dough at the truck, too.

Lucia’s pizza truck will be at the Grand Lake Farmers Market on Saturdays, from 9 a.m.to 2 p.m., and they expect to begin service starting Nov. 24. Breakfast pizza is available until 11:30 a.m. Pizzas are 10 inches and will cost around $11. Details regarding the Fieldwork Brewing partnership are still in the works. The truck will also be available for private parties and events.

Most Popular Stories

© 2019 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation