Monday, February 18, 2013

Cholita Linda to Bring Fish Tacos and ‘Eclectic Latin’ to Temescal

By Luke Tsai
Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 2:49 PM

The fish tacos, they are a comin’: It’s been a year since rumors started circulating that Cholita Linda, the popular Bay Area farmers’ market vendor, was planning to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.

Now, husband-and-wife owners Murat Sozeri and Vanessa Chavez are finally making it official: Construction on their new 4923-27 Telegraph Avenue restaurant, which will also be called Cholita Linda, has started in earnest. Chavez and Sozeri are optimistic that the 1,800-square-foot restaurant, with room to seat 45 diners, will be ready to open by the early summer.

The Baja fish tacos (via Facebook)
  • The Baja fish tacos (via Facebook)
Up until now, Cholita Linda’s primary claim to fame has been as purveyor of that Bay Area rarity, an authentic Baja-style fish taco — the kind that features batter-fried fish (none of this grilled fish taco nonsense we see all the time in Northern California).

But according to Chavez, the chef and creative force behind the operation, the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Cholita Linda won’t be a taqueria or even strictly a Mexican restaurant. Instead, Chavez describes the concept as “Eclectic Latin” — street foods and homestyle comfort dishes inspired by her travels and her own diverse family background, which includes a Peruvian mother and Cuban-Mexican father.

So, in addition to the tacos on their current farmers’ market menu, Chavez plans to serve hot pressed sandwiches — a steak sandwich, a version of a classic Cuban sandwich, and so forth. As a nod to her Peruvian heritage, she also wants to serve pollo a la brasa — traditional Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. There will be a variety of fruit juices, too, all made fresh in-house.

The restaurant’s name, which translates roughly to “pretty girl,” alludes to the indigenous women — commonly referred to as cholitas — who would sell food at the local markets in her mother’s native Peru. Overall, the idea is to serve food made with high-quality ingredients at the “mom-and-pop kind of place” you can find all over Latin America, Chavez explained. “We care about using the products that we like, but want to create an ambience where people feel really comfortable.”

Service will be fast-casual (order at the counter), with prices set at about $10 for sandwiches, $12 to $15 for larger entrée plates that will include sides.

According to Sozeri, the brick-and-mortar project has, in fact, been in the works for about a year, but was delayed by many of the same obstacles that waylay so many first-time restaurateurs. There were prolonged lease negotiations and an assortment of construction-related challenges, mostly centered on the fact that he and Chavez are taking three adjacent spaces — previously occupied by S & S Seafood, a health food center, and a hair-braiding shop — and combining them into one large space. Only recently, after the last of the previous tenants moved out, could Chavez and Sozeri start the demolition process and make certain that their plan was feasible.

The couple plans to continue their farmers’ market business, which already includes a stand at the Temescal Farmers’ Market every Sunday.

Once the restaurant is open, Cholita Linda will join fellow Temescal newcomer Juhu Beach Club in helping to anchor a block whose now-burgeoning food scene had little to recommend it, just a couple of years ago, beyond Pizzaiolo and Bakesale Betty. Now there’s Scream Sorbet, and all of the cute little artisanal storefronts in Temescal Alley just around the corner, and more to come — it’s no wonder the neighborhood now boasts its very own food-centered walking tour.

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