August 18, 2022


Cooking Is My World

The East Bay’s best new restaurants

8 min read


alaMar’s braised oxtail is an insider favorite. Credit: alaMar/Facebook

alaMar Kitchen & Bar
100 Grand Ave. (near Valdez Street), Oakland
5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
3-10 p.m. Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday

alaMar Kitchen & Bar isn’t a new restaurant by any means: Nelson German’s seafood spot opened in 2014 (look at this photo of German mulling its plans here), which arguably makes it an Uptown classic. But when the pandemic hit, it trimmed down its menu and pivoted to a takeout and delivery model, converting its dining room on the fly to a preparation and assembly operation.

But while alaMar’s dining room was closed to patrons, German was in their living rooms, starring on the most recent season of cooking competition show “Top Chef.” (That season was a problematic one, but not because of German. In fact, German stepped away from the show after he was injured on set.)

Last month, alaMar’s dining room reopened to customers, but at that same time, it paused takeout to focus on the folks seated inside. Now both options are back, and the spot has a new menu that includes a nod to German’s “Top Chef” times, a stuffed masa small plate reminiscent of the “Unidentified Dominican Object” he prepared on the show.

Oxtail fans should know that there’s a special dish for them on the restaurant’s “secret menu,” too: the last bit of a black angus, braised with cipollini onion. It’s a dish that builds in Dominican, pan-Asian, and Mediterranean flavors, as well as German’s own unique take. It’s first come, first served for a seat inside or on alaMar’s heated patio, and takeout orders can be placed here.

Michauxnee Olier directs The Busy Wife’s staff from a kitchen she hopes to occupy permanently. Credit: Brandy Collins

The Busy Wife
44 Webster St. (in Jack London Square), Oakland
5 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday -Friday
10 a.m. brunch on farmers market Saturdays-Sundays
Closed Monday-Tuesday

The Busy Wife is tucked in the back of back of Jack London Square’s pier, but don’t look for signs: It’s a long-term pop-up inside Dyafa, Alta Restaurant Group’s restaurant that shuttered (temporarily?) in March 2020, and one of the conditions of the soul food spot’s tenancy is that Dyafa’s branding stay where it is.

That feeling of impermanence isn’t ideal for Busy Wife owner Michauxnee Olier, who hopes to work out a deal to stay for good. In the interim, the business continues to grow, Olier told Nosh this week, including a newly updated brunch menu and a slate of live events.

The menu is regularly evolving, so if her smoked gouda shrimp and crab creole pasta (penne blackened shrimp, spinach and crab meat) isn’t available, well, you snooze you lose. Olier says that her vegetarian oyster mushroom po boy “thang” (that’s chicken fried mushrooms with house recipe pink lemonade vinaigrette slaw and smoked buffalo aioli) will always be on the menu and that’s more than worth a stop, too. Just as compelling as the food is Olier herself, who greets regulars, welcomes newbies, and runs her kitchen with equal ease. Seating in the restaurant is first come, first served, and lengthy waits are rare.

Enssaro’s Ethiopian nachos are vegan and gluten-free, but with a base of house-fried potato chips, they’re also a lot of fun. Credit: Enssaro/Facebook

Enssaro Ethiopian Restaurant
357-A Grand Ave. (near Perkins Street), Oakland
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Thursday
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Closed Tuesday

Enssaro shut its doors in April 2020, after a fire gravely damaged Solomon Tamirue’s 15-year-old Ethiopian destination. It finally reopened in July with its familiar, crowd-pleasing menu of wots and tibs, and a cocktail list that feels like vacation (why, yes, I will have a Long Island Iced Tea).

While there’s plenty of meat on the menu — lamb, chicken, meat and fish are all featured, a veritable zoo — Enssaro also has some of the most compelling vegetarian dishes around. There’s the gommen, a smoky collard green item made with spiced clarified butter, for example, or the ata-kilt, which turns slow-cooked potatoes into a superstar.

In other words, this is where to go when omnivores and herbivores want to be equally pleased. Those folks might not agree on issues like eating meat, but no one can argue with how good a plate of Ethiopian nachos (house-fried potato chips, special salsa and spicy sesame-rich hummus) is with a stiff drink. Seating is available indoors; there’s also a sweet parklet right outside.

The pork laab burger at Jo’s Modern Thai. Credit: Angelina Hong

Jo’s Modern Thai
3725 MacArthur Blvd. (near Loma Vista), Oakland
4-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Jo’s Modern Thai opened last month in the Laurel District, the brainchild of chef Intu-on Kornnawong (Kin Khao, Intu-On) and Kao Saelee, who grew up in his family’s Racha Cafe in Berkeley.

Kornnawong told Nosh that Jo’s menu of drinking snacks and family-style food is intended to represent wide swaths of Thai food, but admits that there’s a lot of California in there too. For example, there’s a catfish taco packed with mango and avocado that serves coastal surf vibes galore. Or the pork laab burger, an Isaan-style patty that’s fried, topped with shallots and herbs and slid into a brioche bun.

The cocktail menu is also a thing to behold, with drinks from the mind of Starline Social Club’s Tayler Sampson. Try the “Made in 510,” with cazadores blanco, martini Bitter, martini rosso and watermelon for a not-too-sweet clobber from a velvet boxing glove.

Seats inside Jo’s dining room or on its outdoor patio are walk-in only, but don’t let fears of a wait dissuade you. While Jo’s has been busy, we haven’t had much of a struggle to score a table. And if time is of the essence, Jo’s offers takeout too.

Andres Giraldo Florez, the owner of new Temescal natural wine and small plates spot Snail Bar. Courtesy of Andres Giraldo Florez

Snail Bar
4935 Shattuck Ave. (at 51st Street), Oakland
4-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Monday
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Snail Bar’s commitment to “slow food” isn’t the only reason for the natural wine bar’s name, as one of its most popular menu items is its escargot with garlic, umami butter and miso from Bay Area fermentation specialists Shared Cultures.

Owner Andres Giraldo Florez has a high-brow resume, with stints at spots like Saison, and I already know what you’re thinking — a fancy food guy and escargot in Temescal, what is happening? But, y’all, it’s OK, the restaurant feels relaxed and warm and judgement-free.

If you’re not a snail snacker, there’s a little gem Caesar salad with Spanish anchovies and shiitake power dressing that you’ll keep thinking about later; and its ham and cheese sandwich is all the buzz. The natural wine list is presented approachably, and picking a glass (or bottle) feels like a collaboration, not a class.

Snail Bar is walk-in only, and Florez told Nosh this week that since their opening last month, they’ve been remarkably busy. That means that though it’s a good spot for folks with kids, if you think the little ones can’t manage a wait, it’s best to choose an off hour for your visit.

Soul Slice’s Cajun shrimp pizza is served on a biscuit crust. Credit: Soul Slice

Soul Slice
5849 San Pablo Ave (at 59th Street), Oakland
3-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday

Soul Slice owner Karter Louis seems torn about calling his dishes “pizzas,” telling Nosh that “we play in the genre of pizza but it is not pizza. It is basically soul food on an open face biscuit with soul food ingredients.”

It’s a game diners want to play too, lining up outside his 2-month-old restaurant for breakfast-style dishes like the bacon & eggs pizza (the eggs are poached and showered with crispy onions and mac and cheese sauce) and the cornmeal chicken nuggets pizza (that one comes with smashed potato and green beans, also on that biscuit crust).

There are so many choices — and the pizzas look on their face to be small — so you’ll be tempted to get multiples. Be careful, though, as even the hungriest among us have been filled by a single (soul) slice. If you have to pick just one, go with the best-selling black-eyed pea pizza, which Lewis says tastes like meat when it’s on his biscuit crust (and if you order with no cheese, it’s also vegan).

There are also a decent number of salads and sides, all of which are very good (especially the grit sticks! Gotta love grits you can eat with your hands). But if you’re going to Soul Slice, you should really get a slice, you know? Lewis told Nosh this week that next up for Soul Slice are lunch hours starting in September, and a happy hour deal that starts the week of Aug. 22 with a pizza and pint for $15. Reservations are recommended for a seat in the dining room, and takeout or delivery are options, too.

Popoca’s pollo en chicha, braised chicken leg fermented in pineapple juice. Credit: Momo Chang

Popoca at Degrees Plato
251 MacArthur Blvd. (near High Street), Oakland
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday
3-8:30 p.m. Monday
Closed Tuesday-Saturday

Popoca has been popping up at Degrees Plato for a while, but now that founder Anthony Salguero and new business partner Brandi Brown (FOB Kitchen) have the keys to a permanent location in the Dimond District, we’re really starting to see its Californian-Salvadorian menu take flight.

“Part of my job is to handle things that might keep Anthony from nerding out in the kitchen,” Brown told Nosh last month, “I’m here to help his creativity fly.” Some of those recent flights include a pan con pollo (fire-roasted chicken, curtido relish, and fixings on a baguette) and a Nicaraguan-inspired pork and yucca dish.

I can’t promise that either of those items will be on the menu when you go, because Salguero’s clearly got the pedal to the metal as he tries out dishes for his permanent restaurant. (Follow Popoca on Instagram for that week’s menu.) But his inspired wood-fired pupusas — the food that arguably make Popoca a cult favorite — will always be on the menu, Salguero says. Degrees Plato has seating inside and out, with customers served during Popoca’s pop-up days until Salguero is sold out | Newsphere by AF themes.