Written BY: Carey Sweet | Photos By: Laura Morton
The restaurant business is a challenging one this year, but Alamedan entrepreneurs are creative talents who don’t give up. The city continues to bloom with many culturally diverse eateries, satisfying cravings for comfort food and global bites ranging from African to Asian. Whether you order takeout, dine on a patio or relax at the new parklets popping up around town, there are plenty of delicious options waiting for you.
For more than a decade now, husband and wife team Jonathan and Fatima Belkhalfia have been wowing diners with captivating dishes like jarret d’agneau of fall-off-the-bone lamb shank decorated with sweet, caramelized plums, fresh sesame and oven roasted almonds.
The recipes salute the Belkhalfia couple’s homeland of Casablanca, Morocco, showcasing an appreciation for superb seasoning and simple cooking — consider the zaalouk aubergine, a humble yet wonderfully fragrant eggplant sautéed in an complex blend of African spices.
Set overlooking San Francisco Bay, this is a whimsically decorated spot, too, brimming with orange and red walls, a checkerboard floor and plush rugs. Even the sidewalk patio dining is carefully decorated, with hanging flower pots, tile wall accents, Taj Mahal art and those gorgeous water views.
From farmers’ market stand operators to Park Street restaurant owners, husband and wife team Vanessa Chavez and Murat Sozeri continue to put delicious spins on Latin American street and comfort food. The flavors are layered, indeed — chef Chavez learned cooking from her Peruvian-born mother who is part Chinese, and her father who is Cuban and Mexican. It’s all so mouthwatering, even as currently, dishes are offered for takeout and delivery only.
Fans of the casual spot are known to get into friendly fights over which dishes are the best — perhaps the luscious lechon of juicy pulled pork shoulder, tender sweet potato, salsa criolla, organic arugula and aioli on grilled French bread, or the brightly seasoned picadillo platter of Niman Ranch ground chuck tumbled in a stew of peppers, tomatoes, onions, tangy Spanish olives and sweet raisins, served with rice, black beans, plantains and organic salad.
Yet everyone agrees that the star of the two-story, pastel-painted hacienda-style shop is the humble fish taco. Prepared Baja-style, the mild-meat tilapia is fried crispy and dressed in crunchy cabbage slaw, crema, radish, cilantro and salsa roja on double corn tortillas to be spritzed with lime. Other tacos are mouthwatering too, stuffed with chipotle-tomatillo spiked carnitas, carne asada, free-range pollo al pastor or seasoned tofu. But that pescado, come on, it’s crazy (keep in mind that Chavez’ father was a fisherman).
The eatery keeps things festive in mood, too, wooing us with ice-cold Mexican beers, Chilean wines and the signature cinnamon-kissed sangria.
That name, by the way? A “Cholita” is an endearing term for a Peruvian native or mixed heritage girl, while “Linda” means pretty or sweet.
Tour the world with global cuisine in Alameda
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Cholita Linda: 1337 Park St., 510-648-3839.
Café Jolie: 1500 Webster St., 510-523-4500,
Donut Petite: 711 Santa Clara Ave., 510-747-8817.
Yojimbo: 122 Park St., 510-523-4120.
Abigail Café & Deli/Abigail's Moroccan Cuisine: 1132 Ballena Blvd., 510-523-5500.
Abigail Café & Deli/Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine
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Chef-owner Joann Guitarte and partner Bobeck Parandian got their start with the former Bowzer’s Pizza on Park Street, then launched into fine French fare served on the sidewalk patio or in a new, lovely parklet dining area on Santa Clara Avenue. It’s quite the leap, but a delicious feat delivering savory crab cake Benedicts, brioche Croque Madame oozing melted gruyere and smothered in silky béchamel or classic rib-eye frites brushed in herb butter and served with crispy fries and aioli.
The cheerful place looks like an art gallery with its dramatic paintings, and the enormous menu reads like a dream, tempting us with delights such as cinnamon swirl challah French toast stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and topped in berries and powdered sugar.
Just to mix things up, the kitchen also crafts excellent American and Mexican cuisine, such as huevos rancheros dolloped in guacamole, and a towering turkey, bacon and Gruyere club sandwich.
The place is small and extremely popular, but that matters not right now, since service is takeout only and it’s speedy. Co-owners and brothers James and Kyo Park enjoyed long careers in Japanese restaurants before opening their own shop, and the skill shows in delicate tataki glistening with ponzu, eight kinds of ramen with mussel-based broth and artful chirashi glittering with a crown of tobiko atop the assorted sashimi.
Ordering is easy with the online menu, and packaging is thoughtful – ramen, for example, is deconstructed in separate containers so noodles and add-ins don’t get soggy. Keep in mind, too, that portions are very generous. Chicken katsu easily makes two meals, and sushi rolls are extra-stuffed.
Other Global Options
With some 200 restaurants on the Alameda dining scene, there’s something to satisfy every craving, no matter how exotic. Explore this rich culinary diversity for take-out, plus delivery and patio dining at certain spots:
The Park Street Tavern: Owner Christos Frangoulis opened this elegant spot last year, specializing in classic Greek and Italian fare. Try the wonderfully seasoned locally made loukaniko fennel seed sausage with tzatziki and pita – it’s great with a shot of Barbayanni ouzo. (1901 Park St., (510) 671-2867)
Speisekammer: Owners Peter and Cindy Kahl invite you to their German table, for savory bites such as schweinebraten (roasted pork in beer sauce with homemade sauerkraut), sauerbraten (beef tri tip braised in red wine and spices over red cabbage and spätzle) and vegetarian gemüsestrudel (spinach, goat cheese and red bell peppers wrapped in puff pastry served over carrot purée). (2424 Lincoln Ave., (510) 522-1300)
Wild Ginger: You’ve got to love a Szechuan place that lists “numbing spicy street food” on its menu, which turns out to be ultra-fiery chicken or duck feet, head and neck. More timid appetites will love the large array of fragrant noodle soups and malatang hot pots stocked with goodies like pork dumplings, enoki mushrooms and tempura fish cake. (1239 Park St., (510) 263-8128)
Angela’s: Chef Saboor Zafari marries Mediterranean/Afghan recipes and California accents, for sumptuous fare like vegan spaghetti Alfredo made with cashew cream, spinach, basil, garlic, carrot chutney and spiced breadcrumbs, or buttermilk and lime marinated Mary’s organic chicken breast that’s lightly breaded and fried then plated with roasted veggies, mashed potatoes and citrus beurre blanc. (1640 Park St., (510) 263-8788)
Asena: The modern bistro is owned by Turkish-born chef Mustafa Yildirim and business partner Muhittin Arpaci with an emphasis on homemade staples including pasta, breads, sauces, and even home-cured olives and salmon. Tuck into delicacies like gulf prawns over fresh scallion fettuccine with braised cabbage and silky tarragon-Champagne cream. (2508 Santa Clara Ave., (510) 521-4100)
C'era Una Volta: Rustic Tuscan cuisine is offered for takeout at this popular spot inside Bladium Sports Club at Spirits Alley. Chef Rutilio “Rudy” Duran looks to his own Italian heritage to craft a la carte and set three-course set meals like arugula and roasted beets salad with pistachio and vinaigrette, focaccia, grilled filet mignon with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and sautéed spinach and tiramisu. (800 West Tower Ave., (510) 769-4828)
Phnom Phen: Mporn slarp moarn sounds odd, but it’s just the restaurant’s name for Cambodian style deep fried chicken wings, served with pickled vegetables and sweet and sour tamarind sauce. In a sleek wood trimmed setting and with hundreds of dishes on the menu, there’s lots to love here (trei chean bonlai kreun, anyone? It's delicious deep fried red snapper topped with mushrooms, bean thread noodles, lotus nuts, ginger and pork. (1514 Webster St., (510) 893-3825)
Pacific Lighthouse Seafood Restaurant: This Chinese eatery is gorgeous, anchored with an enormous crystal chandelier over white cloth tables, plus views of the Oakland Estuary and yacht club. Lots of dim sum and seafood take center stage, plus fancy soups (sun dried scallop bisque) and clay pots (braised vegetables with mushroom vermicelli). (1051 Pacific Marina, (510) 263-9232)
India Palace: Based on “grandma's recipes,” the menu beckons with fragrant dishes like tandoori meats and seafood, all kinds of curries (nine vegetarian options, too), saffron-kissed biryani bowls and spicy prawn vindaloo. (737 Buena Vista Ave., (510) 814-8778)
Sidestreet Pho: Vietnamese cuisine shines as owner Hanh Nguyen focuses on fresh, clean flavors, for favorites such as shaken beef — the pan-crisped egg noodles are tender-chewy in the middle and crisp outside, while the filet mignon is wok-tossed in rich, salty sauce with a side of chicken broth. (2304 Encinal Ave., (510) 808-5298)
Bowl’d BBQ: Specialties include crispy Korean fried chicken in various sauces (spicy, soy, classic barbecue or half-and-half) and sizzling bibimbap bowls (beef, short ribs, chicken, spicy chicken, spicy pork, pork belly, salmon, mackerel, fried flounder or fried corvina with rice (white, or blend of barley, sweet white rice, sweet brown rice, wild red rice and black rice). (2201 South Shore Center, (510) 263-8717)
Canasta Kitchen: Owner Ivan Tellez grew up in a restaurant family, and brings his Latin American cuisine to life with signatures such as birria tacos, pastor burritos smothered in mole, shrimp and cheese empanadas and carnitas huaraches. (1544 Webster St., (510) 217-8458)
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THE CITY OF ALAMEDA
THE CITY OF ALAMEDA
On a side note, check out Jolie’s sister café, Donut Petit just steps away on Santa Clara Avenue. Hand crafted artisanal delights include flavors like crème brûlée donut, a triple chocolate cake donut, which also comes in a gluten-free option, and vegan glazed cake donut.