Food & Drink » What the Fork

Baja Fish Tacos Come to Temescal

Plus Hawker Fare debuts bar-friendly menu additions.



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. And they're optimistic that the 1,800-square-foot space, with room to seat 45 diners, will be ready to open by the early summer.

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 home-style 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 and Sozeri also plan to serve hot pressed sandwiches, including a classic Cuban sandwich and some kind of steak sandwich. 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 — the 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 local 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, and $12 to $15 for entrée plates that will include sides.

According to Sozeri, the project has 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 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.

Once open, Cholita Linda will join Pizzaiolo, Scream Sorbet, and fellow newcomer Juhu Beach Club nearby, helping to anchor the neighborhood's burgeoning food scene.

More Bar Bites at Hawker Fare

Hawker Fare is on a short list of maybe three or four restaurants I bring out-of-town guests to if I want to show them what Oakland's food scene is all about. I love the casual vibe and the way the food perfectly straddles that line between "elevated" and "down-home." The restaurant's only flaw was that the short menu never changed — day in, day out, it was always the same set of rice bowls, the same limited selection of snacky appetizers.

So I was excited when I heard that, to go along with its newly granted full liquor license, Hawker Fare has done its first significant menu revamp in the two years since it's been open. Rest assured, all your favorites are still intact, but the "snack aisle" section has four new items — all available in limited quantities after 5 p.m., all designed to pair well with booze.

During a recent visit, I really dug the S + P Shrimp ($8): head-on "soft-shell" shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper and fried until crispy so that you can eat the whole thing — shells, antennae, brains, and all. This was served with a kind of basil-chili dipping sauce.

I also loved the Moo Ping ($5) — charcoal-grilled pork shoulder skewers, a homey dish that reminded me of the soy sauce- and garlic-marinated pork chops my parents would stick on the grill during backyard barbecues.

Other new items include a smoked cuttlefish-ball skewer and Goong Prik Thai (also a fried shrimp dish, with tamarind, garlic, and cracked black pepper). And a recent Twitter posting revealed that a Thai-style fried chicken dish is also on the way.

On the booze front, everything on the new cocktail menu is bargain-priced at $6 or $7. The margarita (featuring jackfruit and fresh lime juice) was one of the smoothest and most refreshing versions I've had in quite some time.

Meanwhile, I had a Jell-O shot for the first time in God knows how long. It was pineapple-and-spiced-rum flavored, came with a maraschino cherry skewered on a piece of lemongrass, and went down dangerously easily. For just a buck each, it wasn't hard to imagine slurping down five or six of them.

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