Taste of the Town - Otaez
Feasting on Mexico
Mary Lee Shalvoy
Photos by Lori Eanes
With guests in town from Los Angeles for the weekend, I decided to treat them to some local Alameda fare. Forget San Francisco; we have excellent cuisine on the Island, I insisted. We headed out to Otaez, a Mexican newcomer on the West End, parked in the convenient back parking lot and sauntered into what was one of the highlights of an otherwise tourist activity-ridden weekend.
Otaez is another in a fine list of family-owned and -operated Mexican restaurants in town. The Campos family, who have managed the Otaez restaurant on International Boulevard in Oakland for the past 23 years, have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into opening the new location on Webster Street. The results are a success, with traditional, reasonably priced, homestyle meals that satisfy both big and discerning appetites.
Otaez derives its name from that of a town in Mexico, and this name was handed down to the Campos family when it bought the original Oakland restaurant. At the new Otaez in Alameda, Roy Campos and his mother, Socorro; father, Jesus; and sister, Darlene, take pride in continuing the practice of offering the freshest ingredients for their traditional Mexican fare. All of the recipes are tried and true, coming from Socorro’s own repertoire.
The vast menu starts with breakfast, and meanders through tacos, tortas, burritos and daily specials. It continues with combinations, entrées and fajitas, and seafood has a category all its own with mouth-watering descriptions of shrimp dishes and fish (including an entire fish, head and all, fried to your liking with special sauces). Corn and flour tortillas are hand pressed on the premises, and customers can order breakfast, lunch or dinner anytime. The menu includes a simple children’s menu—the usual suspects include eggs and toast for breakfast and smaller sized burritos, fried chicken or chicken soup for lunch and dinner.
My companions and I supped on copious amounts of food (so impressive that my tourist buddies photographed the piled-high table). Salads with tastings of two new house dressings—lovely lime or cilantro vinaigrettes—began our dining experience. We moved on to plates heaped with an amazing combination of tastes. One of the two daily specials was pozole, a homemade blend of pork, hominy and broth. It’s a recipe from south of the border and is available in small and large sizes. We shared a mammoth steak Burrito Famoso, a “wet” wrap with a tri-color of sauces (green, white and red) reflective of the Mexican flag. A combination plate of chicken, shrimp and steak fajitas offered an opportunity to try the homemade guacamole and the delicious tortillas. One of the servers pulled off a joke at our expense when she walked up with an enormous tray of seafood, an Otaez offering called Mariscada, which is a grilled seafood platter filled with shrimp, octopus, scallops, red snapper, green mussels, crab legs and fresh fruit. It was meant for the folks at a nearby table, but we shrieked, and the patrons around us laughed heartily at the thought of even more food being placed on our table. You can order Mariscada for one, two or more.
The pièce de résistance was dessert. Owner Roy Campos brought out two bowls—one filled with a refreshing margarita sorbet and the other with a Rosenblum Zinfandel ice cream, both created by Alameda’s homemade ice creamery, Tucker’s Supercreamed Ice Cream.
Otaez provides many attractive and inviting areas for dining. The large and long colorful main dining room is accented with beautiful art pieces and funky artifacts transplanted from Mexico. Local artist Carlos Hernandez painted the big mural on the long wall. A large copper and tin sculpture of a landscape—which Campos carried into the country as four separate pieces—hangs high in the bar area. An outdoor patio is open during the warmer weather and faces Webster Street.
The building offers a spacious banquet room upstairs, with room for 200 people, perfect for a holiday party. The Campos family has been experimenting with some scheduled events, the most exciting being a tequila dinner that combines a rich traditional multi-course meal with the tasting of premium tequilas. Otaez boasts a full bar with an appetizer menu and an impressive list of specialty drinks, premium tequilas and imported beers.
As a member of the West Alameda Business Association, Campos is happy about the revitalization of Webster Street and welcomes patrons from Bayport Alameda and the promising new developments in the area, as well as the rest of Alameda.
“We are very happy to be here,” he says. And, by the looks of my satisfied visitors, so were we.
Otaez. Mexican. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 1619 Webster St., (510) 521-9090. CC(parties of 6 or larger)$