Best of Alameda 2009
Island Living at it's Finest
Alameda’s got it going on. From hip new restaurants and eclectic bars to indie grocers and well-appointed produce stands, the Island is one happening place. We’ve got butt-kicking workouts, killer views, spontaneous kiddo drop-off points, bookstores, margaritas, martinis and more. We can sip sake to a lounge beat, relax in sunny tea-infused surroundings and visit a more noble architectural era whenever we want. And we celebrate all that right here, in our annual Best of Alameda homage to the Island City, an exercise that combs Alameda from one side of the Island to the other for the little and big things that make Island living so appealing.
Coverage includes what fellow Islanders rate as the best, results based on our annual poll — more participants than ever this year. And then we editors offer up some bests of our own for a more complete picture of just what makes Alameda so fine.
Food and Restaurant
Best New Business
Rotisserie chicken, ribs and leg of lamb? Hot food to go? This full-service deli and catering kitchen inside the Alameda Marketplace rocks! Its success is not surprising, given chef/proprietor John Thiel’s golden touch with food. Thiel, whose award-winning Pappo restaurant faces the Alameda Theatre, opened Culina in November 2008, and Culina has been boxing up to-go food seven days a week ever since. Thiel uses local ingredients he finds from his Marketplace neighbors and other Bay Area purveyors to turn out seasonally changing, mouth-watering sensations. Take your best mate there now and order the Culina burger, a juicy Niman ranch patty topped with blue cheese and carmelized onion; the flaky, crisp, lighter-than-air onion rings; and the Bakesale Betty-esque fried chicken sandwich, a crunchy breast that rests on a grilled bun with coleslaw, pickle, onion and tomato. Good eating. Or pick up something delicious from the well-stocked deli case for an at-home feast.
—Judith M. Gallman
1650 Park St., (510) 864-1044 www.CulinaMarketplace.com
Best Overall Restaurant, Best Chef, Best Vegetarian Dish, Best Wine List
John Thiel is a master of Cal-Med cooking and uses his 4-year-old restaurant for his own brand of gourmet home-style cooking where simplicity and inventiveness shine. A local guy, Thiel is a California Culinary Academy–trained chef and caterer with stints at Bay Wolf and Delfina behind him, and his bistro — fortuitously anchoring the mid section of the burgeoning theater district — puts seasonal and local produce, cheeses, meat, fish and poultry front and center. Vegetarians this summer found Thiel pairing Ratto Farms watermelon with feta and mint, mixed baby lettuces with Cypress Grove goat cheese and summer squash strata with Pecorino cheese and sautéed greens. Fall will no doubt bring additional delights. Thiel’s way with Liberty Ranch duck, Creekstone Farms beef and Hobbs bacon is memorable, too. Enophiles will enjoy his far-reaching wine list: Travel north to the Anderson Valley, south to Santa Barbara County, east to Calaveras County, or west to the Sonoma Coast. Or forget California altogether and instead sip varietals from Italy, Spain, France or Germany.
2320 Central Ave., (510) 337-9100 www.PappoRestaurant.com
Best New Restaurant
At Zen Fusion, a new tapas-like restaurant near Park Street, the first thing you notice is the music — boppin’, rhythmic and slightly hypnotic. The interior is retro-mod — lots of red and black, with a line of cushy brown seats along the far wall and Asian-inspired decorations — perfect digs for sippin’ sake to a lounge beat. And the food is, as promised by the restaurant name, a fusion of Asian and other cuisines. The Asian fries are sweet potatoes and taro, with a spicy aioli on the side; the wasabi shu mai are deep-fried, rather than steamed, and served with a savory dipping sauce. If you’re truly adventurous, try the oyster kimchi — a combination of sweet, tender raw oysters topped with crunchy, spicy Korean cabbage kimchi. It’s awesome with the Karatamba extra-dry sake. Or if you like something more exotic to enjoy with your infused sashimi and roast duck vermicelli, Zen also offers a variety of cocktails (though not from hard liquor), from the Purple Gecko (blue raspberry and cranberry flavors) to the Bullet Train (a souped-up version of a Long Island ice tea).
2315 Santa Clara Ave., (510) 521-7070.
Beef, for lack of a better word, is good. And in many ways, it doesn’t get any better than it does served up minced and grilled and between two halves of a sesame seed bun at BurgerMeister. Located in the Art Deco haunches of the restored Alameda Theatre, BurgerMeister, a Bay Area local chain, serves up burgers that are a carnivore’s dilemma: in half-pound sizes and in eight different ways, not including customized versions. While the cheeseburger is most popular, we like to go big, and you can’t go bigger than the MeisterBurger ($12.75), a monstrous double handful that nears a half-foot in height, with bacon, double cheese, avocado, grilled onions and mushrooms. Big and filling. Enough said.
2319 Central Ave., (510) 865-3032, www.BurgerMeisterSF.com
Best Established Restaurant
When it comes to picking restaurants, Alamedans have great taste, but choosing Asena as the Best Established Restaurant is a no-brainer. This Santa Clara Avenue stalwart offers a fresh and fabulous California/Mediterranean menu that changes with the season, crisp white linens and an extensive wine list — who could ask for more? The chefs at Asena make the bread, soup and many of the pastas by hand, every day, for lunch and dinner. Hand-rolled ravioli usually graces the menu, as well as a fine mix of chicken, beef, lamb and vegetarian dishes (eggplant has never tasted so good). The tipping point for many locals — almost more important than the food — is the sweet hospitality from co-owners Mustafa Yildirim and Muhittin Arpaci, who have run Asena since
1996. Both hail from Turkey and have more than 30 years of experience in East Bay and San Francisco restaurants.
2508 Santa Clara Ave., (510) 521-4100 www.welcometoasena.com
2304 Encinal Ave.
1650 Park St.
Taqueria Ramiro & Sons
2321 Alameda Ave.
Ole’s Waffle Shop
1507 Park St.
1313 Park St.
2412 Webb Ave.
Tucker’s Ice Cream
1349 Park St.
Kid- Friendly Restaurant
1338 Park St.
1330 Park St.
2549 Santa Clara Ave.
Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar
Rare is the restaurant in Alameda that draws a commuting crowd, but leave it to Burma Superstar, and its tea leaf salad ($9), to be a culinary magnet. Chunks of iceberg with sundae-style glops of blue cheese seem oh so 2000-and-late when put up against this authentic Burmese delicacy, a dish that raises the ante on any other salad, anywhere. Served in a square dish, crisp romaine mingles with ginger, fried garlic, peanuts, sunflower seeds, tomato, dried shrimp and Burmese tea. And the best part? The wait for a table at this cozy Park Street hideaway is a fraction of the one at its sister restaurant in San Francisco — the one that put the tea leaf salad on the map in the first place. Be prepared to elbow some time-constrained Burma Superstar fans from San Francisco (who also can opt for an even newer outlet in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood) out of the way on the walk to the table.
1345 Park St., (510) 522-6200, www.BurmaSuperstar.com
Tortilla Soup at La Piñata
They say that chicken soup is good for the soul, but we know they’re not talking about just any soup. They must mean the sopa tapatia (tortilla soup) at La Piñata. It’s a homemade vat of warmth and spicy goodness — sustenance to soothe your soul (and aches and pains). The luscious broth and a mountain of all-white chicken meat almost hide the feast of chunky vegetables underneath. The steaming bowl arrives piled high with strips of La Piñata’s famous (and addicting) tortilla chips. You can get a small side bowl for about $5, but we prefer to splurge, ordering the large serving ($8.49) so there’s enough to carry home as leftovers. Designed to cure whatever ails you.
—Mary Lee Shalvoy
LP3, 1440 Park St., (510) 769-9110; La Piñata of Bay Farm, 891-B Island Drive (510) 814-0560, www.LaPinataAlameda.com
Walking by the Bay works up a powerful thirst, and just short steps away from the beach you can take a break with a cool and refreshing martini at Zeytini, located in the center of Alameda Towne Centre (you’ve earned it after that walk, right?). Zeytini martinis have a visible layer of ice, and the restaurant’s fairly extensive vodka list includes Grey Goose and Alameda’s own Hangar One. (Zeytini offers plenty of other libations that aren’t quite as dangerous, including wines, beers and even Turkish coffee, for another kind of treat.) What else adds to the post-shoreline stroll and martini reward experience? The chairs are comfortable, and the earth-hued décor pleases the eye. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and people-watch or just enjoy the gurgling fountain. And then there’s the matter of food: Mediterranean classics like the gyros and meze platter, as well as standards such as grilled rib eye and salmon. The shrimp wrap makes a nice, light lunch and might even give you enough oomph to head over to Mel’s to bowl a few frames before walking back home. Bottoms up.
2213 South Shore Center, (510) 337-9844 www.ZeytiniRestaurant.com
Drink and Nightlife
Best Mexican Food, Margarita, Happy Hour
La Piñata No. 3
Alamedans by the drove flock to LP3 for hearty, affordable Mexican comfort food and frosty margaritas. An Island institution open until 3 a.m., LP3 boasts an extensive menu, suitable for gringos and natives. But most LP3 regulars already have a fave (Pescado, shredded chicken super burrito, chilaquiles, chile rellenos or a No. 6 combination plate anyone?), and so they don’t really need to look at the menu at all. The food — buzz of late on the shrimp-bacon guacamole — comes in truly gargantuan portions with buckets of chips and gallons of salsa alongside, and there are more than 100 tequilas on offer for the margs. The house margaritas (strong, we promise) incorporate the independent restaurant chain’s very own award-winning tequila, Tequila La Piñata. Happy hour slashes the price of those margs and a host of appetizers in half. Eat up and drink up. Now with a new location on Bay Farm. Hooray!
1440 Park St., (510) 769-9110; 891-B Island Dr., (510) 814-0560; www.LaPinataAlameda.com
1301 Park St.
1518 Park St.
1301 Park St.
Farmstead Cheeses & Wines
1650 Park St.
2900 Main St., Suite 1100,
Best Beauty Salon
When our readers need a full-salon treatment, they head to Salon One on Park Street. In business since 1996 and open seven days a week, the full-treatment salon offers haircuts, blowouts, coloring, highlighting, perms, waxing, makeup application and nail care. But it’s not just the types of service that the shop offers or its daily availability that our readers love — it’s the customer service from the very “flexible” and “expert” staff. Whether it’s a wild new ’do you’re after or just a reliable destination to maintain your inner and outer beauty, Salon One might just become your first choice, too.
1327 Park St., (510) 523-5555
2516 Santa Clara Ave.
Park Street Art & Wine Faire
Harbor Bay Club
200 Packet Landing Road
Sumbody & Sumtime Spa
1350 Park St.
Alameda Yoga Station
2414 Central Ave.
From the Civic Center Parking Garage
Lordy! What you can see from the top of the Civic Center Parking Garage: San Francisco. St. Joseph Basilica. Twin Towers Methodist Church. City Hall. The Park Street bridge. The Fruitvale bridge. Downtown Oakland. The cranes. The Oakland Hills. The estuary. Rooftops. Postage-stamp size patios. Dumpsters? Regardless of an eyesore or two, the six-level, 120,000-square-foot structure, among the tallest in Alameda, offers a pleasing Alameda-centric panoramic view of Alameda and the East Bay. Preservationists and the business folks can continue to duke it out on the overall Art Deco–evocative aesthetics of the 350-space, $10-plus million parking garage, but the open-air view from the four corners of the top floor is worth marveling over, especially on a clear, sunny and breezy day when a hint of fog starts creeping in from the west. Like parking at street meters around town, the cost to park at the city-owned garage, open 24/7, is 50 cents an hour (9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Saturday and holidays).
Oak Street between Central and Santa Clara avenues, www.ci.alameda.ca.us/parking/civic_center.html
Best Local Hangout
Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden
There are some who believe that Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden is the most nurturing and delicious place in Alameda. Delicious by way of the fresh, organic,
innovative menu treats and the colorful eclecticism of the decor. Nurturing as in what proprietor Julie Baron has created by way of a buzzing community meeting space for self-reflection, creative thinking, and where the arts and conversation flourish. Baron’s weekly e-mail newsletters promote art happenings, music events and workshops, sometimes in the garden out back, other times in the upstairs space she rents out. (Join her mailing list.) Then there’s Baron herself with her sunny smile — a real-life example of the healthy and sustainable living she advocates. “I love it when people tell me how Julie’s has been there for them during a hard time,” she says. “I know that many want to keep it their secret hideaway, but at this point we need the support of the community to continue to be here for them.”
Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden, 1223 Park St. (510) 865-2385, www.JuliesTea.com
Frank Bette Center for the Arts Staircase
Columbia-born artist Dario Posada needed something to paint, so Debra Owen at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts put him to work on the center’s staircase. She expected a handyman’s whitewash, but Posada, now Miami based, had other ideas. Enamored by Frank Bette’s story — a humble furniture refinisher and largely unknown artist who at his death left his residence to friends to turn into an art center — Posada proposed an honorific mural. Inspired that the beloved Bette’s death spawned such creative life, he labored nights for six months on a mural that mingles Bette’s words and prose in gold script, likenesses of the artist throughout his life and images from Bette’s artworks and existence. Starting from the landing, he painted in acrylic and mixed media, ultimately shellacking the stairs to preserve the mural. “He did an act of creative spirit and community,” says Owen, peering over her glasses as she shows off the amazing results. “And that’s what Frank was known for — his creative spirit and his sense of love of community. This really embodies it.”
1601 Paru St., 523-6957, www.FrankBetteCenter.org
Best Impromptu Play Date Venue
Alameda Wee Play
Three days each week the Alameda Veteran’s Building turns into the hip place for the Island’s toddler set. With toys galore, story times, singalongs and crafts, it’s the perfect place to drop in and beat the heat while forming new friendships. Alameda Recreation and Park Department staffers Kim Tsang and Raul Rocha create a fun and welcoming environment where little ones can safely play and learn while their parents, grandparents and nannies swap stories and plan play dates. Because it’s offered through ARPD, it’s inexpensive: $6 per day per child or 12 classes for $50. Help with setup and cleanup and your child gets in free. Open 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Alameda Veteran’s Building, 2203 Central Ave., (510) 747-7529 www.ci.alameda.ca.us/arpd/pdf/weeplay_flyer.pdf
Best Workout Taskmaster
Eight-year Marine veteran Charla McMillian launched her boot camp business in 1997 in Boston and moved it to Alameda when she put down roots here about 18 months ago. Her goal, she will tell you, is to make bodies “hard, fast and strong through discipline, structure and accountability.” Along the way, self-confidence more often than not also gets a boost. McMillian divides her students into troops (those who’ve passed an authentic Marine Corps fitness test) and recruits (those working to pass the test.) She believes we all have an inner athlete waiting to be released. What she classifies as elite, high-level and beginner athletes (read: couch potatoes), are equally welcomed — and inspired.
(877) FITBOOT, www.Fitboot.com
Does Alameda really have more Victorians per capita than other U.S. cities? We don’t know. But we do know that ours are fabulous feats of architecture and engineering design. These decorative jewels sparkle with character, and Alameda is the richer for it. The manses impress with bay windows and turrets, spindles and turned columns. From elegantly simple Italianates and pointy-roofed Stick Style homes to gingerbread-like Queen Annes and palatial Colonial Revivals, Alameda has outstanding examples of the prevailing styles of the era. We do, apparently, boast more Victorian per capita than our more famous neighbor across the Bay. So says local architecture historian Judith Lynch, who, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, did some SF tallying in 1973. She counted about 13,000 Victorians in SF, population 750,000, compared with about 4,000 Victorians in Alameda, population 75,000. You do the math.
Goods and Services
Symmetry Chiropractic Cynthia Boyd, DC
After a long summer, instead of feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready for a new start in the fall, you are, instead, tired, worn down and out of alignment. Our readers have a tip for you — go see Dr. Cynthia Boyd at Symmetry Chiropractic. Keeping with her mission to offer a unique and comfortable healing environment, Boyd provides a specialized chiropractic technique, called Chiropractic Biophysics Technique (also known as Clinical Biomechanics of Posture), and she is one of the only certified distinguished fellows in the East Bay. Boyd hosts spinal-care classes every Thursday evening, when she teaches about exercise for low-back and neck problems, nutrition, posture and some of the basics of chiropractic care and healthy living. A visit here can do wonders for getting the kinks out.
2329A Eagle Ave., (510) 769-0125 www.SymmetryChiropractic.com
1427 Park St.
Auto Repair Shop
Alameda Auto Lab
631 Buena Vista Ave.
1522 Park St.
1344 Park St.
Richard H. Tabor, DDS
1821 Santa Clara Ave.
1428 Park St.
2217 South Shore Center
Home and Garden Accessories Store
1100 Lincoln Ave.
Pillow Park Plaza
1419 Park St.
Park Street Business Association
2447 Santa Clara Ave.,
Randall Miller, DVM Providence Veterinary Medical Group
Hospital: 2304 Pacific Ave., (510) 521-6608
Clinic: 1409 Webster St., (510) 521-5775
1350 Park St., Suite A
Best Bicycle Recycler
Cycles of Change APC
Barry Luck’s mission with Cycles of Change APC is “to empower local communities by providing outstanding recycled bicycle services in a safe, thriving, creative and self-sustaining space.” He opened Cycles to offer bikes and volunteer opportunities to all age groups and to have a bike shop that is both a community center and a nonprofit business. Luck sees bikes as “tools, not toys.” A committed social change activist, he walks his talk: He doesn’t own a car and commutes by bike. Kids who can’t afford a bike can earn points toward owning one by doing volunteer tasks. To grow and thrive, he says his shop needs customers, high-end bike donations, skilled volunteer bike fixers and project helpers and funding. Support Cycles of Change. It’s a community treasure.
677 West Ranger Ave., (510) 898-7830, www.myspace.com/cyclesapc
Best Used Bookstore
Kevin Patrick Books
In this unassuming storefront near the corner of Encinal and Walnut, bibliophiles enter their own slice of heaven — and at their own risk, because part of the charm of this gem-of-a-bookstore is browsing while hoping a book doesn’t fall on you. The store doesn’t sell DVDs, video games, greeting cards, CDs or coffee and such. Kevin Patrick sells books. And lots of them in number as well as variety. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s probably there — if you can find it (another part of the appeal). Many of the shelves are double-stacked with treasures, and while you’re looking for Book 2 of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, it’s a sure bet that another book will catch your eye — Naughty Paris perhaps, or Philosophy for Beginners. While Kevin Patrick Books stocks quite a bit of fiction (Colette shares shelf space with Tracy Chevalier, Ha Jin snuggles up to James Joyce), take a walk to the back room (watch your step), and you’ll find a trove of nonfiction, including Chilton manuals for that 1976 Ford Pinto you owned in 1985.
2170 Encinal Ave., (510) 865-3880
Best Independent Grocery Store
Encinal Market on a Saturday morning smells like a nice, homey kitchen, not a grocery store — the warm scents of freshly brewed coffee, yeasty just-baked bread and perfectly ripe, organic strawberries wafting through the aisles. Mmmmm. Delicious. Follow your nose to the coffee, and then start shopping. First, hit the legendary Joe Scalise & Sons meat counter, which was sold earlier this year to the current market owners who say they will keep the same suppliers. Check out the Italian sausage and stuffed pork chops, both full of flavor. Since a remodel a few years ago, the store has stocked a better selection of organic foods than many major grocery stores. Consider several types of organic lemonade, for instance, or take your pick of organic vegetables and fruits. Before checking out, explore the beer selection, which includes lots of interesting imports. This is independent grocery shopping at its best.
3211 Encinal Ave., (510) 522-7171
Best Produce Stand
Dan’s Fresh Produce
Dan “The Produce Man” Avakian promoted the enjoyment of fresh fruit and vegetables “without any finger-wagging” on radio for seven years and continues to do it in person at his market on Central at Oak. His focus is quality seasonal produce, fresh from farmers in Brentwood, Fremont, Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill, Sonoma and beyond. “With urban sprawl, they’re getting further away,” he laments. Along with the produce — including his Farm Direct Box option (straight from the farmer, delivered to your door) — the Slow Food concept of conviviality is alive and well at his market where people shop, compare recipes and get ideas. “Supermarkets can’t say, ‘Yesterday at this time, that peach was still on the tree,’ as you can with local growers,” he points out. “The small farmers put in blood, sweat and tears to bring us really good produce. The best thing we can do — to keep the land agricultural — is support them. That way we all get rewarded.”
2300 Central Ave., (510) 523-1777, www.dansfreshproduce.com