Gabriel Holland, bartender at The Star on Park.
Some of the East Bay’s most iconic restaurants are flocking to the Island for its family atmosphere and high foot traffic.
Oakland is sharing some of its favorite tacos, pizza, and Asian fare with Alamedans by opening restaurants on the Island.
Restaurateurs are betting that customers will be willing to cross over bridges, barrel through the Webster Street tube, or just travel across town to indulge in some favorite East Bay dishes. That includes deep-dish pizza at The Star on Park, which opened in October as the latest installment of the Little Star pizza empire since opening the Grand Avenue location in 2013. And feasting on Cambodian fare from Phnom Penh House, the 30-year staple of Oakland’s Chinatown that recently shuttered that location due to development plans but found a new home in Alameda. Even lively Temescal gem Cholita Linda will soon bring its Latin-American street food and famous Baja fish tacos to town, with plans to open the restaurant’s second outpost in Alameda in early spring. Another anticipated opening this spring comes from Chikara Ono, chef-owner of Japanese restaurants B-Dama and Delage in Old Oakland. Ono has plans to open a new eight-seat restaurant on Park Street in March in the location that was formerly Yume, the sushi restaurant that closed in the fall due to family reasons. Ono said he knows the family, who encouraged him to take over the spot. Two others with Oakland roots, Bowl’d and Pho Anh Dao, as well as Berkeley’s Troy Greek Cuisine, had taken the Alameda plunge ahead of the others.
The restaurant owners agreed that Alameda — booming with young families looking for affordable eats and, increasingly, visitors from around the Bay Area — was a logical next step in their evolution. What once was often referred to as a Bay Area best-kept secret is a secret no longer.
“Alameda was under the radar for quite some time, but we’ve turned solidly into a dining destination,” said Lois Butler, economic development department manager in Alameda. “People see the area as a warm and cozy alcove that’s home to a lot of families, as well as businesses who cater to them.”
That’s what drew in owners of Little Star Pizza restaurant chain, Susannah Blumenstock and Ben Seabury, to historic Park Street for the Star on Park at 1400 Park St. “One of our biggest goals is to create a place where kids are happy and parents can relax — where you can get pizza and a full bar of craft cocktails,” Blumenstock said. “Alameda is a family island, and we knew it was a fit for us in that way. So when we found such a perfect location, we had to go for it.”
Indeed, the pizzeria’s whopping 65,000-square-foot space, built in the late 1800s as a Wells Fargo branch, makes for an impressive place to grab a slice. Original details — soaring windows and ceilings, as well as the marble used throughout the rooms — remain intact to create a two-level dining room. It also came decked out with new wood floors and dangling chandeliers, upgrades made during a renovation project completed by the owners of Capone’s Speakeasy, the short-lived 1920s-themed bar that occupied the space but closed in early 2016 after less than a year in business.
Since opening, business has been booming, especially with large groups and the city’s youngest patrons, Blumenstock said. “The number of kids exceeded even our expectations,” she said with a chuckle. “The community has been very welcoming and accommodating.”
It’s true that both Park Street and Webster Street are often filled with strollers and kids bopping around, parents in tow. Each of these walkable districts sees high foot traffic, with boutique retail mixing in with art galleries and restaurants.
The Island has seen a recent increase in younger couples moving there with babies and toddlers, and these millennial buyers and renters are constantly looking for new, affordable, and diverse restaurant options, said Janet Magleby, executive director of the Downtown Alameda Business Association.
Soon, they’ll find another option in Cholita Linda, popular for its street tacos and an eclectic array of pan-Latin comfort food. Chef Vanessa Chavez and her husband and co-owner, Murat Sozeri, got their start serving from a food truck at farmers markets. The couple opened their first brick-and-mortar location in Temescal in 2014, delighting the community with its expanded menu and airy space, painted in vibrant pastel colors and decorated with towering lush greenery.
The build-out on the Alameda restaurant, at 1337 Park St. (formerly Flavors of India), is underway with plans to open in early spring, Chavez said. Expect the space to be just as bright and bold as the original.
The couple originally had plans to open their second location in the Grand Lake neighborhood, but when that deal fell through, they landed on Alameda quite quickly after checking it out at the suggestion of a regular customer. As an Oakland native, Chavez said she appreciates the Island has maintained its tight-knit feel even as its modernized and grown.
“We know a large part of our customer base is families looking for quick, casual, delicious food, so we love that the island is so family oriented,” Chavez said. “We’re excited to bring something different to the table in Alameda.”