Even some North Oakland residents who live within the 10-block radius of Paradise Park may not know the neighborhood’s historic name, but this may change with the opening of Paradise Park Café, a new eatery that celebrates its grand opening today, Thursday, Aug. 17. Located at the corner of San Pablo and Alcatraz avenues, this new full-service restaurant fills of the vacancy left when two neighborhood haunts, Actual Café and Victory Burger, closed in December last year.
Paradise Park Café is the fourth eatery from Park Café Group, co-run by partners Rachel Herbert and Dana Oppenheim. The pair also owns Dolores Park Café, Precita Park Café and Duboce Park Café in San Francisco, and are excited about their first East Bay location.
Those familiar with Park Café Group’s three SF locations will recognize a similar casual ambiance and some overlapping menu items at Paradise Park, but the co-owners recognize that Oakland has its own vibe, and that Actual Café especially had a strong local following, one they hope they can win over. Part of their efforts include paying homage to the former tenants by preserving a couple of recognizable artifacts. Although Herbert and Oppenheim have put their stamp on the space, they preserved one of Actual’s sticker-laden walls inside the café and the large mural by local street artist GATS painted outside of what was once Victory Burger.
Inside, the café has a well-lit, open floor plan, with a coffee and juice bar and plenty of seating — a mix of booths and communal tables. Artwork by Berkeley-based illustrator Nigel Sussman currently grace the walls, but Paradise Park plans to display artwork from other Bay Area artists on a rotating basis in the future.
In the back corner, there’s a cozy area with sofa-type chairs, low tables, a rug and a collection of toys — an obvious ground zero for tots, but in the evening, when the babes have all gone to bed, the area can easily double as a chill-out zone for laptoppers or friends to catch up.
Additional indoor and outdoor seating can be found in the Victory Burger space, which is also where you’ll find the café’s full kitchen. Paradise Park eventually plans to accommodate pop-ups by local chefs in this space too.
Open everyday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Paradise Park Café offers counter service, both for customers looking for quick beverages and take-out, and for those who want to sit and stay a while.
The café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) The menu is varied, healthy-ish and approachable with unique touches, with most items ranging from $9 to $12, which is smart for an area that’s currently booming with young families and people looking for cafés that double as work spaces or casual meet-up spots with friends.
Also speaking to this audience, the café stresses its commitment to using locally sourced — and when possible, responsibly farmed and organic — ingredients. Drinks include coffee from Equator, made-to-order organic juices and smoothies, local craft beers and California wines. Eats include bagels, breakfast burritos, scrambles, toasts, burgers, salads and bowls. There’s a budget-friendly kids menu (all items are $5), and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
At a recent media event, we sampled a variety of their menu offerings. We were most impressed with the fried chicken sandwich ($12), which unlike many restaurants, didn’t try to put out a version of Bakesale Betty’s classic — and usually superior — sandwich. Instead, Paradise Park offers theirs with Asian-influenced flavors. The marinated grilled chicken breast is lightly fried in a tapioca batter (yes, that’s right, it’s grilled and fried), served on a challah bun and topped with greens, shredded cabbage, radish, pickled onion and Sriracha aioli. The sandwich comes with a side of fries.
We also enjoyed the Paradise salad with Vietnamese-style chicken sausage ($10.95), which is topped with grilled asparagus spears, sugar snap peas, various other fresh vegetables, toasted peanuts and a citrus vinaigrette. The salad was fresh and ample. We appreciated that the asparagus — al dente with a slight char — and the chicken sausage, which was more flavorful than expected from a non-Vietnamese restaurant, let alone, a neighborhood café.
For those abstaining from meat, housemade “chickpea tofu” patties can replace the sausage. The vibrant yellow patties don’t actually contain any soybeans at all, but are made with chickpea flour and seasoned with curry powder. These same patties also fill the vegan wrap ($9.95), which had good flavor, but was a little too soft in overall texture for my personal taste. The wrap itself is fluffy, puffy naan bread, and inside the avocado and chickpea tofu are the primary fillers. Although there are radish and carrot slices, some pumpkin seeds and arugula, these didn’t add enough of that satisfying crunch I was looking for.
Before leaving, we were tipped off about a “secret” off-menu item that we highly recommend — the affogato milkshake, or vanilla ice cream (Paradise Park uses Alden’s organic ice cream) and espresso. This is a decadent dessert that’s best for afternoons when you need a little pick-me-up.
True, Paradise Park Café isn’t doing anything groundbreaking, but that’s not it’s purpose or place here. As a casual local’s hangout with plenty on the menu for all types of eaters, it has a lot going for it. We have a feeling it’ll find a willing and eager audience amongst the neighbors.
For its opening on Thursday, Aug. 17, Paradise Park Café will be donating 20% of the day’s profits to the East Bay College Fund and Oakland Promise. At 5 p.m., there will be a ribbon cutting with Jose Corona, the director of Equity and Strategy Partnerships for Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Diane Dodge, executive director of East Bay College Fund, as well as live music and giveaways.
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