If the weekend crowds and long waits for a table are indicators, Nido’s Backyard, the Bay Area’s first margarita garden, has made a splash.
Some diners are likely fans of Nido — its popular sister Mexican restaurant, known for regional fare from central and coastal Mexico — but most are simply people curious about the large outdoor space that has sprung up in Oakland’s Jack London warehouse district.
Nido owners, Silvia and Cory McCollow, took over an old parking lot, brought in some shipping containers and created a festive outdoor space, perfect for families and big groups of friends to gather.
Just like the original restaurant, which is up the street on Oak, Nido’s Backyard shares the same vibrant and colorful decor with rustic touches. It also has the vibe of a beer garden with play area and communal seating, but of course, it’s considered a “margarita garden” because of the emphasis on tequila and mezcal. (Beer is available, too.)
The long bar is the first thing people see as they enter the garden, and it serves a variety of cocktails, wine and beer. There are two types of margaritas (tequila or mezcal) available by the glass or pitcher. On my first visit, I tried the classic Margarita de la Cruz ($11), made with tequila, lime and honey with a salt rim. It was decent, but a bit light in body, with no distinguishing factors to set it apart from other margaritas around town.
For more fun and flavor, order a glass of the Mezcal and Chill, a frozen cocktail listed as a “slushee” on the menu ($13). It’s basically a frozen margarita, but with more of a punch because of the mezcal.
The bar can feel overwhelming because there are no clear stations or lines, and the busy bartenders are dashing around behind the counter. During its soft opening, the bar menu was limited to just snack items like chips, guacamole, pickled peanuts or crispy chickpeas. But recently, a couple more substantial items are available from the bar, including stewed nopales (cactus) or pollo en pipián rojo (chicken in red pumpkin seed sauce).
Having some food to order from the bar is helpful because the full menu served at the dining area is not available all the time (This is not clearly listed on the website). For now, the full menu is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and starting at 5 p.m. for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday.
The dining tables are first-come, first-serve, but Nido’s Backyard uses the Yelp waitlist system, which is convenient because you can enter your phone number on the app and then get some drinks at the bar until your table is ready.
The dining menu is a bit more varied than the regular menu at Nido, but the type of food it offers seems more akin to what you’d eat at a beach party or picnic. So, you’ll find antojitos (snacks), tacos, guisos (stewed dishes) and plates (usually braised meat or Oaxacan mole), often served on, or with, corn tortillas.
At this early stage, the menu seems to be in development. Sometimes, it’s challenging to understand what you’re ordering, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the dish and are mainly relying on the list of ingredients. For example, on an early visit, a taco dorado de chicharrón prensado con ceviche de pescado was described as a pressed pork crispy taco with ceviche (citrus-cured fish). What came was more like ceviche on top of a mini quesadilla, with very little pork flavor. On my next visit, the taco dorado wasn’t on the menu, which probably is for the best because it lacked flavor.
When dining at Nido’s original location, I fell in love with the complexity of flavors in the dishes. Some of the early dishes at Nido’s Backyard did seem a bit middle of the road, like a kale Caesar salad, which had shaved cauliflower when I first tried it, but is currently offered with little gems instead of cauliflower. All the ingredients, including cherry tomatoes and avocado, were fresh, but overall the salad was overly simple in taste.
The classic complex Nido flavors I craved come in the stews. The pollo en pipián rojo ($15) features chunks of pan-seared chicken thighs that are tender and rich in flavor, stewed with fingerling potatoes and, a surprising twist, pickled green beans. The dish is served with red rice and freshly made corn tortillas.
Dessert is just one item for now — the pastel imposible — described as chocolate cake and vanilla bean flan ($10). This was really more flan than cake, with just a thin layer of chocolate cake on the base. Again, a bit misleading on the menu.
While the food uses seasonal ingredients and has some promise, the real star at Nido’s Backyard is the gorgeous space that shines when the sun is out. It’s the kind of place to gather with friends around a pitcher of beer or margaritas and snacks.
Nido’s Backyard is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. (bar till 11 p.m.); Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar till 11 p.m.); and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.