“Dining reservations” have taken on new meaning during the pandemic, including and maybe especially this month as a surge in coronavirus cases put the brakes on briefly reopened indoor dining. Most Bay Area restaurant owners, now familiar with COVID-related whiplash, simply rolled with the punches — but for those hoping for a bump in revenue, the abrupt reversal felt like a punch to the gut.
Speaking of punches, the continued loss of long-loved establishments that are so much a part of local history and community life is taking its toll. Meanwhile, brand new food-related businesses keep braving 2020’s choppy waters.
The following highlights East Bay food and drink venues that are new this month, have permanently closed or are taking an indefinite break. Please let us know if we missed a spot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ONO BAKEHOUSE Berkeley is the lucky home to pastry chef and fine dining vet Desiree Valencia’s first brick-and-mortar, softly opened just before Thanksgiving in the former Secret Scoop shop. Valencia grew up on Maui, and her desserts are refined, sumptuous and playful versions of her native treats. Expect chocolate and sweet potato haupia pies; Queen Emma cakes layered with flavors of guava, lilikoi and coconut; Spam musubi; butter mochi; and the occasional savory snack such as Ono’s fan-favorite furikake Chex mix. Those familiar with Valencia’s wares from the Magnolia Mini Mart and her former pop-up Ono Snax will understand the anticipation around this opening. (Eater called it the East Bay’s first dedicated Hawaiian bakery. True? Let us know in the comments.) Order online for takeout. Ono Bakehouse, 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Wy, suite B (between Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way), Berkeley
[Updated] THE SMOKEHOUSE Fans had all but given up on this corner lot marked by blight and uncertainty that was once simple, old-fashioned burger shack The Smokehouse. The 69-year-old eatery was closed by a fire on Valentine’s Day, 2019, and reconstruction seemed somewhat in doubt even before the pandemic. For nearly two years, the property has sat dormant, under wraps and seemingly abandoned. But: It reopened on Friday to the delight of local fans. Despite telling Nosh that the Smokehouse would soft open for phone and online orders, the restaurant had too many walk-up customers and experienced technical issues, so it ended up taking walk-in orders only. Owner Shakaib Shaghasi said the Smokehouse has decided to close after 6 p.m. today, Nov. 30, and reopen on Dec. 7. The Smokehouse, 3115 Telegraph Ave. (at Woolsey Street), Berkeley
THE ALBATROSS Nosh joins the long list of former regulars mourning the loss of this warm and friendly historic pub that closes permanently today, Nov. 30. Opened in 1964, the roomy, comfortable bar played host to countless boozy Berkeley gatherings at its many tables: Convivial board game nights, team trivia contests, birthdays, baby showers, darts, pool and conversations over pints and popcorn in an atmosphere where people could actually hear each other. It was the type of place where a group of local elders could spend a year meeting regularly to read James Joyce’s Ulysses aloud, and where future spouses first encountered each other over casual games of pool and Connect Four. For many, it’s like losing an old friend, and certainly means another loss for local community and connection. Bye-bye, Bird. The Albatross was at 1822 San Pablo Ave.
LOS CILANTROS Despite fully closed notices on Yelp and Google, Los Cilantros chef-owner Dilsa Lugo would like to assure concerned customers that while Los Cilantros the restaurant at La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave.) has closed, the business is still alive, just pivoted to a more catering-centric capacity as of this month. Los Cilantros continues to cook for World Central Kitchen and La Cocina to feed doctors and nurses, homeless communities and other people in need. Lugo hopes to have specials available to the public via Los Cilantros’s Instagram and Facebook pages within the coming weeks, and thanks everyone for their continued support.
CORSO Higher-end dining rooms have become an endangered species during the pandemic, and this month saw yet another Berkeley casualty with the closure of 12-year-old Tuscan restaurant Corso. Located just off downtown, the restaurant was a notable choice for client dinners, romantic dates and anniversaries, fancy meals with visiting parents, or simply dining solo at the chef’s counter with a view onto the open kitchen. High windows onto bustling Shattuck Avenue allowed passersby candlelit glimpses of the sophisticated space; matching the atmosphere, Corso’s well-prepared pastas, mains and charcuterie boards made for lovely wine-paired dinners. Owners Roscoe Skipper and Wendy Brucker have chosen this difficult time to retire from the restaurant industry. The formerly married business partners also founded popular Cal-Med restaurant Rivoli in 1994, and owned that Solano Avenue destination until they sold it this summer (it remains open and thriving). Thanks to both for two of Berkeley’s more distinctive properties, and many years of special evenings out. Corso was at 1788 Shattuck Ave.
FRESCO MEXICAN GRILL This 8-year-old, friendly little Mexican eatery located next to Jupiter, known as an especially good spot for Mexican breakfast lovers, quietly departed downtown Berkeley this fall. Neighbors couldn’t confirm a date, but it has been dark for at least two weeks and the website and phone are both completely down. Fresco Mexican Grill was at 2177 Shattuck Ave.
SACK’S COFFEE HOUSE Grateful to a reader for this alert: Homegrown coffee shop Sack’s, at the corner of College and Derby, a spacious Elmwood go-to for students for 11 years, has permanently closed. Sack’s Coffee House was at 2701 College Ave.
STARBUCKS OXFORD And speaking of corner coffee shops, the busy Starbucks location at Oxford and Center streets, opposite campus, closed for good on Nov. 1. In June, USA Today reported that Starbucks, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, would be closing 400 cafes to concentrate on stores with “convenience-led” formats, i.e. drive-thru locations and pickup only stores. It appears this Berkeley location was included in the plan. For 15 years the spot was a busy student favorite, and the keystone first stop to Center Street’s row of eateries. Maybe it’s the pandemic, but this is one Starbucks gone dark that has even counterculture Berkeley a bit depressed. Starbucks Oxford was at 2128 Oxford St.
SUBWAY TELEGRAPH Depressed is one way to describe the Southside stretch of Telegraph Avenue these days, though not all of it is as sad as this abandoned Subway shop. Trashed and boarded up, the phone not working and location removed from Subway’s main website, we’re going to call it closed, even though it’s only marked temporarily closed around the internet. Subway Telegraph was at 2618 Telegraph Ave.
VEGGIE GRILL The downtown location of this fast-casual veg-centric chain, dark since lockdown, has closed for good, but will reopen in early 2021, as a new concept under the same company. Signage is now up for upcoming eatery Stand-Up Burgers, a 100% plant-based restaurant featuring burgers, fries and shakes. We’ll keep you posted on the launch date. Veggie Grill was at 48 Shattuck Sq.
BUCK WILD BREWING TAPROOM California’s first gluten-free brewing company and taproom Buck Wild Brewing opened Nov. 7 in Jack London Square. The taproom features eight gluten-free ales available for sampling, and as reported in Bites, also serves food via a partnership with Kitava, whose menu features healthy comfort dishes free of most common food allergens. Buck Wild Brewing Taproom, 401 Jackson St., (at Fourth Street), Oakland
DONUT SAVANT Donut Savant, whose many fans mourned when the shop at 1934 Broadway Ave. closed in Oct., 2019, has reopened in the Allendale neighborhood. Donuts here are… artful. Indulgent. Tasty. Welcome back to our bellies, Donut Savant. Donut Savant, 3000 38th Ave. (at Penniman Avenue), Oakland
JINGLETOWN EATS For readers pondering why so many newer eateries in Oakland seem to share the same address of 2353 E. 12th St., the answer is the ghost kitchen operation Jingletown Eats operated by CloudKitchens. Hidden behind the reception area, shared commercial kitchens host the cooks and proprietors of Cozy Wok, Mochill Donuts, Alloko Garden (Read Nosh Editor Sarah Han’s recent review), Onigilly, Amici East Coast Pizzeria, and a long, fluctuating list of other hot, new-to-Oakland delivery and take-out only food businesses. Note: This is not a food hall and there is no seating available. Orders must be completed online before arrival; for diners who prefer pickup over delivery, check in at the front for instructions (and be sure to plan a little extra time for parking). Jingletown Eats food businesses are at 2353 E. 12th St. (between 23rd and Miller avenues), Oakland
MAGNOLIA MINI MART AT CLASSIC CARS WEST Softly launched Nov. 17 (with a special selection of Tarts de Feybesse goodies), Magnolia Mini Mart’s hotly anticipated second location is adding even more cachet to the consistently cool Classic Cars West, home also to Popoca. Magnolia Mini Mart at Classic Cars West, 411 26th St. (between Telegraph Avenue and Broadway), Oakland
MOI EAT This small Vietnamese pop-up from chef-owner Huyen Phan, now operating for pickup only out of East Oakland’s Nikko’s Family Restaurant, specializes in petite banh mi, soups and other nourishing, fast-casual bites. Moi Eat at Nikko’s Family Restaurant, 340 23rd Ave. (between Ford and 29th Avenue), Oakland
SHAWARMAJI Jordanian chef Mohammad Abutaha cultivated an impressive following during seven months at Forage Kitchen and at recent pop-ups at Reems in Oakland and San Francisco. Now the young chef has a brand new Oakland home for his chicken and lamb shawarma, garlicky toum and flavorful sides. Shawarmaji opened for business last Friday, and will offer lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday going forward. Shawarmaji, 2123 Franklin St. (between 21st Street and 22nd Street), Oakland
STATES COFFEE & MERCANTILE When Oakland’s Subrosa Coffee closed, both locations were placed in the good hands of States Coffee, a company known for both their fresh bread and fresh coffee, with cafes in Martinez and Benicia. The first reopening under the new brand happened on Nov. 18, in the coffee-shop space adjacent to Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack (The other location on 40th Street is still in the works). Daily hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. States Coffee & Mercantile, 4008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Wy (at 40th Street), Oakland
TIPUNAN Take-out and delivery eatery Tipunan has opened in East Oakland, offering a menu of Filipino comfort classics like kare kare, sinigang and Filipino spaghetti with sliced hot dogs and melted cheese. Tipunan, 1326 E. 18th St. (between 13th and 14th avenues), Oakland
WAWA THAI FOOD Folks seem very impressed with newcomer Wawa Thai and its savory northern Thai menu of soups, wok noodles, curries, salads and mains. The kao soi, especially, comes highly recommended. Patio seating is available. Wawa Thai Food, 3009 MacArthur Blvd. (near Maple Avenue), Oakland
XOCHI THE DOG CAFE East Oakland got a cute new corner coffee shop with Xochi The Dog Cafe (Xochi is pronounced “so-chee”), which softly opened on Nov. 21. Xochi serves coffee, espresso, beer, wine and several other beverages, and has a dog-friendly outdoor patio. Xochi The Dog Cafe, 1038 E. 21st St. (at 11th Avenue), Oakland
AISLE 5 A reader let us know that after three busy years, Grand Lake gastropub Aisle 5 — known for its counter service, good beer selection and savory American eats — has permanently closed. As expected, the restaurant’s closure notice faults the challenging business environment. Aisle 5 was at 3320 Grand Ave.
FUSION KITCHEN Despite enthusiastic reviews, Japanese restaurant Fusion Kitchen has closed after one year in business. The location is now Wawa Thai (see Open, above). Fusion Kitchen was at 3009 MacArthur Blvd.
THE GASTROPIG We received a mid-month tip from a reader that hip Oakland breakfast, lunch, brunch and pop-up host The Gastropig has closed for good. The stylish space, opened at the beginning of 2017, was known for indulgent, Instagram-ready fare that ran the gamut from the cafe’s famed Baconslut Sandwiches and burgers to fancy evening dining from pop-up Abstract Table. (Abstract Table, which began at The Gastropig in 2018, moved to north Berkeley’s Cafenated this July). The Gastropig was at 2123 Franklin St.
BLACK STAR PIRATE BBQ The Richmond Standard reported on this new barbecue spot overlooking Point San Pablo Harbor from owner and industry vet Tony Carracci, a past owner of Cha Cha Cha in San Francisco, whose Black Star Pig Co. food truck used to operate in the area and Marin. Carracci’s brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sandwiches on ciabatta and sides seem to be generating many pirate smiles, and feature organic ingredients and house-made sauces; even veg and vegan diners are pulling up chairs on the large outdoor deck to enjoy dishes such as Carracci’s cowboy beans, collard greens and candied sweet potatoes. Black Star Pirate BBQ, 1900 Stenmark Dr. (at Point San Pablo Harbor), Richmond
HIGHWIRE COFFEE ROASTERS ALAMEDA It was a year-long road to Highwire’s newest location, the local company’s fifth, but they got there on Nov. 17, and the new little Alameda shop is inviting as all get-out. Highwire Coffee Roasters, 1234 Park St. (between Encinal and San Jose avenues), Alameda
RAMEN 101 A new Emeryville location of the Bay Area Hawaiian BBQ and ramen chain opened this month on 40th Street in the former Smashburger space. The menu offers a variety of Japanese ramen, rice bowls and starters, along with several Hawaiian plate lunches. Ramen 101 offers catering, too. Ramen 101, 1151 40th St. (at San Pablo Avenue), Emeryville
S.A.G.A. KITCHEN This former Cantonese bistro on Alameda’s Lincoln Avenue is now a shared home to three takeout and delivery-only food businesses: Wok Chi for Americanized, pan-Asian dishes; Yue Club for dim sum; and Koharu Japanese Cafe for Japanese curries, katsu sandos and other comfort food. (A fourth business, Sachi, seems to have already bowed out.) S.A.G.A Kitchen, 1707 Lincoln Ave. (at Grand Street), Alameda
SMISH SMASH AT NEPTUNE’S Neptune’s in Alameda, with its small takeout window and covered outdoor seating area, now plays host to Smish Smash, the lacy, crispy burger pop-up that used to operate out of Oakland’s Cookiebar Creamery. The pop-up also features fried chicken sandwiches, fries, shakes, ice cream and more, and has been at Neptune’s since mid-October. Smish Smash at Neptune’s, 630 Central Ave. (at McKay Avenue), Alameda
ALICE BISTRO Nosh got word that two-year-old Cantonese eatery Alice Bistro in Alameda closed during pandemic; now opened in its place is S.A.G.A. Kitchen (see Open, above). Alice Bistro was at 1707 Lincoln Ave. in Alameda.
MOD PIZZA EL CERRITO PLAZA Last month the El Cerrito Plaza location of MOD Pizza was marked temporarily closed on the franchise website; an eagle-eyed reader has since noticed a for-lease sign in the window. (MOD has open locations in Alameda and Pinole.) MOD Pizza El Cerrito was at 5040 El Cerrito Plaza in El Cerrito.
NOBILIS This two-year-old waterfront “finer diner” overlooking Point San Pablo Harbor, known for well-crafted plates of American comfort food, has closed. The location is now Black Star Pirate BBQ (see Open, above). Nobilis was at 1900 Stenmark Dr. in Richmond.
SABORES DEL SUR The Chronicle reported on the sad closure of this standout Latin American cafe, opened by Chilean chef-owner Guisell Osorio in 2004. Fans shouldn’t weep for Osorio’s alfajores just yet; the chef will continue to cater from a commercial kitchen, and might reopen a brick-and-mortar in the future. Sabores Del Sur was at 3003 Oak Rd. in Walnut Creek.
BABY CAFE Most kiosks at the Public Market Emeryville are doing a brisk business, even in pandemic, though there are a couple of temporary closures. Hong Kong-style Baby Cafe has been closed since March, and according to Public Market reps, there is no word yet on reopening. Baby Cafe is at 5959 Shellmound St. inside the Public Market Emeryville.
BEAR’S FOOD COURT This downtown Berkeley corner spot that was Burgermeister until mid-2019, and became a mix of fast-casual food (including Krispy Krunchy Chicken) under the Bear’s Food Court umbrella name, appears to be permanently closed. Attempts to reach the owner went unanswered, so we’re adding it to the “temporary” list for now. Bear’s Food Court is at 2237 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.
BOBA PANDA A sign in the window of this year-old boba shop announced temporary closure starting Oct. 19. Owner Charles Lee told Nosh in an email that Boba Panda is underdoing soft story retrofit construction, and hopes to reopen in March. Boba Panda is at 1796 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.
BUBBLE TEA SHARE TIME Two blocks away from Boba Panda, thinned student crowds have also led to the temporary (at least for now) shuttering of Bubble Tea Share Time. The five-year-old shop is at 1938 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.
CAFE DEJENA The spacious Eritrean cafe inside this notable, burnt-orange building at 40th and Martin Luther King, near MacArthur BART, has been closed since March, and is fully boarded up. Promises of updates on Facebook haven’t quite materialized, and attempts to reach the business have gone unanswered. The cafe opened in 2003. Cafe Dejena is at 3939 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Oakland.
LADLE & LEAF This notable Bay Area chain began its life as the San Francisco Soup Company in 1999, was renamed Ladle & Leaf in 2015, and is especially popular among office and student crowds. Given those demographics, Ladle & Leaf storefronts have taken a hit during the pandemic, with eight of its 12 shops marked temporarily closed, including the one across from Sather Gate, which shuttered in March and remains closed. Ladle & Leaf is at 2512 Bancroft Way in Berkeley.
MILKBOMB We continue to believe in this tiny, family-owned business that, during its brief Berkeley opening, trafficked in some of the most fun treats we’ve seen downtown (and that has recently reopened its retail shop in San Francisco). But first the pandemic shut Milkbomb’s doors temporarily, and now a six-alarm fire just next door on Nov. 21 have together conspired to keep the brick-and-mortar’s doors closed for now. Rumor has it the group’s ice creams are available for delivery, which would be one way to support their potential return. Milkbomb is at 2079 University Ave. in Berkeley.
MR. DEWIE’S CASHEW CREAMERY EMERYVILLE As mentioned previously in Nosh, the Mr. Dewie’s kiosk in the Public Market Emeryville is temporarily closed, but fans can find Mr. Dewie’s cashew ice cream at locations in Albany and Oakland. (Dessert PSA: Oui Oui! Macaron, located opposite Mr. Dewie’s darkened kiosk in the Public Market, has recently reopened with macarons, Basque cheesecakes and other goodies available on Fridays and Saturdays.) Mr. Dewie’s Emeryville is at 5959 Shellmound St. inside the Public Market Emeryville.
[Updated Dec. 8 with new information about ownership] PIZZA RUSTICA The phone line and website of this Montclair Village neighborhood pizza and rotisserie chicken restaurant are no longer working and Yelp reports it is permanently closed, but we’ve yet to reach Pizza Rustica owners for confirmation and word around the neighborhood is there’s hope the business will return. (Fingers crossed!) Rustica first opened on College Avenue in 1989, as a full-service pizzeria with a tiki bar upstairs. Six years later, this second location at 6106 La Salle Ave., opened as a takeout and delivery operation. In 2015, owners Michael Thanos, Manos Gougoumis and their two other brothers sold the Rockridge restaurant in 2015, citing the difficulty of operating a full-service restaurant; they sold the Montclair pizzeria in 2017 to new operators.
RUBIO’S EL CERRITO PLAZA The El Cerrito location of this Mexican chain has been closed since the pandemic began (thanks to a kind reader for the tip), but signs of management presence on Yelp show that fans shouldn’t abandon hope just yet. Locations in Pleasant Hill and Vallejo are open for business; Livermore’s location is also temporarily closed. Rubio’s is at 5010 El Cerrito Plaza in El Cerrito.
STAY GOLD Though West Oakland’s Stay Gold managed to reopen after lockdown, adding plenty of patio and sandwich love to our summer, the deli announced temporary closure beginning Tuesday, Nov. 17. Please stay, Stay Gold. Stay Gold is at 2635 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland.
TENDER GREENS A six-alarm fire at a construction site at 2067 University Ave. the Saturday before Thanksgiving has temporarily closed surrounding businesses, including, unfortunately, this popular salad chain and its appealing back patio that had maintained steady business during pandemic. Stay tuned on reopening news. Tender Greens is at 2071 University Ave. in Berkeley.
Nosh Editor Sarah Han contributed reporting.