Oakland’s Oeste isn’t trying to be any one thing.
“We’re a little bit Latin-based, a little bit Southern,” said owner Anna Villalobos. “Our food is on the spicier side, but we’re not so hyper-focused on being really traditional as we are on our flavors and presentation.”
Villalobos co-owns Oeste with Lea Redmond and Sandra Davis (Villalobos also co-owns Miss Ollie’s, located nearby), and the bar-restaurant’s food reflects the trio’s Mexican and African American heritages, as well as the culture of Oakland. With chef Peter Jackson in charge of Oeste’s kitchen, diners will find dishes like beef picadillo steamed in banana leaf, and chicken and sausage gumbo with okra, dark roux and rice on its menu.
Still Villalobos shies away from terms like fusion, experimental or authentic to describe Oeste’s menu, favoring the vocabulary of California cuisine in her descriptions: organic, high quality and ethically sourced.
“What’s really important to us is to maintain the integrity of our food,” said Villalobos.
Oeste (pronounced ‘oh-ES-tay’) opened in late December at 730 Clay St. in Old Oakland. The business is a bit of a two-fer — one side of the space holds a bar-restaurant and rooftop terrace, and on the other is a grab-and-go café. The two sides are divided by a rustic barn door.
Construction and permitting had put some delay on business, and not all plans are yet up and running (“Brunch coming soon!” says Oeste’s website, probably within the next few weeks, the owners confirmed), but the bar-restaurant and café are currently open. The co-owners’ mission is to create a warm and friendly atmosphere that people want to come back to as their everyday neighborhood dining and drinking spot, and perhaps also as a space to reserve for private and formal events.
“There are a lot of intimate areas,” said Redmond. “I want people to come in and say, ‘This is exactly what I want.’”
Redmond and her fellow co-owners are not blood related, but she describes Oeste as “a very family-focused business,” and with good reason. Villalobos’ son Che Freeman manages the bar, mixing house tap cocktails like a prickly pear vodka lemonade and a pineapple habanero margarita. Meanwhile the café side is managed by Redmond’s sister Kim Reed and brother Troy Redmond.
“We’re kind of going for that neighborhood vibe,” said Troy Redmond. The café — open during the day — sources from other Oakland businesses, including RoastCo for coffee and Starter Bakery for pastries. Sandwiches made on Acme bread and specialty breakfast items, like Spanish tortilla, are made in house.
“We’re family,” he said. “We’re all comfortable with each other and it’s kind of important for us that you to feel that same comfortability.”
“Eventually we would like to develop our wine list more,” said Villalobos. She, along with her co-owners, would like to bring more attention to Black-owned and Latino-owned wineries, such as Ceja, Bodkin, and Brown Estate.
Villalobos had wanted to carry wines from Everett Ridge, but that particular Black-owned winery was bought out by Flanagan Wines, and Oeste decided to seek its vintages elsewhere.
“We’re making an effort,” said Villalobos, acknowledging the wine market can make sourcing tricky. “I would love to carry more women-owned wines as well.”
Note that Oeste is 21 and over only. It is currently open 3 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday through Saturday; and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday. It is closed on Monday. (Café hours run 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.)