Bites: Popoca Salvadoran cuisine; Lovely’s burgers are back; Palmetto to bring ‘American tropical’ to Uptown

Gallo en chicha, or chicken braised in fermented pineapple, fall vegetables, prunes, raisins, a Salvadoran spice blend and other aromatics, at Popoca in Oakland.
Gallo en chicha, or chicken braised in fermented pineapple, prunes, raisins and Salvadoran spice blend, at Popoca in Oakland. Photo: Popoca

SMOKE SIGNALS Since October, Classic Cars West Beer Garden in Oakland has been home to a new food pop-up specializing in Salvadoran cuisine. Popoca comes from Anthony Salguero, who according to the East Bay Express, was a chef at Bardo Lounge & Supper Club and its previous iteration, Michel Bistro, along with several other Bay Area fine dining restaurants. For Popoca, Salguero brings some of the fine-dining techniques from his experience to offer what he calls a “progressive” take on traditional comidas tipicas from El Salvador.

Popoca means “to emit smoke” in the Nahuatl language spoken by the indigeneous people in El Salvador, and in this case, refers to Salguero’s penchant for preparing dishes over wood fire. His tamales pisques, for example, are made with fresh-milled masa flavored with vegetable broth and ash, filled with black beans and wrapped in plantain leaves before they’re cooked in the embers of the fire. His pupusas are griddled on a comal set over the grill.

Unlike other pop-ups that have had residencies at Classic Cars West, Popoca is not a vegan operation, and many — but not all — of the dishes feature meat, like the gallo en chicha pictured above and a braised pork shoulder pupusa. But vegetarians and vegans have options too (a pupusa with black bean, cauliflower and jalapeño, for instance), and Salguero told Nosh many of the item on the menu can be made vegan, by request. Popoca serves lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday; dinner, 5:30-9:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Popoca, Classic Cars West Beer Garden, 411 26th St., suite B (between Telegraph Avenue and Broadway), Oakland

UPTOWN AFTER FLORA As Nosh reported in October, Uptown’s 13-year-old Art Deco restaurant Flora, and its adjoining bar Fauna, served its last dinner and drinks on Nov. 9. The space has changed hands to new owners, Christ Aivaliotis and Matt Reagan, who also co-run the Kon-Tiki in Downtown Oakland. Nosh caught up with the two partners last week, who shared new details about what’s to come at the restaurant that they’re calling Palmetto.

While Aivaliotis and Reagan said they’re excited about “recapturing the same types of people that loved Flora and keeping that style of place an option” in Oakland, Palmetto will not be a Flora redux, instead, the space will be reborn — with the help of Wylie Price Design — with an “American tropical” vibe. Because they’re not doing any major construction, the owners are hoping Palmetto can open as early as February.

For the menu, they’ve asked Kon-Tiki chef Manuel Bonilla to lead the way. Although steaks and chops will be the focus at Palmetto, Reagan clarified that the restaurant will not be a steak house in the traditional sense. That means, don’t expect prime rib and a half dozen cuts, but the menu will likely offer one to two cuts. They plan to source their beef, pork and chicken via Oakland’s Cream Co. Meats (“We like their ethics,” Reagan explained about the company which works with sustainable partner ranches). When asked what else Palmetto will serve, the duo said the menu is still being developed, but will feature dishes with Cuban and Puerto Rican flavor profiles; they’ll give chef Bonilla free rein to try new things, as he has at the Kon-Tiki. The owners said that since announcing the new restaurant, they’ve been getting asked if Palmetto will serve Kon-Tiki’s famous cheeseburger. The answer is no, but with an intriguing follow-up: “It’s going to be a different cheeseburger, and it’ll be just as amazing.”

Aivaliotis, who was once a bar manager at Flora, said he’ll be bringing back a little bit of the former restaurant through its boozy drinks. Palmetto will serve “classic cocktails that we were making at Flora back in the day, eight or nine years ago,” he said. It will also have a robust wine program, offering several natural wines. “We’ll have more interesting weird wines than you’d find at a normal steak house,” Aivaliotis said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I love challenges like that.”

As for Fauna, that will be transformed into a tiki bar called The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto. The duo said it’ll be “an abbreviated version” of their original bar, but with a whole new menu of drinks, so as to provide a different experience from the original sister bar downtown. Palmetto will be at 1900 Telegraph Ave. (at 19th Street), Oakland

The O.G. Burger at Lovely's.
The O.G. Burger at Lovely’s. Photo: Lovely’s

BURGER BOOGALOO After a year at The Lodge on Piedmont Avenue, beloved Oakland burger pop-up Lovely’s left the space in July, with chef Mikey Yoon hoping to finding bigger, better digs of his own. Many local burger lovers had been feeling a void from his absence, missing Lovely’s charred “smash-style” burgers made with Cream Co. beef and topped with classic fixin’s or chili cheese. Although a brick-and-mortar has yet to open, Eater had word last week of Lovely’s return and the people were ready. Over the weekend, Yoon brought the operation to Eli’s Mile High Club, where he served up biscuit sandwiches and burgers for the brunch crowd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and the hanger grow stronger, as apparently, there was a bit of a shortage due to some uncouth dining behavior. If you didn’t get a taste this week, don’t worry, according to Eater, Lovely’s will return for brunch service (11 a.m.- 2 p.m.) at Eli’s the first two weekends in December and then every weekend, starting in January, until the permanent restaurant opens, sometime next summer. Eli’s Mile High Club, 3629 Martin Luther King Jr., Way (near 37th Street), Oakland

BACK ON THE SCENE Speaking of pop-up returns… With the closure of both Grammie’s Down Home Kitchen and Crave BBQ, chef Rashad Armstead has been back on the temporary restaurant circuit. He was last serving up BBQ and soul food at 7th West, but now, Armstead has new stomping grounds at a spot in Downtown Oakland. At New Karibbean City, Armstead will be feeding hungry club go-ers looking for late night sustenance, from 10 p.m.-4 a.m., Friday and Saturday. New Karibbean City, 1408 Webster St. (at 14th Street), Oakland

FAREWELL, TAMARINDO After 14 years in Old Oakland, Tamarindo Antojeria, a Mexican restaurant run by mother and son Gloria and Alfonso Dominguez, will close by the end of the year. As first reported by Eater, the restaurant took to Facebook to announce the news on Nov. 19, where it thanked customers and specified a closing date. Although Tamarindo will host private parties through December, it will have its last full dinner service Nov. 30. Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, 468 8th St. (between Broadway and Washington Street), Oakland

REASON TO BE CRABBY Every year, just before Thanksgiving, and just as crab season starts up, Homestead Restaurant in Oakland hosts a dinner featuring meaty Dungeness crabs. This year’s dinner is tonight and tomorrow (Nov. 26-27), but just a few days ago, the restaurant realized its star attraction wouldn’t be making the show. In emails to newsletter subscribers, Homestead owners Fred and Elizabeth Sassen explained that local crab season would be delayed until Dec. 15, and that even vendors in Oregon and Washington were experiencing set backs. So, instead, Homestead is offering grilled ribeye and Maine lobster (not too shabby for a stand-in!), and they hope, when crab season eventually starts up, they’ll host a “Crab Feed 2.0″ as a Sunday Supper in the future.

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen will open its Oakland brick-and-mortar restaurant in winter 2020.
9 Julio Empanada Kitchen will open its Oakland brick-and-mortar restaurant in winter 2020. Photo: Sarah Han

EMPANADAS ARE IN TEMESCAL’S FUTURE Signs have gone up in the ground floor windows at the Idora Apartments in Temescal for 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen, which will open its first brick-and-mortar eatery there in winter 2020. Run by chef Erica Sanders, 9 Julio has been operating for the last five years as a catering business, selling handmade empanadas at Bay Area farmers markets, festivals and pop-up events. Last October, Sanders launched a Kiva crowdfunding campaign to raise $10,000 for her own restaurant, which was fully funded in less than two weeks. Locals may recall that the site of the building is the former location of the Kingfish before it moved to Telegraph Avenue, and Sanders believes “they left us some good juju.” Along with sweet and savory empanadas filled with “bold, pan-Latin flavors that span the Americas,” expect a variety of salads and 9 Julio’s signature housemade plantains chips with avocado jalapeño dip. 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen will be at 5239 Claremont Ave. (near Telegraph Avenue), Oakland