Rosa Gonzalez runs Los Cocos, a 36-year-old Salvadoran restaurant in Fruitvale, which is best known for its pupusas. Gonzalez’s favorite dish, however, is not on the menu.
âMe and my kids love con pavo shutters,â Gonzalez said. “It is one of the most popular dishes in my country along with pupusas.” Panes con pavo is a roasted turkey sandwich served with cabbage, radishes, tomatoes and a special sauce drizzled on top. It takes hours for turkeys to roast until juicy and tender, so this dish is usually reserved for special occasions.
âEvery time my family has a birthday party, my kids ask, ‘Can you please make some panes con pavo? “she said.
The pandemic has limited her possibilities to prepare the dish, as she spends hours of herself tending to the restaurant. Last year Gonzalez told The Oaklandside how she had to lay off her last two employees and was barely able to pay her rent.
His restaurant, however, is getting a boost thanks to a new series of events called “Breaking Bread: The Family Meal”, organized by nonprofits. Bon Bon Eatz and No immigrants no spice. The first meals in the series are part of a âRestaurant Weekâ for Fruitvale hosted by Unity Council. Good Good Eatz and No Immigrants No Spice have said they want to host future events to spotlight other restaurants, business districts and festivals around Oakland.
Gonzalez recently had the chance to serve his beloved turkey sandwich at Breaking Bread.
Three other longtime Fruitvale establishments – Los Cocos, El Huarache Azteca and Mexican restaurant Otaez – were also invited to cook ‘off the menu’ dishes for a group of 15 well-known Oaklanders, including Keba Konte from Red Bay. Coffee and artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez.
âI struggled during the pandemic, and I think it’s a good way to get promoted,â Gonzalez said.
No Immigrants No Spice staff interviewed participating restaurant owners and attendees to create a promotional video for the event. Good Good Eatz also worked with the Fruitvale-based Unity Council organization, which paid for the meals.
âThere are all of these amazing traditional restaurants in Fruitvale that have not only survived the pandemic, but have been around for decades,â said Trinh Banh, co-founder of Good Good Eatz. “The hope is that the conversations and the food sparked ideas and that we can leave thinking to be more intentional about where our dollars are going.”
Guests have been handpicked to reflect the different areas of Oakland and hopefully make connections that could benefit Oakland residents in historically disenfranchised parts.
âWe had discussed this idea from the Flatlands Alliance – ways to connect and collaborate across districts with leaders like Carolyn Johnson from the Black Cultural Zone and Dr Jennifer Tran from the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce,â Banh said. . “Well, the start of any idea and connection always starts at the table, usually around a good meal.”
The collaboration was born when Vibha Gupta, Executive Director of No Immigrants No Spice, contacted Banh. âWe all want to highlight the contributions of immigrants through food,â Gupta said, âand I said [to Banh], ‘I would love to do something together because I feel like we’re pretty aligned with what we’re trying to do.’
According to Banh, she had been thinking about the idea of ââan âoff the menuâ culinary event for some time and felt it was a good time to do it. Banh and Gupta aim to turn Breaking Bread: The Family Meal into a series that will eventually be open to the public, hosting dinners in neighborhoods that don’t get as much attention like the “Little Saigon” neighborhood of East Lake, or Eastmont. .
âIt’s the idea of ââidentifying what you love to cook for your family, that your family loves too, and being able to invite the audience to taste; through these meals, listening and learning, and conversations open, âBanh said.
Los Cocos, El Huarache Azteca, and Mexican restaurant Otaez were first asked to serve appetizers, but “of course they decided to come out with appetizers, a main course, a dessert, drinks, âGupta said.
Darlene Franco, whose mother Socorro Campos runs Otaez, said her family jumped at the chance to share meals they only ate at home. Socorro and her late husband Jesus Campos bought Otaez Mexicatessen in 1986 after saving enough money on their service jobs, and decided to keep the Otaez name.
âOur menu is more of what you would expect to see at a traditional Mexican restaurant,â Franco said, âand what we served last week was these very humble traditional house dishes.â
These meals included mixiote de pollo, a dish prepared by wrapping chili-flavored grated chicken in banana leaves and steaming them for hours over a wood fire. âMy mom chose it because it reminded her of her childhood when they used wood to cook a lot of their meals wrapped in foil or banana leaves,â Franco said.
They also served Morisqueta, plain steamed rice with pinto beans and salsa served on top. âThis is one of those meals as Mexicans that we all grew up with, because even when there was no meat in the house, you could make it; It is a modest dish, but very delicious.
Franco treasured the opportunity to see the people of Oakland try these dishes as it felt like the culmination of his parents’ long journey to start the restaurant. Franco’s parents met while working at the same restaurant where relations with employees were prohibited. Jesus quit and found a job at another restaurant to stay with Socorro. They ended up on their own and founded Otaez and two other sites, which they later shut down. Today, Socorro Campos spends most of his hours working in the family establishment.
âShe is a con artist and won’t give up. She’s trying to retire, but I guess that’s her way of retiring, running one restaurant instead of three, âFranco joked.
Mayra Chavez and her mother Eva Saavedra run El Huarache Azteca. They said they were also happy to serve lesser known specialties from their hometown of Mexico City. Their star dish was chiles en nogada, a colorful dish consisting of a stuffed green poblano pepper topped with a white walnut cream sauce with bright red pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. El Huarache Azteca serves it as a seasonal item.
âIt was created to celebrate the independence of Mexico and it has the three colors that represent the Mexican flag,â Chavez said. “It has then become a tradition during this season for families to eat this in restaurants.”
Chavez and his mother also served Mexican bacalao, a salted cod dish with roots in Portugal and Spain. âWhen Mexico adopted it, we put in chili peppers, tomatoes, olives, raisins and almonds, which are all simmered together and then eaten with bread,â she said.
El Huarache Azteca has been a Fruitvale staple ever since Mayra’s parents opened their brick and mortar store on International Boulevard in 1997. Prior to that, there were few to no restaurants in Oakland specializing in Mexico City cuisine.
Chavez believes that El Huarache, Otaez, and Los Cocos all deserve to be remembered for their contributions to the neighborhood.
âIt was wonderful to see people who had never been here really surprised by the quality of the food,â said Chavez. âAnd they let us know, ‘Oh, we’re coming back and we’re going to spread the word.’ That’s really what you want as a business owner.