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2337 Broadway (23rd St.) Send to Phone
Fresh Mexican fare that tantalizes while maintaining respect for traditional cooking methods.
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Lunch & Dinner daily, Brunch Sat.-Sun.

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Calavera, Oakland, CA

Calavera Restaurant Review

: Caged lights hang from an 18-foot ceiling; a waterfall of twinkling bottles of tequila and mezcal cascades behind the bar; and the music of a busy cocktail shaker and the happy hum of excited diners fill the lofty brick-and-woods room. Many hands bring this dream of Michael Iglesias and Jessica Sackler, partnered with Chris Pastena (Lungomare, Chop Bar) to life: from the children who net the grasshoppers that are toasted and served with vibrant guacamole, to the designated tortilla chef cooking with house-ground corn on the wood-fired comal. We taste the ocean in the sweet frothy salt air drinks and the earth in dishes that balance crunch with smoke and fire. We gobbled up ceviche Costeno, halibut ceviche with avocado, salsa and toasted hominy, detoured for cochinita pibil, baby pig tacos made oh-so-tender with Mayan axiote rub, and slowed down for our elegant wood-grilled whole Pacific red snapper circling lambs' quarters, greens and stewed black garlic. We sorted delicate flesh from bones and plucked strewn-about orange cherry tomatoes. Ambrosial goat's milk rice pudding in a saucy puddle, adorned with snappy candied almonds and stone fruit, crowned this captivating Mexican cuisine adventure.

User Ratings & Reviews for Calavera
Average rating    4
Reviews 1 - 1 of 11
Gentrification, colonialism, and bugs?
by ChuckMorse on Thu Feb 18, 2016 11:07 am
It was a big deal when Calavera opened last August. It is Oakland’s only high-end Mexican restaurant and one of the few in the region to specialize in Oaxacan cuisine, which is well-known for its complexity and pre-Hispanic elements.

I had these issues in mind when a friend and I visited Calavera last Saturday.

The Scene

Calavera occupies a former auto-industry showroom. The din of voices, music and clanging dinnerware in its cavernous main room made conversation difficult at times, but I suspect this was deliberate. Whereas elites of another era preferred to dine at isolated tables and interact mainly with their servers, now they seek out a more social experience. Calavera’s noise cultivates this, as does its open layout and the close proximity of its tables, all of which compel some mixing. The exposed ceilings and brick walls felt incongruous, but situated the space in Oakland’s industrial past.

The Food

The menu offers a range of Oaxacan specialties that run from the familiar to the exotic for American palates.

We ordered the guacamole verde with a side of grasshoppers. Our waitress informed us that the restaurant imports the grasshoppers from Oaxaca through a family connection of one of the owners. They showed up at our table in a porcelain bowl and tasted slightly of garlic and lime, with a trace of salt. I had never (intentionally) eaten bugs before, but these were delightful. We also had the queso flameado appetizer, a cheese dish from the Chihuahua region served in a cast-iron pan. It contains huitlacoche among its ingredients— little black beads of fungus that have been regarded as a delicacy since the Aztec Empire.

For entrees, we had the frijol con puerco (pork and beans) and three cochinita pibil tacos (with pork prepared using an ancient Mayan technique). The pork and beans platter was colorful and artfully laid out. The black bean’s creamy texture complemented the chewy meat and the red onion’s faint tang offset the pork’s saltiness. For dessert, I ordered the goat’s milk rice pudding, which was amazing. The entire meal cost $85.

The Issue:

Calavera could have helped us understand how this cuisine reaches Oakland. Oaxaca is bitterly poor and large numbers of Oaxacans survive by selling the state’s food practices to wealthy foreigners. There are scores of cooking schools, culinary tours and “authentic” eateries there, as well as a huge industry focused on exporting local gastronomic expertise and ingredients. In this sense, Oaxaca’s poverty produces its cuisine as a global commodity. Unfortunately, Calavera does not acknowledge this in its menu or decor. It could have informed us that many Oaxacans eat grasshoppers as an inexpensive source of protein because they cannot afford meat or eggs.

~ Chuck Morse
Reviews 1 - 1 of 11
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