By Richard Eber
With the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions permitting more indoor dining, (the county’s equivalent of removing restaurants off ventilators), many local restaurants are gasping for support. The places that survive will depend on location, keeping their overhead down, and most importantly, offer high quality cuisine.
Virtually every eatery I have reviewed these past few years offers at least one signature or outstanding dish that separates them from their competitors. Here are a few of my more memorable delicious dining experiences in and around Concord.
Casa Orinda – When it comes to fried chicken, there is little controversy that Casa Orinda offers the most “finger lickin’” product on planet earth.
That might be because the recipe they use came from their flour and spice s
alesman, Harlan Sanders (the Colonel)prior to him returning to Kentucky to start his own restaurant, which eventually blossomed into Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
Casa Orinda, which began its operations in 1932 to feed workers building the original Caldecott Tunnel, has combined the Colonel’s seasonings along with prime Fulton Ranch chickens to serve some 23,000 orders including mashed potatoes, fresh veggies, and a homemade biscuit each year. Who would have guessed that local fried chicken would have such a significant historical legacy here?
Lima – John Marquez, owner/chef at Lima at Todos Santos, offers a unique style of chicken specialty. Using a marinade of Aji Amarillo peppers, cumin, and assorted spices, he roasts the bird to perfection. Even though his Arroz con Mariscos seafood paella with grilled prawns, octopus, mussels, and calamari, is difficult to pass up, I go back to his roast chicken at every opportunity. This place is a Peruvian dining wonderland.
Luna – Lima’s neighbor Luna, a block away on Mt. Diablo, is another elegant favorite by any standard. Its owner/chef, Habib El Jacifi, toils in the kitchen each day producing his native Moroccan spin on Italian food from Veal Marsala to their pan seared Salmon Modomino, to an array of pasta options.
My favorite is Habib’s béchamel sauce that pairs with his Mediterranean version of lasagna. His rich tomato sauce is infused with fresh cream covering the pasta with a rich flavor that begs for French bread to soak up the dish’s complex flavors.
Kobe Japan – Venture into Pleasant Hill’s Oak Park Blvd. to partake in the excellence of Kobe Japan. Offering an exquisite sushi bar, seven entertaining teppanyaki-style cooking tables, and a main dining room, Kobe Japan is arguably the best Japanese Restaurant in the area.
For lunch, I usually order their beef teriyaki with my Bento Box selection. While many Japanese restaurants use pot roast or less costly cuts of meat, Kobe Japan serves supreme premium beef from Snake River Farms, including an exquisite New York Steak (medium rare for me). If one prefers a more American direction, the Kobe beef burger is the best of any I have ever tried.
Wences – Right next door to Kobe Japan, Wences features an extensive menu of primarily seafood selections. Their Chilean sea bass is wonderful as are their shellfish selections. Owner/Chef Gerardo Wence is best known for his Adult macaroni and cheese which is cooked in an individual cast iron terrine finished with truffle oil and Japanese Panko breadcrumbs. Yum!
Korean BBQ Plus – One of my favorite Asian food places is Korean BBQ Plus in the strip mall at Reganti and Monument in Concord. Although I have sampled almost their entire menu, it is difficult to not order their short rib steak marinated in garlic, soy sauce, sesame, and ginger.
Naan ‘n’ Curry – An eatery does not need to be high-end to be on this list. Naan “n” Curry on Salvio St. in Downtown Concord is a moderately priced eatery with several types of curry dishes to suit all tastes. There is nothing better than one of their lamb shanks and spinach accompanied by their Naan bread to savor all the Indian flavors.
Pizza – When it comes to finding the best pizza in town, I deliberate between several locales depending on my mood and physical location at the time.
For pure Italian taste, Chef Claudio’s 54 Mint on Locust in Walnut Creek is hard to beat. Their Roman style prosciutto and porcini mushroom combo with their avocado salad on the side brings ecstasy to my pallet.
Clayton’s Freewheel’s takeout-only pizza is a foodie’s paradise. I am a fan of the Figgy Piggy with Char Sui Bacon, Fig Jam, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Arugula, and Grated Manchego finished with a Balsamic Drizzle.
For a more traditional pizza, Rocco’s Pizzeria on Ygnacio Valley Rd. and Oak Grove Rd. offers their popular Meat Lovers with thick and abundant pepperoni, salami, ham and Linguica sausage. Throw in one of their Caesar salads with extra anchovies and we have a date!
I encourage you to go enjoy some of your local favorites dishes and help give our restaurants a boost they need towards recovery.