Oxtail birria taco (bottom), jerk chicken taco (left) and habanero shrimp taco (top) with a side of tortilla chips and consomé. (Alan Chazaro)
¡Hella Hungry! is a weekly conversation with Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region's culinary culture through the mouth of a first-generation local.
You won’t find any tasteless gimmicks at YumBobYum's Taco Tuesday pop-up inside Smokin Woods BBQ on Telegraph Ave. in Oakland. Instead, you’ll find a neighborhood of folks converging over daps, playful shit talking and life-giving doses of habanero shrimp.
Each week, the Black-owned barbecue joint becomes a makeshift taqueria operated by Chef Bob (real name Gibran Garcia) and his staff of helpers who feed Oaklanders plates of his Southern Creole, Jamaican and Mexican remixes.
You’ll feel jubilant while filling up on jerk chicken tacos—made with harmonizing notes of smoked spices, sweet tang and Red Stripe-marinated pollo piled over two chewy tortillas. With a full bar available, you might order a round of dark Mexican lagers and a shot of tequila to go with it.
But the real showstopper is the gumbo taco, which Garcia prepares using his family’s Creole roux recipe and includes shrimp, crab, chicken, rice and a variety of slow-simmered veggies. It's the only spot in the Bay where the magic of a gumbo pot gets strained then poured into an edible corn vessel.
That's not this chef’s only claim to fame, though. The dude offers an array of other out-the-trunk specials, including his original oxtail birria tacos with consomé (made with whole oxtails that he chops and stews for 5 hours), elote popper fritters and fried cheese quesadillas that come with your choice of protein—I recommend the vegan soyrizo to balance out the carne you’ll be sure to consume your body weight in during your stay.
If you’re unaccustomed to the combination of a grilled flour tortilla with an outer layer of crunchy double-fried cheese, the gooey warmth of additional melted cheeses inside and a dash of red salsa on top, it’s a peak nirvana I’d argue no traditional quesadilla can achieve.
With enough clout to attract regular customers from as far away as Sacramento, this really is that spot—a word-of-mouth function with a lively sports bar atmosphere, where homies gather to hold space and joy despite all of life’s stressors.
And Chef Bob is just getting started. Eventually, he plans on selling his own gumbo seasoning, as well as a homestyle carne asada rub and an all-purpose spice.
Here’s what he has to say as an underground king of the Bay Area’s gumbo game.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KQED: How did you become interested in culinary arts?
I started off cooking at home with my mom. Food is big in my family, so my mom taught me her grandmother’s recipes from Louisiana—Creole style cooking. Later, my first actual job was at Cheeseboard Pizza Collective in North Berkeley. I got fired because I was a high school kid who didn’t take it seriously; a few no shows and no calls and they kicked me out. Then, about 8 years ago, I started cooking my family’s gumbo—a two-pot gumbo—during Christmas. That was a big step for me. I was in college studying film at the time, and food was in my life but not really a serious passion yet. I worked at Raleigh’s on Telegraph [for a few years] and learned a lot. Then, I worked at Smokin Woods BBQ. During the pandemic, I wanted to make more money so that’s when I started selling plates from my house and it kicked off. I still work [at Smokin Woods] as a line cook on Wednesdays through Fridays.
Where does your name Bob (or YumBobYum) come from?
That’s just a nickname I came up with out of nowhere in high school and it stuck. People just know me as that. When I got into cooking more seriously, I added the “chef” part because I felt like I deserved it.
What inspired you to combine elements of Southern cuisine and Caribbean flavors with Mexican food here in the Bay?
I was born in Berkeley. My dad lived in Oakland. My mom’s side is Black Creole from Louisiana, where I learned how to cook. My dad’s side is Black and Filipino. My dad was actually born in the Philippines and moved here as a young kid. A lot of what I cook is what I like about the Bay’s food scene. It’s a giant melting pot. There are so many different mixtures of people from different backgrounds. You can Yelp any random country’s type of food and cuisine and find a place within a short drive of where you live. I like to do that. I always eat all types of food. Brazilian, Peruvian, Sengalese. That’s the Bay. I grew up going to taco trucks and taquerias. My dad used to live in the 40s in East Oakland, and my friend’s mom used to always make us Mexican food.
People assume [my food is] just gonna be the same Creole or Cajun twist, but it’s not just that. It’s my personal twist. I just like to make things that I enjoy eating myself. Like the oxtail, that’s Jamaican. I’ve never been to Jamaica, but I just love the food. I make things up. Anytime I debut a new menu item, it’s a great experience for me. I have a new menu item for this week, which is a chicken flauta. I usually get inspiration from elsewhere, but the flauta idea was just like, I haven’t had a flauta in hella long and we just fixed the deep fryer so I wanted to test that out. I had the ingredients and just made one from scratch on the spot. Usually what I end up doing if I have down time on my break is I’ll just make things for my coworkers or bartenders to try. I said fuck it, why not. I’ve never made a flauta.
Where do you go to find good gumbo, oxtail and birria around here?
I don’t really eat gumbo unless it’s made at home with my family. There are so many things that can go wrong, and I’m accustomed to the way we make it. Oxtail in the Bay is one of the hardest things to find, too. It’s just hard to find a place where the consistency is solid. There’s a truck by Lake Merritt that serves oxtails. I forget the name, but it’s the best I’ve had out here over the years. As far as birria, my favorite place started as a pop-up called La Santa Torta in Jack London. It’s one of the few birrias where I don’t need the consomé. I could just straight-up eat the birria by itself.
What are the struggles and challenges you’ve experienced in the Bay Area’s food industry as an independent foodmaker?
A lot of places don’t have soul anymore in the Bay. With gentrification, it’s hard to keep authentic places going. Some pop-ups will lose their space because rent went up, or because people in the area didn’t catch on quick enough and their finances didn’t last. We lose out on some good food for that reason. That sucks to see.
YumBobYum’s pop-up is every Tuesday, 5 to 10 pm at 4307 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.
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