Emeryville's Public Market has been around since the late 1980s, but a few years ago the market announced a major renovation and upgrade project. While it's best known for the dining hall, the new project will include a grocery store from New Seasons Market, a number of retail shops, housing, and an overhaul to that popular food court taking it in the trendy fast-casual direction.
What is fast casual? It's hard to exactly put a finger on. Think of it as fast food, but fancier. It's a concept that promotes its chefs, ingredients, higher-quality food, but all within a low-key, bus your own dishes, set-up. It may be so hard to exactly define because fast-casual can basically describe a huge majority of restaurants now.
The next big national trend seems to be bringing all those former food trucks and fast-casual stalls into one higher-end location. Not so much a food court, but a dining hall — which tends to focus on local or artisan purveyors and shy away from the old conceptions of cheap and tacky mall food courts.
As planned, the newly refreshed Public Market in Emeryville falls solidly in that space. There have been some delays in the multi-phase construction and a number of vendors have said they're struggling with business while parking remains a bit of a disaster. Ultimately, though, the plan will have nearly 20 stalls representing a range of international food and drink, with skylights, large communal tables in addition to individualized seating, and living walls and greenery.
Already, a number of new exciting spots (outlined below) have opened this year in the market. And Michelin Bib Gourmand award-winner C CASA has said it will open in January and Public Bar is expected later this fall. If you're looking for a lunch that's a step up from boring or a quick dinner before shopping nearby, then the Public Market is still a go-to spot. For the full experience, we went for lunch, struggled with parking, tried a number of items from different stalls, and enjoyed snacking and drinking in the communal space. Here's the standouts and a guide to everything you can eat there.
Fish Face Poke Bar
With two locations in Sacramento, Fish Face Poke Bar opened its first Bay Area spot last month in the Emeryville market, as part of the poke craze sweeping the Bay Area. Chef Billy Ngo is also the owner of Kru, a contemporary Japanese restaurant in Sacramento.
For anyone who's had a poke bowl before, the Fish Face counter will look very familiar: pick your size, your protein (I went with octopus and salmon, since they were out of tuna), pick your sauce, and pick your toppings (I chose ponzu sauce with avocado, cucumber and masago). Unlike most poke spots, though, Fish Face doesn't pack its bowls — $8.50 for a small, $16.50 for a large — with toppings; those are all extra. The standard bowl, before your toppings, comes with green onions, seaweed, and sesame seeds. The bowl doesn't come with a base layer of rice either — also extra money.
While the poke bowls are the main attraction, there are also hand rolls and sides like seaweed and kimchi. Or choose the chef's choice chirashi, a bowl of sushi rice with a mix of sauces, raw and cooked seafood, and toppings — chef's choice. Beers and sake are on tap.
Unlike the standard out-of-the-box poke popping up all over the Bay, Fish Face isn't simply filled with imitation crab or cheap seafood covered up by too many toppings. The focus is on the fish, primarily sourced locally and sustainably, done up in a more traditional Hawaiian poke style. A word of warning, though: with that kind of focus, it can take a while for them to make what seems like a simple bowl. And the spot can be busy at lunch; popular items sell out.
Originally a popular food truck, this twist on Korean-Japanese opened its second brick-and-mortar location in the Public Market in 2015. (KoJa is a mash-up of "Korean" and "Japanese.") The signature burger is also called the KoJa — the original comes with Korean BBQ ribs in their special sauce between garlic rice buns.
There are countless lunch items on the menu: BBQ, braised pork, and even soy/mushroom KoJa burgers ($6.50-$9.75); bowls full of that same unique BBQ, braised pork, and tuna ($7-$12); and additional tacos and salads. Add a fried egg to the top of anything. There's also a house-made strawberry-mango-mint lemonade. But what I really wanted to try was the famous fries. We've written before about the kamikaze fries, but I ordered the umami version. It's a pile of delicious and filling braised pork, special sauce, garlic aioli, masago, and fried onions. I know people might order the fries on the side, but they require a fork and could serve as a small lunch all on their own. The only downside is that you might need to balance out all the intense flavors. KoJa is also primarily a lunch location, so keep in mind it might be closed by the time you show up for dinner.
The Periodic Table & Shiba Ramen
Serving up ramen for almost two years now, Shiba Ramen has become a destination in the East Bay — and one we've covered before. Now, the husband-wife team Jake Freed and Hiroko Nakamura have opened The Periodic Table next door as part of an effort to bring a taproom and sake bar to the area. It's their effort to show the Bay Area Japanese drinking culture and to complement what they've done with ramen. The whole place is also done up with a simple, modern chemistry theme, since the duo were PhD chemistry students when they met.
The Periodic Table features a rotating line-up of local taps, of which I tried the Triple Voodoo Inception Belgian Golden, which was light and refreshing. The primary focus, though, is on Japanese spirits, cocktails, and sake. One of the signature drinks is the Bloody Mariko, a take on the Bloody Mary with shochu and wasabi ($10). I'm not a huge Bloody Mary fan, but it's smooth with a nice bite. The sake menu is also long and detailed.
In addition, there's a simple bar menu, with some bites from Shiba next door, like the TPT Burger with yuzu kosho mayo and shiso, griddled onions ($11), Shiba wings ($7.50 for six pieces, $13 for twelve pieces), chashu pies stuffed with miso pork chashu ($4) and, of course, ramen ($10.50 – $13.50). While you can't bring food from other restaurants into the bar, you can take your drinks out into the common market seating — which may ultimately hurt the draw of sitting inside the sleek space. Though, if the market starts to attract more of a dinner crowd, then the combo of Shiba and Periodic Table will be a draw.
Chef Carlos Altamirano may have just opened another restaurant, Barranco Cocina Peruana in Lafayette, but his Peruvian empire first expanded earlier this year with Paradita's opening in Emeryville. Altamirano also owns Mochica in Potrero Hill, Piqueos in Bernal Heights, La Costanera in Montara, the Sanguchon food trucks, and Parada in Walnut Creek — which Paradita's name is a play off of.
As opposed to his more upscale restaurants, Paradita is the fast-casual version: primarily lunch items, roast chickens, and stews. While the menu varies somewhat, there are sandwiches like the Pan con Chicharron ($9.75), and bowls of rice, meat, and vegetables, like the Aji de Gallina stewed chicken ($12.75). You can also get skewers and empanadas, and pisco sours to drink. Everything in this casual concept comes in paper or compostable containers.
We ate the pollo a la brasa (half $13.50; whole $23.50). The Peruvian rotisserie chicken specialty of the place comes with fries, which you can upgrade to the tastier Yucca fries. The chicken is covered in a spice mix and roasted until the skin is crispy. There are also two sauces for dipping on the side — a huancaína or a chimichurri. While the chicken is tender and juicy, it needs the sauces to really add flavor.
The place, itself, is bigger than most of the other restaurants in the market hall. With secluded tables and bar seats, along with spots outside and its own colorful entrance, Paradita feels more like a mini-lunch spot than part of a larger food court. But it still has the perks of extra options right around the corner.
The rest of the market is largely a mix of things coming soon and those that have been in place for a year or two. In the middle are large dining tables, bar tables, and smaller tables for couples or groups. But just because it's all still under construction and parking can be confusing doesn't mean there aren't lots of great places to eat inside. Along with a Peet's Coffee, here are the rest of the dining options in the market.
With two locations in Sacramento and Davis, this is Hot Italian's first Bay Area restaurant serving up what they call 'new Italian.' But you'll recognize some old classics: paninis, calzones, salads, salumi. It's really about the pizza, though. Zoning rules wouldn't allow a wood-burning oven, so it's all electric here, but they've still attracted a following with fresh ingredients, unique combinations, and dishes named for famous Italians.
Mayo & Mustard
Originally a food truck, Mayo & Mustard's sandwiches have loyal fans. Make your own or choose one of their specials, like the tri tip w/ BBQ and horseradish on a Dutch crunch roll. With fresh bread and ingredients, the shop can close down when they run out and hours are sometimes sporadic depending on staffing and capacity. Think of this as a small but delicious operation.
Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery
There's a reason Mr. Dewie's was included in our guide to East Bay ice cream. The cashew-based ice cream is dairy-free, additive-free, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and organic. It's also good. Try the classic roasted cashew or the one of their other 15 regular flavors. There are also ice cream cookie sandwiches, bon bons, and fudge toppings.
When the much-anticipated Cambodian noodle spot opened in February, we ran a review on its second day of business. Owner Nite Yun's goal then and now is to bring kuy teav, Cambodian noodle soup, to the Bay Area. The rice or egg noodles and rich broth are topped with things like sliced and ground pork, braised beef, bok choy, garlic, scallions, and bean sprouts.
Oui Oui! Macaron
Although its original Daly City location has closed, Oui Oui!'s Emeryville shop is still going strong with chef Cat Li at the helm. It took her years to perfect her recipe for the perfect truly French macaron: a crispy shell with rich fillings. Across from Mr. Dewie's, in the corner, are macarons of all flavors — salted caramel, raspberry, cookie butter, green tea, guava. It's $11 for a half-dozen.
Wazwan Indian Cuisine
Although Wazwan might look new, the family Indian restaurant has actually been in the market since the space originally opened in 1987. In fact, it's the only stall to have survived the decades and changes. The main difference is this most recent renovation brought new individual steam pots each with the day's specials (instead of the old steam table set-up). With a large vegetarian menu, there are also chicken daily specials, curry, naan, samosas, and tandoori.
When Thomas Wu decided to open his own place, We Sushi became the first food truck in the Bay Area serving fresh sushi — which included regular stops at the Emeryville Public Market's Off the Grid back in the day. It's brick-and-mortar now offers more than the truck, like its popular lobster crunch roll, bowls, bento boxes, and sushi burritos.