Oakland’s Tamarindo Antojeria To Close After 14 Years of Regional Mexican Dining
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After 14 years in a sunlit corner of Old Oakland, Tamarindo Antojeria is closing its doors at the end of next month. Chef Gloria Dominguez, who owns the restaurant with her son Alfonso Dominguez, has been serving up antojitos and larger plates from across Mexico’s diverse culinary regions since 2005.
On the Instagram post announcing their closing, fans of the family-run restaurant recalled the meals and celebrations they’ve had at Tamarindo over the years shouting out their favorites from the eatery’s menus.
On the phone on Wednesday afternoon, Alfonso tells me that his family has mulled over this decision for the past year knowing their lease would be up at the end of 2019. “15 years is a big chunk of time to do whatever you're doing,” Dominguez says. In Oakland, where real estate prices have skyrocketed over the past decade, it’s a common sight to see restaurant closures coincide with lease terms.
In 2005, Tamarindo was one of the few restaurants that warmed up the Oakland restaurant scene along with Luka’s Taproom and Pizzaiolo both of which opened around the same time. “It was a risk,” Dominguez says. “No one believed in Oakland at that time. No one. Especially downtown.”
Beyond that risk, there was also his mother’s vision to serve authentic dishes from all over Mexico plated as small bites, an uncommon proposition for diners back then. “At that time, [no] one knew what mezcal was. No one knew what a lot of the dishes were,” he recalls. “No one even knew what antojeria meant. We were probably one of the first to introduce that word [here].”
But Gloria, a self-taught chef, continued to serve up Cochinita Pibil, a Yucatan speciality, and mulitas just like they’re made in Tijuana. “What we kept true is the true recipes from Mexico. It wasn't a take of a classically trained chef doing Mexican food. It wasn't California food.”
“For years, my Michael Bauer was the abuelita. I didn't care about any food critics at all because our success was seeing a grandma or seeing two generations sit down and eating.”
Over the course of their run, Dominguez says the margins for running a restaurant have gotten very small. “I have no more margins,” he says frankly.
Beyond that, he describes the work as taxing not just financially but morally. “I should be paying 30 dollars an hour for people who do tamale work and I can't do it because it's economically impossible. For them to have to work three or four jobs, it's taxing on one's morals.”
With the last day of service coming up on November 30, Tamarindo will close out the year with mezcal tastings and parties serving up less common tacos and other foods that their diners have finally caught up to.
“We're going to be doing events all of December and have fun and use the space other than service. We might even do a quinceanera because we're 15,” says Dominguez.