Appearances aren’t everything. Take The Black Bean, for example. Housed in a former Chinese restaurant on Atwood Street in Oakland, it’s the epitome of barely renovated. The long bar that is the major visual focus for the main room lacks any stock or lighting. The cooler of 20 oz. sodas on the left of the bar seems completely out of place, as does the water cooler and plastic cups for self-serve. There’s a little side room of tables. The bathrooms are in the basement. Even some vibrant paintings on the wall don’t quite make up for the restaurant’s lack of atmosphere. It feels like a take-out spot.
And it is, certainly. The price range for appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and entrees are on par with other takeout options, and in a neighborhood like Oakland, a restaurant could make a considerable sum on pick up orders alone. Still, for a place still putting the operation together – for example, as of my visit, their liquor license hadn’t come through yet, thus the empty bar – there’s a kind of low-key charm in the unfinished details.
When I came in, The Black Bean was empty. The friendly girl at the bar gave me two menus, told me to sit anywhere, and that I needed to order at the bar when I was ready. Pretty straightforward, no fuss, no frills.
Posted in Dining Out, Dinnertime!, Food
Tagged atwood street, bean, cuban, dining, dining in oakland, dinner, empanada, food, fried yuca, lunch, maduros, oakland, oakland restaurants, pork, pulled pork, Restaurant, review, salad, sandwiches, take out, the black bean, wrap, yuca
It’s Lenten time once again! I don’t know what this time of year is like in other cities, but in Pittsburgh, even if you’re not remotely religious, you’re bound to notice when Lent comes around. All of a sudden fish is available in every size and preparation, from church-held Friday night fish fries to fish and mac’n’cheese specials at nearly every bar and restaurant in the area.
One of my most frequented Mexican restaurants, Cocina Mendoza, is serving up my favorite of the Friday fish specials: Fish tacos. I didn’t have the chance to try the tacos last Spring, but struck by a need to get in on the fish fun this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, I wandered over to the restaurant on my lunch break and grabbed a lunch special to-go.
Cocina Mendoza is tucked away inconspicuously in the Mt. Lebanon Shops. It’s not my favorite place to grab a taco – that would be Las Palmas in Brookline – but it’s still pretty terrific: fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine at decent prices for good portions. I’ve mostly taken advantage of the lunch specials, which for five or six dollars a piece resemble a full dinner portion more than a light lunch option. As I have trying in the last few months to a) save money and b) eat healthier and lighter options for lunch and dinner, I’ve not walked down to the restaurant nearly as much.
I’m glad I did this past Friday. The tacos were delicious. They were two flour tortillas wrapped around several thick slices of fish that were dressed by a fresh salsa. The whitefish was lightly floured and seasoned and fried, a thin, crisp skin giving it prominence even as it was buried under a mound of Pico de Gallo. The bite of the tomato and onion against the mildness of the fish was refreshing, as was the lack of heavier additions, such as cheese or jalapeno or beans. A completely satisfying meal, but far lighter than any of the other lunch options at Cocina Mendoza.
Like many fish specials, it was the sort of thing I wished was around all year. Then again, I suppose I’d take it for granted eventually, when the novelty and anticipation wore off completely. Better to have it contained to just this time of year, when I can look forward to that special every Friday, making this March and April trudge toward a reluctant Spring a little more joyful.
Posted in Dining Out, Food, Lunchtime!
Tagged castle shannon, cocina mendoza, dining, fish, fish tacos, food, friday fish special, fried fish, lent, local, lunch, lunch specials, mexican, mexican restaurant, mt. lebanon, ordering out, pico de gallo, pittsburgh, south hills, taco, tacos, take out, whitefish