Emeryville, CA

Emeryville's Public Market can make everyone happy

Clay Kallam

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Emeryville's Public Market looks a little different but the concept is the same.Emeryville Public Market

The East Bay’s best food court is back in high gear

For more than 30 years, the Emeryville Public Market has lurked just off Highway 80, tucked back by the railroad tracks. In its earlier incarnations, the food stalls and seating areas were somewhat funky – OK, maybe a lot funky – but there was always a wide variety of food available.

And on top of the attraction of finding Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese, Greek and barbecue all at the same place, and all at bargain prices, there’s was a Border’s book store to wander through after eating.

Well, such anachronisms as large book stores have disappeared, for the most part, and even before the pandemic, the Public Market was slowly shifting upwards on the food scale, but now the transformation is almost complete.

There’s still Mexican food, but C Casa delivers more than you’d expect from a typical taqueria. Fried chicken? Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement was ahead of the curve on this trend, and in fact, is part of the reason for its East Bay popularity.

Mama Lamee’s superb Mediterranean food caught the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, and landed on the best restaurant list, while Shiba Ramen is one my favorites (go for the White Bird). There’s top-end barbecue (Pig in a Pickle), sake and whiskey at The Periodic Table, and vegan ice cream – you won’t notice, trust me –- at Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery.

It would be unfair, though, to not mention Wazwan, the only survivor from the previous incarnation, and its Indian food has always hit the spot for me.

The big TV screen that used to draw sports fans has been replaced by TVs in the Public Bar by Blush, but the main attraction has always been good food at reasonable prices – the Public Market also offers the solution to the perplexing question “What do you feel like eating?”

“Indian sounds good.”

“I think I’m in the mood for Mexican.”

“OK, what about Peruvian? I love anticuchos.”

“No, come to think of it, I want some barbecue.”

The solution? Wazwan, C Casa, Paradita and NabiQ, all in the same place. Everybody gets their food, gathers at one of the large tables, and nobody feels like they’re eating something they didn’t really want.

There are still COVID restrictions, of course, so the Public Market isn’t quite back to “normal” yet, but that time is coming. And as the customers start to trickle back in, they remain the same multi-ethnic East Bay group they’ve always been – from families to first dates to regulars to those in search of that perfect gyro at Jayna Gyro.

If you’ve never been, of course you should go (the Powell Street off ramp, just to make it easier); but if you haven’t been back, now’s the time. Business is picking up, but the lines are short and there’s always room to sit down, inside or outside.

We’ll be back soon, so maybe we’ll see you there.

Pacific Catch jumps the gun on summer

Officially, summer doesn’t start until June 20, but the weather is slowly warming, more and more kids are out of school, and well, it just feels like summer has already kicked off.

To make it easier to get into the flow, Pacific Catch – which you can find in 11 different locations in the greater Bay Area – is adding to its family-friendly menu with some special dishes that celebrate Hawaii. (And what could be more summery than Hawaii?)

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The poke tostada tastes as good as it looks.Pacific Catch

Of course, it doesn’t hurt the mood to start with a Lilikoi Mai Tai, but after that there’s plenty of sustainable seafood options to choose from – there’s kanpachi (a tasty white fish), poke, a pupu platter and musubi (a version without Spam, in case you were wondering.)

After our latest visit (to the Walnut Creek branch), we have another restaurant to add to our favorites’ list – but there are so many favorites, and so little time.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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