Concord, CA

Park & Shop? No, park and eat

Clay Kallam

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A hot pot full of goodiesClay Kallam

So we wanted to try Tasty Pot, a San Jose-based chain that offers bowls of steaming hot broth filled with pretty much whatever you want – beef, lamb, veggies, stinky tofu and so on – plus appetizers and sides.

The only issue was that it was Friday night, and Tasty Pot doesn’t take reservations. We’re not fond of waiting around (we get cranky when we’re hungry) so that might have been an issue, except for one thing. The Tasty Pot we were heading for was in Concord’s Park & Shop, a venerable strip mall on Willow Pass Road, and if nothing else, you can find plenty to eat at Park & Shop.

There’s Lulu’s Kitchen, Spicy Joi Banh Mi, Brasos do Brazil, Taqueria La Soledad, Taqueria Los Gallos, Saigon Bistro, Shan Shan Low, Uji Time and something else that probably opened yesterday. In short, there are so many to choose from that there would never be a reason to stand in line.

I’d like to be able to give you a rundown on more of these restaurants, but we’ve only been to a few – but what’s important is that none have ever disappointed. Of course, if you’re looking for ambiance, you’re in the wrong place, as the name of the mall would suggest. There’s no attempt at upscale in the name “Park & Shop,” and the long narrow parking lot fronts on a long sidewalk with stores and restaurants side by side. (Sometimes, in fact, you’re not quite sure which door goes to which business.)

But if you’re looking for a hearty helping of tasty food, you’re definitely in the right place. Tasty Pot, for example, features heaping bowls of meat, veggies and some unidentifiable morsels that come to your table with a heat source underneath. (And I have to point out that there’s plenty of heat in the spices as well – I went for “medium” and let’s just say my sinuses were quickly cleared.)

We got a side of dumplings, which have to be dumped into the broth to cook, and the free noodles also have to be crammed into the very full bowl for a few minutes to soften. Beer and soju were available, but no wine or hard liquor, and there were no menus, just a QR code and a link to a website to fill out the order.

And after the meal – a bargain given the flavor and the serving size – the urge for sweets could be filled right next door at Uji Time, with ice cream, milk tea, milkshakes and plenty of Asian options. Oh, and the parking was free and easy to find, making the whole experience smooth, filling and well, tasty.

Back in the day, the Park & Shop options tilted more towards taquerias and burgers, but it’s hard to argue with the shifting emphasis towards Asian food. Korean barbecue is not like Vietnamese food, which is different than Japanese food, which is nothing like Tasty Pot. And of course, the taquerias are still there and if all you want is meat, the Brazilian steak house where Mimi’s used to be will satisfy that protein craving.

Granted, there are no bars or brewpubs, but remember, Todos Santos Plaza is just a few blocks away, with the Parkside Bar & Grill, Hop Grenade and E.J. Phair. Of course, there are restaurants there too, just as there are in The Veranda and The Willows, but there’s something about Park & Shop that sets it apart. There’s no pretension on Willow Pass Road, no attitude, no attempt to do anything but serve a good meal at a decent price and send the customers home happy.

And you know, that’s really all you need.

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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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