Best Mexican

Oakland's divine Doña Tomás opens a nifty taqueria in Berkeley

Soon enough we're led to a table in a tiny shed at the back of the patio. I think the three of us order less than the two of us did last time, but we get plenty to eat, including a rich, spicy chicken soup (sopa de lima) packed with chicken that I would beg for on my sickbed, tasty salmon tacos topped with fresh mango salsa, and delicate quesadillas stuffed with local fresh ricotta, epazote (a pungent herb), and chipotle and topped with avocado salsa -- plus a side order of the miraculous corn pudding. I'm in love with the place, and I think I owe Susan a meal. I'm only sad that Doña Tomás doesn't serve lunch -- or Sunday brunch, on that lovely patio.

But then Stan calls with exciting news: He's just had Saturday brunch at Tacubaya, a taqueria that the Doña Tomás folks have recently opened on Fourth Street in Berkeley. He and his pals arrived too late for the regular breakfast menu, so they had wonderful bowls of menudo, the spicy, chile-infused pork broth filled with tender chunks of tripe and big kernels of hominy, with cilantro and lime juice.

In a weekday filled with errands and shopping, I squeeze in a too-quick lunch at Tacubaya with my father. We order at the counter and wait at one of the small wooden tables for our food while we admire the lofty space, with hot color-blocked walls in the style of architect Luis Barragán (whose own house is in Tacubaya, Mexico). It's as chic as Doña Tomás, but with a more modern, stark feel. We get tiny, freshly made tacos -- de asada, beef dabbed with salsa roja; de lengua, velvety tongue with tomatillo salsa; and al pastor, pork marinated in adobo with avocado salsa -- and a treat, a crisp little taco filled with shredded chicken and cheese, which is delivered to us by accident in lieu of the pork and left as a gift. We're surprised to see Suzanne, fresh off the plane from France, and Peter wandering in for lunch, and trade tastes of our tacos for bites of their torta al pastor, a modest-size sandwich filled with Tacubaya's excellent pork, and a good pork tamale in red sauce. "Everything was first-rate," I say to my dad, "though the portions are smaller and prices higher than at the Mission taquerias." "They don't use Niman Ranch meat or organic chicken," he points out.

Taco Time: Tacubaya is just as chic as its 
sister restaurant in Oakland -- and just as 
Anthony Pidgeon
Taco Time: Tacubaya is just as chic as its sister restaurant in Oakland -- and just as tasty.

Location Info


Doña Tomás

5004 Telegraph
Oakland, CA 94609

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Temescal


Doña Tomás

Sopa de lima $5.95

Ensalada de melón $6.75

Quesadilla $8.75

Carnitas $15.95

Pescado Veracruzano $15.25

Budín de elote $3.75


Eggs revueltos $7.25

Taco $2.95

Frijoles con todo $5.50

Doña Tomás, 5004 Telegraph (at 49th Street), Oakland, (510) 450-0522. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: noisy inside, moderate on patio.

Tacubaya, 1788 Fourth St. (at Delaware), Berkeley, (510) 525-5160. Open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. and for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: moderately difficult. Noise level: moderate.

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He also thinks that I should have paid for my friends' lunch, since I benefited from what they ordered. Maybe that's why I take each of them for a meal there in the following week. On Wednesday, Peter is pleased to learn that Tacubaya's now serving breakfast all day on Saturday and Sunday, especially after we enjoy our terrific chorizo with eggs and eggs revueltos, softly scrambled with chiles, tomatoes, green onion, and sweet nopales cactus paddles. There are six people busy in the open kitchen (one lady is making fresh tortillas), but the lone cashier is struggling to take orders andmake coffee (the special organic Mexican blend is dripped to order for each customer). At lunch a day later Suzanne and I share a delicate fried fish taco with shredded cabbage, napped with a mild chile aioli; a special crunchy, piggy, satisfying chicharrón taco; a big bowl of a robust, deeply flavored sopa de tortilla and another of frijoles con todo, a layer of sliced avocado atop whole pinto beans in a sneakily spicy broth with chiles, diced tomato, onions, and a lovely surprise of melted Oaxacan cheese lurking in its depths. It's another dish that I can't stop eating. I'm admiring the massive, witty, wrought-iron chandeliers above us, lit with old-fashioned-looking bulbs, when it suddenly hits me: If I slipped a couple of poached eggs into this bowl, that vanished Border Grill brunch dish would be back -- better than ever. I'm getting an order of frijoles con todo to go.

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