Chef Gloria Dominguez was nearly set to sign a lease for a restaurant space in Tucson, AZ in 2005 when her architect son Alfonso called to stop her. He had found the perfect place in Old Oakland, a Victorian with soaring ceilings and immense possibility. No matter if the neighborhood was rather a ghost town back then with empty storefronts all around, Gloria and Alfonso believed in it.
They put their heart and soul into creating Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana. They transformed the space into a vibrant oasis with a pressed tin ceiling, vivid canvasses, and artsy white-washed wood chairs that Alfonso made himself. He created what’s thought to be the first Mezcal-focused bar in the area, serving up inventive cocktails to be enjoyed as old black and white Mexican movies projected on one of the walls of the lounge. Gloria attracted crowds, including the coaches and players of the Golden State Warriors, for her authentic chiles en nogada and chicken mole.
But now after 14 years, they plan to close the restaurant, following notice from their landlord that their rent was not only going to increase, but that they were limited to a two-year lease.
The restaurant’s last dinner service will be Nov. 30. After that, the restaurant will be available for private bookings through the end of December. The bar will be open during limited hours, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until the end of the year. And a special mezcal and tequila tasting on Dec. 8. Tickets are $55 each.
I had a chance to get to know Gloria when I profiled her in my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1). Last week, I had a chance to talk to her about the restaurant’s impending closure and what the future holds.
Q: How hard of a decision was this to make?
A: Very, very difficult. Every day, I couldn’t sleep. It really hurt my son, too. There are so many beautiful memories here – all the graduations, proposals, bridal showers and weddings that were celebrated. People have been coming by with tears in their eyes and choking up.
Sometimes I think that things happen for a reason, though. I think better things will come along. Some investors who are doing projects in San Francisco and Walnut Creek have already approached us. We haven’t made any decisions. We’ll just see how it goes. We don’t want to rush into things.
Q: You still have your other restaurant in Antioch?
A: Yes, Taqueria Salsa, which we opened in 1988, which is much more casual. When we first opened, it was going to be everything with masa – like gorditas and sopes. But then we started selling burritos for the students and the Kaiser employees. Everyone always wants burritos. They are the Mexican burger. (laughs)
Q: When Tamarindo closes, what will you do with your time?
A: I’m going to cook every day at home. That’s what I do every Sunday – I cook at home. I will do some private chef events and some consulting, and I want to do a cookbook with my family’s recipes from Jalisco.
Q: What was the hardest part about running the restaurant?
A: For me, it was missing a lot of family time together. I was here 24-7. A restaurant is like a baby; you have to take care of it. I made a point not to open on Sundays. That’s family day. My employees are having a hard time finding another job that gives them Sundays off like that to be with family.
Q: What was the best part about having Tamarindo?
A: Being able to transport my flavors to palates that had never had them before. It made me happy to see people happy. This restaurant made me feel like I was at home. It felt like I was in Mexico.
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: Being able to work with my son and all the support he has given. I love seeing his passion. It was a blessing to be able to continue my culture with him and through the food here. Working side by side with him has just been the best.
Q: What will it be like when you have to lock the doors here for the last time?
A: I’ll probably give my employees a farewell party. That’s when I’ll start crying. Right now, it just hasn’t hit me yet.
For a taste of Gloria Dominguez’s soulful cuisine: Check out her recipes for “Shrimp Aguachile’’ and “Carne en su Jugo’’ in my “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1).