Walnut Creek Takes Its Place on the Bay Area Culinary Map
Note: This piece originally appeared in 7×7.
As the exodus from San Francisco’s soaring cost of living continues, talented restaurant staff and the Millennials and others who like to eat their food are increasingly decamping to the East Bay. It’s a moment in Bay Area history that has propped up Oakland as the next SF—especially where the food scene is concerned.
But now, as even Oakland is getting too big for its breeches, the deep East Bay is answering the need for urban pleasures at more affordable prices, and once-forgotten suburbs are beginning to tap their fingers on the shoulders of urbanites as if to say, “Hey, we’re still here, and we’re actually kind of cool.”
Witness Walnut Creek, the East Bay ‘burb that, you know, is really quite charming. Long a designated territory of Baby Boomer ilk—a nice place to raise a family, but not a hang-worthy destination for city folk—Walnut Creek has lately been nudging its way onto the Bay Area culinary map with a host of new restaurants, some quite beautifully designed, that claim top chefs and mixologists on the nightly billing.
Here are some Walnut Creek restaurants that are well worth the half-hour trip East.
In the mood for Peruvian food? Lucky for us, chef Carlos Altamirano—proprietor of SF’s Piqueos and Mochica and Half Moon Bay’s La Costanera—got the memo that Walnut Creek is where it’s at.
Named for a famous market in Lima, Peru, Parada is approachable and family-friendly as befits its suburban address, but the restaurant packs all the style we’d expect from a restaurant in SF or Oakland. Designed by Berkeley-based Abueg Morris Architects (Comal, Nopalito, Bun Mee), Parada has a modern-industrial vibe with pops of color and playful art works above the kitchen.
The emphasis here is on new Peruvian fare—traditional recipes made with fresh, seasonal bounty and a few Americanized offerings, such as Mac-n-Cheese with a spicy bacon twist. Dine on anticuchos, cebiches, chicharrones, and bocaditos; traditional Peruvian entrees such as Aji de Gallina Arroz con Pollo or Lomo Saltado; and, for dessert, airy-crispy, churros or silky flan.
Like any culinary hot spot worth its sea salt, Parada has sexy signature cocktails on offer too. Pop in for happy hour to sip South American Pisco and nosh family-style courses with friends.
Address: 7001 Sunne Ln. (Walnut Creek), paradakitchen.com
A Slanted Door chef in Walnut Creek? Hold the phone!
That’s right, Rooftop chef Justine Kelly hails from everybody’s favorite waterfront mecca to Vietnamese cuisine—she’s also the executive chef at Sun Basket, the best meal delivery service we’ve tasted yet—and now she’s teaming with Walnut Creek restaurateur Jim Telford (Residual Sugar, Merchant) on a restaurant that promises the holy trinity of Bay Area dining: upscale food, craft cocktails, and pretty views.
As Rooftop’s name suggests, the space was designed for an indoor-outdoor atmosphere, with a retractable roof, water features, and a vista to Mount Diablo—making it a worthy destination to take friends and family from out of town. Meanwhile in the kitchen, Kelly crafts an innovative menu driven by ingredients that meld flavors of the Middle East, Europe, and America.
The wine list is extensive with two-dozen offerings by the glass, and the cocktail menu was designed by Tamir Ben-Shalom, bar guru at Port Costa’s acclaimed Bull Valley Roadhouse. Drink up house-made concoctions with aromatics from the lush living wall and a creative use of exotic spices.
Address: 1500 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Ste. 300 (Walnut Creek), rooftopwc.com
The make-or-break of a sushi restaurant is where it gets its fish, and sushi aficionados who pay attention to where their food is sourced know that Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market has the good stuff. Sasa, a relaxed izakaya crafts its sushi, sashimi, and small plates from the fresh catches of Tsukiji and the Honolulu Fish Auction.
Ironically located in a century-old former meat market, Sasa greets guests with a waterfall and a warm vibe. The service is fast and the food is consistently excellent, thanks to chef/owner Philip Yang, who plays with modern eclectic fare in addition to traditional Japanese recipes.
Sushi without sake would be a sin, and there’s a large selection from which to choose. Sample sake flights, signature drinks, or order from the thoughtfully composed wine list.
Address: 1432 N. Main St. (Walnut Creek), sasawc.com
In the space right below Rooftop, Telefèric is the Walnut Creek outpost of a true Barcelona original, serving authentic Spanish cuisine lovingly prepared by the Padrosa family. Go and celebrate Basque country every day with delicious pintxos and tapas from the restaurant’s signature appetizer cart.
If you’re wondering about the toy gondolas that glide around the dining room overhead, Telefèric is Spanish for gondola, and it’s a touch that sets the tone for fun and whimsy. Add to this an open kitchen, large communal tables, a bar, and patio, and Telefèric is prime for parties.
The cocktail program is robust and inventive, with a massive nod to the G & T craze currently sweeping Spain.
Address: 1500 Mount Diablo Blvd. (Walnut Creek), telefericbarcelona.com
Walnut Creek Yacht Club
A longtime anchor of the Walnut Creek food scene, Walnut Creek Yacht Club (WCYC) has been a local favorite since it opened in 1997 thanks to proprietors Ellen McCarty and Kevin Weinberg, who were determined to serve super-fresh, sustainable seafood to landlocked suburban diners.
No one would be surprised to find a nautical theme here, and the smooth mahogany bar, navy upholstered banquettes, and stainless steel accents don’t disappoint. The food, however, is dead serious—WCYC has been touted by the local press and recommended by Michelin Guide for a decade. The seafood, supplied by Napa-based Osprey Seafood, is never frozen or manipulated in any way, and all other meats and produce are sourced from trusted, multigenerational, and usually organic farmers.
Sailors like their hooch, and WCYC delivers: The award-winning wine list is hand-selected by McCarty herself, and the bar is stocked with artisanal, small-batch spirits—don’t miss the stash of of top-quality rums.
Address: 1555 Bonanza St. (Walnut Creek), wcyc.net
City denizens can have their fancy vegan, organic, artisanal donuts. The rest of the world knows that Dunkin’ Donuts is the sugary stuff of real America. The iconic East Coast chain had closed all its 15 California stores by 2000, leaving West Coast donut lovers bereft with grief. Enter their new hero: Matt Cobo.
Determined to bring back the glistening glory of America’s favorite obsession, coffee and donuts, Cobo opened a Dunkin’ franchise in Walnut Creek to a crowd of, let’s be honest, junkies who lined up to get their fix at 2am on opening day. It was a powerful validation that, despite the plethora of artisan coffee and sweets that currently floods our market, customers still long for throwback pricing and taste of nostalgia.
Cobo is betting big on this emotional connection—he plans to open a dozen more locations throughout the Bay Area.
Address: 1250 Newell Ave., Ste. K (Walnut Creek), dunkindonuts.com
This neighborhood creamery is truly obsessed with quality. Run by Deb Phillips, a chef who learned the ropes the old-school way—she learned from her mom who learned from her mom, who’s name was Lottie, naturally. Lottie’s Creamery is the manifestation of Phillips’ childhood dream.
In Lottie’s commercial kitchen, this sweet little business gets down to business when it comes to making things from scratch. Everything—waffle cones, cookies, candy, cakes, and ice cream, of course—is made in house with seasonal ingredients. It’s all to die for—rich, creamy, and infinitely scrumptious, made in small batches to guarantee goodness. Perfectionism pays.
Address: 1414 N Main St. (Walnut Creek), lottiescreamery.com