Across the street from a high school and not far from the zoo, Ol’ Yeller Cafe & Market is in the right location to get traffic and be noticed by thousands of people every day. As it is open 7 days a week from 7 am to 7 pm, the restaurant is a hub of good, fresh food and a welcoming neighborhood vibe. Beautiful student artwork adorns the walls, celebrating the most important members of the community, the youth. There is even a “Recess Menu” on weekdays from 2-5 pm with kid and adolescent favorites, but we were here on a Sunday morning looking for a fresh and filling breakfast.
The Mexican hot chocolate arrived at the perfect temperature, so August could immediately enjoy it without ruining her ability to taste anything the rest of the day. Mildly sweet, as it should be, the bitter chocolate and cinnamon drink was very tasty.
We shared a traditional breakfast sandwich with all kinds of choices. Two eggs any style, choice of meat, choice of cheese, and mayonnaise come together with your choice of bread. So much to choose! We got the eggs scrambled, with Canadian bacon, American cheese, on a soft roll, with extra (regular) bacon. The eggs were fluffy and the mayonnaise helped give a bit of creamy richness. A thick slice of American cheese melted over smoky, lean, and crispy bacon. The sandwich was perfectly and proportionately layered, and very rich.
One of the specials today was chimichangas, deep fried burritos that are popular in Tex-Mex cuisine, the Southwestern US, and two coastal Mexican states, Sinaloa and Sonora. The chef came out to us to talk about the process of making his beef with “the tender part of chuck roast” (but sorry, we promised not to share his secrets!). With gooey cheese and a crispy flour tortilla, each bite had a myriad of textures and greasy was not one of them. The traditional sides of salsa, guacamole, and sour cream came with it, and like the chimichangas, the salsa and guacamole were house-made. It is that kind of attention to detail, even in making condiments, that makes diners return.
When there is warmer weather, we’ll have to come back to enjoy a meal on the big patio. Likely we’ll make a day of it, going to the zoo first and then, with our ticket stubs, we can get 20% off the tab at Ol Yeller. They’ve only been open since 2012, but they’re working hard to establish themselves in the community by doing things like promoting and supporting local bakers and farmers. Freshness is key, since they “freeze only for emergencies.” We’re happy to have found them here in Oakland, and we like supporting restaurants that support their neighborhood.
Anyone can make a sandwich, but not everyone can cook their own meats. The Lunch Box is a wondrous find because the quality of the meat is impressive, and the freshness of the produce, breads, and, well, everything, matches. It is like most deli/sandwich shops in its layout: order at a counter, and either sit at a tinier counter or take your food to go. But what keeps a steady flow of customers in the small establishment is the consistency in uber-friendly customer service, speed, and the finest ingredients made and used by expert hands.
To minimize water and energy waste, foods are packaged in biodegradable or recyclable materials. Whether you choose to stay or go with your food, it will remain piping fresh until you open it, be it sandwich, soup, salad, wrap, or hot plate.
The gumbo soup had a base of a rich and mildly spicy chicken broth, slightly thickened from the okra (the origin of the name of the dish; gumbo is derived from the Bantu word for okra). The chicken was tender and juicy, and the plentiful vegetables were still somewhat crisp and not at all overcooked or mushy. Green pepper is one of our least favorite ingredients, but its use in this soup didn’t phase us in the least and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.
On one of the softest french rolls we’ve tried with a thin crispy, crunchy exterior and soft, chewy inside, came the fork-tender baked ham sandwich. We got it with all the fixings: choice of cheese, mayonnaise, zippy brown mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and choice of homemade tapenade. Zach always loves a good ham and Swiss, so that was the choice of cheese. The tapenades included olive & garlic, sweet pepper, and jalapeño carrot. It was tough choosing among those, but he went with olive & garlic. He was a little apprehensive that it would overpower the delicate, smoky, delicious oven-baked ham, but the balance was perfect.
Mexican sodas are making their way into the most unexpected places. This is due in part to increasing awareness of the issues of hyper-processed ingredients, therefore natural sugar sodas instead of American versions with high-fructose corn syrup are being sought out and embraced. The Mexican Pepsi, not yet as popular as Mexican Coca Cola, was refreshing with the classic Rueben on soft marbled rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, creamy and tangy thousand island, and the shop’s own corned beef. The meat was extremely tender, so much that we could bite right through without having to tear away.
And there’s the Mexican Coca Cola, sabroso and great for washing down this giant hot plate. For about $8, you get thick, moist, abundant roasted turkey, smothered in savory gravy, on a bed of creamy homestyle mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, plus a hefty house or caesar salad and a hunk of bread. Add a side of cranberry sauce, and it’s almost Thanksgiving (yes, you can get a side of cranberry sauce if you ask). With the house salad we chose ranch dressing, which is house made. It is very creamy as it is made with buttermilk and sour cream. The herbs come through as a pleasant aftertaste, with dill being the star of the salad show.
There is a paid parking lot right around the corner that’s “never full,” and while the lots’ and meters’ fees might be a tad bit steep, the surprisingly low costs at The Lunch Box help mediate what you pay for your vehicle. It’s worth it, though, to drive in for lunch, but if you’re already in the area, you have no excuse not to eat here.