One of Zach’s friends recommended that we try El Aguila, and we’re better off for having done so tonight for dinner. Open for just about a year, this is a place that, once more people know about it, will be very, very popular. Let alone excellent Mexican flavors, the ingredients are immaculate. Produce is fresh, tortillas are hand made, and all of the meat is grass fed, organic, antibiotic-, hormone-, and pesticide-free. We got a broad variety so as to show you what’s available.
Light, crunchy, and spiced with salt and paprika, small batches of chips are pan fried and handed out as you wait for your order. It was a nice surprise not to have a typical tortilla chip but these thin, fresh slices of potato that weren’t greasy at all.
The taquitos were the special of the day. Served with a ladle of red mole, the dish was a delight. The chicken was moist and the tortilla itself was crispy and crunchy. The mole was mildly sweet and had a very broad spectrum of spices, where nothing overpowered the palate. The sauce’s texture was very smooth, and the garnishes including the queso fresco were excellent toppers.
Hands down, this was August’s favorite. The chicken was tangy and sweet with only a mild spiciness, as it was braised with caramelized onions and a light chipotle sauce. The onions were actually caramelized, not just sweated – they were so soft and tender, they practically melted. The tortilla was soft and fluffy, a great texture to wrap around the crisp vegetables. Simple ingredients put together with a knowledgeable hand make for some of the best food.
With green nopalitos and tomatoes, this pork was a sumptuous dish. It was just a little too spicy for August, but Zach really enjoyed the flavor behind the heat. He thought it was tangy and mildly acidic, which paired very well with the pork. The meat was unbelievably fork tender and surprisingly light; he wasn’t left with a heavy feeling in his stomach, most likely due to the organic origin of the pork. It came with sides of black beans, Spanish rice, and tortillas. The beans were flavorful with garlic, onion, and a hint of cumin. The rice was done well, and the tortillas were necessary for the delicious chile verde sauce. The nopalitos on top were some of the better ones we’ve tried.
For a tlacoyo, a tortilla is filled with refried pinto beans and mozzarella cheese, then striped with crema and sprinkled with queso fresco. Don’t be fooled if you order this and you get what looks like a typical American-style quesadilla, because this is far from it. It is a simple yet delicious treat, and Zach especially liked the little bit of cheese that oozed out to make a grilled cheese skirt melded with Mexican flavors.
Same animal, two meats, two fabulous tacos. Al pastor is marinated and vertically rotisserie’d with onion and pineapple, while Latin American chorizo is typically processed with chili peppers and vinegar. The al pastor was very slightly tangy and mildly spicy, while the chorizo was more predominantly spicy with garlic alongside the chili pepper. Both were exceptionally lean and not at all greasy.
There is a refrigerator with lots of bottled beverages, but El Aguila boasts homemade aguas frescas, therefore we had to try their horchata and jamaica tea. We loved the creamy horchata and August swigged it pretty quickly. Zach, for the first time, felt that he could actually taste the hibiscus flower used for the jamaica, as opposed to sugary sweetness that he had associated with jamaicas of the past. The taste was very floral, tangy, mildly sweet, and quenching. We got the aloe vera drink just because it’s aloe juice with real aloe pulp – it didn’t seem like a common drink, so of course our curiosity got the better of us. The pulp is similar to orange juice pulp but slightly bigger and juicier. If you think you don’t like pulp (August is one of those), don’t worry, it’s not offensive and August ended up really liking it. The flavor is sweet and similar to a mixture of apple, pear, and a bit of citrus. It’s purportedly good for your skin and digestive track, too.
El Aguila is open every day for lunch and dinner, they offer catering services, and fresh homemade chorizo is available for you to buy to take home – you just have to ask. Elena, one of the owners, was beyond friendly and provided excellent service to all the guests. We were thoroughly impressed and hope this place grows.
Not only do we have a population of varied backgrounds where we live, but also the population is big enough that there’s room for multiple restaurants of the same cuisine. After doing a Thai restaurant a while back, we went to another tonight that is also in Pleasant Hill, based on a recommendation. Thai Osha has a broad menu and warm interior, so we enjoyed our dinner very much.
Off the appetizer section we ordered Thai samosas: sauteed potato, Thai curry and onions, wrapped in wonton skin and deep fried, served with cucumber salad and peanut sauce. Zach liked the thin crispy exterior as they were fried really well with no greasy residue. The potato texture inside was fluffy and light, and the curry flavor was pleasantly mild. The peanut sauce was completely blended so we both got to enjoy it, since Zach can’t eat unprocessed nuts; it was silky smooth and rich in flavors supporting the peanuts, with a mildly sweet aftertaste.
Volcanic Beef is flank steak with fried basil leaves, black peppers, and red bell pepper in a “medium lava sauce.” The meat was well cut and lean, perfectly seared, tender, and flavorful. The sauce was savory with a hint of sweet and tanginess, so we were thankful for the side of white rice to sop up all of it (not pictured). It has one little chili pepper next to its name on the menu, indicating “medium” spiciness (on a scale of three, from zero to two chilies), but it wasn’t too spicy that August couldn’t handle it. Have no fear of one chili here if you usually prefer milder spiciness.
The ubiquitous Thai plate, the one that everyone knows, is always a safe bet. The noodles are loaded with chicken, prawns, egg, tofu, onions, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts (requested to be on the side in our case). A small detail we noticed was how much of the shell was peeled off the shrimp, making all the meat accessible with no work on our part to get at all of it. If you like a sweeter pad thai, this one’s for you.
Going to Thai Osha tonight proved that you have to eat at multiple establishments offering the same cuisine before finding a true favorite. Even if you still end up liking one of the first ones you went to, exploring others is never a bore.
Finally it’s open! Zachary’s Pizza is one of those iconic restaurants of the Bay Area, especially for those who attended UC Berkeley. We’ve been calling the Oakland, Berkeley, and San Ramon locations at least a couple times a week for the last month, and Zachary’s in Pleasant Hill is now ready for business!
We got to speak with Leandra, Zachary’s vice president, who was a joy and loaded with information about the new location and its inspiring interior. Every two years Zachary’s holds an art contest for community members to create works to decorate the walls. All of the exposed wood came from The Wooden Duck, featuring planks from the Cal Memorial Stadium bleachers established in 1923. Despite the huge ceilings, sound did not bounce around too much so the ambiance felt quiet, even though the place was packed.
We began with a salad, different from the standards. Called their Spring Salad, it came with mixed spring greens, red grapes, dried cranberries, and Gorgonzola cheese, tossed with shallot vinaigrette and served with bread sticks. The greens and grapes were fresh, the Gorgonzola wasn’t too overpowering but added a subtle sharpness to the plate, and it balanced well with the fruit. The shallot vinaigrette added a nice tanginess and bite to pair with the sweetness of the grapes and dried cranberries. The bread sticks had great flavor – mild with garlic and Parmesan. They provided a good crunch in place of croutons. If you’re looking for a salad that’s a little bit different, this is a good choice.
Now, on to what makes this place famous. Thin crust, vegan crust, and gluten-free crust are options, but if you want a stuffed (aka deep dish) pizza Chicago-style, the menu says to be patient for 30-40 minutes. Believe us, it pays off. What’s nice is the servers keep you updated with the wait time, so you won’t keep checking your phone/watch. The servers also had great teamwork together. We ordered our medium with pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms with the toppings on bottom and the sauce on top, as is tradition (well, you can see that olives are on top, to help make the pie prettier). The cheese is freshly shredded in house, we could tell from the creaminess, and it still has good texture and pull like a mozzarella should. The toppings are balanced really well, and Zach noted that the pepperoni wasn’t as greasy as you find it at your average pizza joint. The tomato sauce was delicious and refreshing, and the dough was flaky and crispy. The pizza was cooked so perfectly, you could have picked it up and it would not have folded – and that’s a feat for a deep dish! But if you’re nervous how to approach it, the servers will serve you your first slice if you like.
A medium stuffed pizza was just too big for us, especially after starting with a salad. We brought over half of it home, but had to do some quick grocery shopping along the way. After 15 minutes of us getting some items, we came back out to the car smelling like the most wonderful pizzeria! Can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow, and the next time we go in!