The changing face of downtown Walnut Creek

COVID-19 has proved a tough hurdle for all of us, but businesses have been hit especially hard. With California’s phases changing, going backwards, we’ve seen businesses shutter and the economy as a whole begin to dip.

Fuego

It’s no different for us in the real estate industry – home sales and the buying/selling process are looking different than they were even back in January due to the pandemic. Anyway, I was wandering around downtown Walnut Creek the other day after work (yes, with my mask on!) and noticed the innovative ways it is changing.

With indoor seating banned, the city streamlined permitting for outdoor dining by getting parking spaces blocked off to allow for more seating. It’s sad to see how this is all affecting the downtown that thrives on human traffic. There is a bunch of outdoor seating on Locust from Brodericks to Limon. A few spots already have outdoor seating (Sauced, Torsop but got more out front

Among the other casualties of the pandemic economy, PRIMA Ristorante has decided to close its doors – a Walnut Creek staple that had been around nearly half a century. I’m sad to see it go. Salons were open for a month and as the state recently pushed back opening, caused the salons to re-close. Some such as Ashley Flowers Hair found they have some outdoor space where they can still legally operate. Hopefully as a country, we can get a grasp on the spread of this virus as other countries have done before winter. I really need a mani/pedi. Continue to be careful, wear a mask in public and follow the local health guidelines so we can get back to some semblance of our previous lives!

Morucci’s: A History

During shelter-in-place, I did some giveaways supporting local businesses. One of them was a gift card to Morucci’s on Boulevard. I had an opportunity to speak with the owner, Robert Fambrini (a very Italian name for the owner of an Italian deli!), and ask a few questions.

He told me he spent 25 years in the Petrini’s market chain, a family-owned business until 1989. It was founded as a butcher shop in San Francisco in 1935 by Italian immigrant Frank Petrini and later expanded to specialize in gourmet foods. At the start of the 20th century, grocery stores were a lot like department stores, with different partners owning and operating their departments.

Robert was in six of the Petrini locations from San Francisco, Novato, and Moraga, to Walnut Creek. When asked what words of wisdom he would give his 18-year-old self, Robert replied, “Go slow. When you are young, you want to conquer the world, however financial issues will arise and you don’t want to extend yourself too far!”

He found trying to manage six locations at once was too much, and in 1989 Petrini’s ultimately sold to a Canadian company. Now he has been happy to focus on just one deli for the last 20 years – Morucci’s, in Walnut Creek. He says it is more profitable and much easier to manage. “It’s been a wild ride,” says Robert.

He said having one bigger deli is always better and that he’s happy it is in Walnut Creek. In hindsight, I wished I’d asked him how the name “Morucci’s” came about, but it was crowded and busy (no surprise to those who have been there!), so I’m grateful for his time.

Burgerim in Walnut Creek

Recently, I tried a new burger place in town! It is called Burgerim and it is in the recently remodeled Rossmoor Village, across from Safeway. The food was good – I went very vanilla on my choices. The angus beef seemed super fresh. I just had a traditional burger there. But I was thoroughly impressed!

Burgerim is an Israeli franchise. It was started originally in Tel Aviv, but was brought to the United States by the new owners and franchised out. Now it’s one of the faster-growing chains in the country! The name is a combination of “burger” and the Herbrew plural suffix “-im,” which reflects the company’s focus on selling smaller slider-style burgers in orders of 2-3 or more!

On that note, you can get party packs of sliders and burgers for office meetings and other events. The fries are kind of like potato chips but sliced thicker. Everything was really good. I would like to try one of the more unique burgers they offer, like the Hawaiian salmon burger with pineapple.

The ordering was a little bit slow and while I was waiting, another customer said, “Can I change my vanilla shake to chocolate?” They said yes. About three minutes later, they started to make the shake and I noticed they were making vanilla and I mentioned they switched it to chocolate. They are just getting settled; I spoke with one of the owners and they are still training and working out the process. The restaurant was crowded when I first walked in, which is a bit unusual for being nighttime in Rossmoor. But that is good for business and there is some seating, but they are banking on outdoor seating with our great weather. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

DeAfghanan is a new flavor in Walnut Creek

I love variety, especially when it comes to food and other cultures. Cinco de Mayo, which used to occupy the space next to San Francisco Creamery, is now a Kabob House called DeAfghanan. I went recently and was pleasantly surprised.

The owner, Wais Omar, who is pictured below, left Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979 and moved to Fremont. There is a large Afghani population there, so that’s where he got his start with restaurants. He’s been cooking Afghani food for a long time, and you can tell! The meal was excellent.

Of course, we ordered a chicken Kabob, just like the one he is holding. We were asked if we wanted white or brown rice. The brown rice is really white rice with some special seasoning, which was recommended. And it was the right choice. We were also given some flatbread with a spread that most likely was some sort of yogurt dip.

Wais was a gracious host, who gave us a free eggplant appetizer that was out of this world! I really enjoyed my visit to DeAfghanan, and a vast improvement from the last establishment that lasted maybe six months. I look forward to going back and trying something new! The portions are a good size and if you are not too hungry, they could be split. I can see having a cold beer with these dishes once their liquor license is in hand. I would love to hear what you think!

A good Italian meal at Montecatini Ristorante

Montecatini Ristorante is one of the rare food establishments that has hung around through Walnut Creek’s renaissance as an expensive, fine-dining mecca in the Bay Area. They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary (funny enough, they opened about 5 minutes before the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989!).

Over the years, it has been one of my favorite go-to places for a special occasion. This year, a friend took me to dinner for my birthday. We were planning on sitting at the bar. However, when we got there at 6:00 pm the bar was packed and only a few tables were available. We waited for 15 minutes and the maître d’ sat us at a table in the bar area. It was so interesting – at 7:00 the bar was empty. Then, within 15 minutes, it was full again! Apparently people come in dinner shifts (one around 6 pm and one around 7 pm).

We started off with a bowl of clams. Oops, I forgot to take a picture, but it is one of my favorite dishes. The broth of butter, garlic and delicious juices is to die for, especially good when you soak it up with their bread. We then each had a half order of pasta. Mine was the tortellini al a panna – very rich, but soooo good. And Teresa’s was simply a tomato and basil sauce. I am not used to eating such rich food, but it was a nice splurge.

Italian food is plentiful in the Bay Area, and especially around Walnut Creek. But if you want one that has stood the test of time, you have to check out Montecatini on Civic, near the corner of N. Main St. It never disappoints!

The best Pho in the Creek!

Have you been to Kevin’s Noodle House? The restaurant is also known as Pho Huynh Hiep, and is located near BART on Main (next to Dorito Bros). It is family-owned, and they have six Bay Area locations. The back story is that the family patriarch loved to cook and entertain with traditional Vietnamese dishes from his childhood – especially pho.

His dream had always been to open a Vietnamese restaurant. In 1994, the family DID open their first in Oakland! I had heard about this place from some friends, and decided to try it out a while back. It was phenomenal, to say the least. Now, it’s one of my go-to places when I want something delicious and warm to eat!

My favorite dish is #22B (Chicken & Shrimp Rice Noodle Soup). Of course, that is what you see in the pics from one of my visits, along with fresh spring rolls with shrimp. To be honest, I love this dish so much that I have not ventured further into their menu, but some of the beef dishes look good when I have noticed what other people are eating. You also get a side of bean sprouts, jalapeños, basil and, for me, the dreaded cilantro. Add all these veggies with some of their hot or plum sauce into your bowl for a tasty delight!

There’s nothing like a good, hot bowl of pho and Kevin’s Noodle House is the place to go. It can get crowded at lunch and parking is somewhat limited, but well worth the hunt for a parking spot.

Pancoast Pizza expands!

Fellow pizza enthusiasts, rejoice! Pancoast Pizza, one of the best options in town, has expanded its space next to Las Lomas and now boasts a ton more seating options. To go along with it, they expanded their menu! The pizzas are pricier than most, I think it is because they have quality ingredients.

Pancoast is one of my favorite pizza joints in town (doesn’t hurt that it’s walking distance from my house!). I love thin-crust and theirs is delicious and it has to do with the cheese which comes from Wisconsin. I’m excited to see they’ve added some other options to the menu. They are still serving strombolis, and now there are hoagies, Philly cheesesteaks, and even chicken wings.

This is truly a small, local business in Walnut Creek. The owner is usually there and the staff is generally very friendly. It attracts a younger crowd, as you might expect with its location next to the high school. I often go after a late night at work and get a slice of the cheese pizza – it is addictive!

A new taco shop in Walnut Creek!

Tacos Walnut Creek is the name of a new taco shop in Walnut Creek. A very appropriate name, I’d say! I tried it recently and really thought the food was great. They make recommendations to which sauce (red or green) depending on the type of meat you are ordering..

According to the website, Tacos Walnut Creek is guided by a father that owns two restaurants in the Santa Cruz area. But, the Walnut Creek location is actually run by his two sons. They’ve grown up going to their father’s restaurant and learning how to prepare authentic Mexican cuisine. Tacos Walnut Creek’s team is committed to working hard in the kitchen to put a smile on your face with delicious food in your tummy!

We really needed a good casual Mexican restaurant and it shows: lines out the door at lunch and this past Saturday evening, plus a 4.9 Yelp rating. That corner has finally hit a home run with a great place to eat that is affordable. With Taco Walnut Creek’s doors now open, I am not sure how long Patron’s (click to see my last blog) doors will stay open.

You can check out Tacos Walnut Creek at the corner of Locust and Giammona downtown! Let me know how you like it! Your comments are most welcomed!

Patron Mexican Grill: Decent, not super authentic

Patron Mexican Grill replaced Cindo de Mayo, a restaurant which I’d enjoyed immensely. In my opinion, Patron is not very authentic, thus the name Mexican Grill, definitely not a Taqueria!

On the bright side, they do serve breakfast. My go-to order is always tacos and I like the crispy tacos, but street tacos are equally as good. I ordered a crispy taco and it was put in a pre-made corn shell – eh. I’d prefer to see Los Ponchos out of Martinez there, but if you need a quick bite of Mexican food downtown or breakfast, it is an option. Not sure they will be around for the long haul, but they did do a nice job with the decorations.

Stay tuned for some more blogs on other Mexican fare. The new taco restaurant on Locust, and one of my favorites: Los Panchos!

Sunol Ridge is now TKK and that means Thai food

It must be a day ending in “y” if a popular restaurant in downtown Walnut Creek couldn’t keep its doors open. Sunol Ridge, which was a great little spot to get together for casual drinks or to watch a game, has given way to a new Thai restaurant called TKK.

It’s the way of the world in our little town now – high rents mean you always have to be busy, so I said goodbye to Sunol Ridge, and checked out TKK! You’ll be happy to hear that all those same TVs and a similar layout grace the building, so it’s still a good hang-out spot after work.

Obviously, the menu has changed now, but there is still a good Happy Hour at TKK, too! I went during the Warriors playoffs twice; once with a friend and once alone (when I ended up sitting next to an old friend!). The first time, we got the lettuce wrap appetizer and a couple of cocktails. The second time I had the lemongrass fish and both were amazing. The volcano beef (which is apparently very popular here), looked very appetizing. I was very happy with the food we got, and will definitely be back!