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May 21, 2009 11:45 PM

Black Bean Oaxacan in Redwood City, quick before it's gone

Stumbled upon Black Bean in downtown Redwood City tonight, next to the tequila bar. An award for "best tamale" in the window drew my eye to the posted to-go menu, and naturally, I got very excited when I saw Oaxacan specialties listed: quesillo, memelitas, tlayudas, enfrijoladas, enchiladas de mole, etc.

To go menu:

I'd already had dinner at Martins West, but I stepped up to the counter to check out what else might be available. The young man at the counter said that his mom makes a different mole from scratch every day and various specials. Today's mole was coloradito, my favorite style and so hard to find. However, he also said that they're going to rename the restaurant La Victoria and revamp the menu. The Oaxacan dishes will probably be dropped as this place has been open for over a year and hardly anyone orders them. He said that people in LA know what Oaxacan food is, but it's been a hard sell here and the dishes take more time to prepare than their other taqueria fare. There were only three customers in there tonight.

I didn't eat there, so I can't offer a personal recommendation. Yet, it just kills me that a Oaxacan restaurant would give up and go generic. Anyway, give it try before it's gone.

Black Bean Restaurant
847 Main St, Redwood City, CA 94063

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  1. What in the world- I think I will go tomorrow.

    3 Replies
    1. re: P. Punko

      I'm trying to remember if he said they also make cecina or cemitas. If cecina, great, but if they have cemitas, that would be the first sighting in this area and very exciting. Please do ask.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Did you happen to notice if they had cemitas when you went back?

        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          Can't believe I forgot to ask, sorry, I was on the phone most of my solo lunch (since I was the only customer). Not listed on the menu, but that doesn't mean they're not available. The counter guy is fully bilingual, so it would be easy to check by phone. The change over may be next week. Shane, you need to try it (especially that orange table sauce).

    2. That particular block is somewhat death for restaurants. I'll try to check it out for lunch.

      They clearly need help in the marketing department - the awning says "southern mexican" (instead of Oaxacan - I would have stopped in the middle of the street had it said Oaxacan), and the other neon says "FAST FOOD" in that same script like a chinese steam table place.

      10 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        Can't disagree about the marketing issues.

        Any reports from the lunch bunch?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          As we sat down for dinner, our server went outside and started peeling off the decal "Black Bean." They only had the lunch menu posted as available. I was just there with a hankering for mole enchiladas, and I suspect that the dishes Melanie mentioned are already gone. When I was ordering he misheard me initially and said "I'm sorry we don't have that anymore" (what, I don't know).

          1) The restaurant was immaculately clean. Perhaps this is due to slow business, but I really think the owners have some pride in how they want their business to look, if not the expertise in running a restaurant.

          2) I had an adobado taco (marinated savory pork) and a mole enchilada plate. The food was prepared very nicely to order and was definitely prepared with care. The tacos are served with pico de gallo, beans, onions and cilantro. I had mine without beans. The taco was carefully folded and half wrapped in paper so just one side was open. Again, I just felt like there was some pride there. The taco was fine to pretty good, and he brought a bottle of salsa out with it. It was the vinegary and orangish with a mild bite (tasty), so maybe in the style of that oaxacan habanero salsa but not fiery. It was good. I like it when the tortillas are griddled a little but longer, these were very lightly griddled (each of two tortillas on one side only). It was larger than the standard little taco, so the 2 dollars something price fit.

          The chicken mole enchiladas were pretty good. A very simply dish, but the shredded chicken was good in that it was moist. The mole tasted homemade and I liked it more than Vive Sol/La Fiesta etc. mole (those are complex but a little sweet for me).

          Service was very friendly and attentive (when our food came we were the only ones there)

          It would take a lot to get me away from our usual Taqueria (El Grullense Grill on Woodside), but I would go back here if only to support some seemingly good folks that are really trying- and run a clean place. They also have Cherry Coke in the fountain machine, and that is a plus for me.

          1. re: P. Punko

            Peeling off the Black Bean decal, oh my.

            My brother called to say that he got dinner to-go there tonight. He ordered a tlayuda with quesillo and pork adobado and also had a torta de tinga (made with beef). He especially liked the sauce provided on the side, that he described as orange-y colored and garlicky.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Yeah, that sauce had a little bit of tartness, but was garlicky, with maybe a wee bit of heat. It was good. It is brought out in a squeeze bottle with the food but is not on the tables.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Well, the name sucked, so that was no loss. Perhaps we can still encourage them to keep the food.

                I'm wondering if the word "Oaxaca" is part of the problem -- it's intimidating for people who don't know how to pronounce it, as are some of the names of the dishes ("tlayuda"?). Because I would think there were enough foodies looking for something new that just unfamiliarity wouldn't be a big hurdle.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Oaxacan Kitchen in PA is doing huge business.

                  If "Black Bean" changed their name to Oaxacan Delight or Holy Mole or *just about anything* that highlighted their regional cuisine, I bet they'd be able to make a go of it. A joint on that street would only succeed as a destination, the focus of the city is down near City Hall now.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    bb- there are 4 other restaurants on that block- a Mexican/Salvadorean place, a sushi place, an old school chinese/american place and one or two something elses. Not quite that dead. And a tequila bar.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Another thing is they post the award for best tamale in the window, but then don't have tamales on the menu except for the tamalitos in the $35 appetizer tray.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      In general, it would help when places simply describe what is what on the menu. Or highlight certain things by having them as a special.

              2. re: bbulkow

                Trust me.... you should stop at any place that says Southern Mexican.... the mainstream Oaxacan dishes that we all know and love are MERELY A GATEWAY for the more interesting & chowworthy food to be found throughout Southernmost Mexico.

              3. Stopped by for lunch today after my morning appt in Belmont. No one in the place at high noon. I asked if tamales were available, and yes, three kinds: chile verde, mole negro, and dulce. A slightly different menu than the one I had before was produced and has tamales listed under the appetizer section. I was charged $2.50 each for mine, even though the menu says the mole tamal is $3.50.

                Chile verde tamal - Freshly steamed with fluffy, soft masa, lots of filling of tender pulled pork in mole verde, rather delicately flavored but perked up nicely with a squirt of the garlicky, spicy orange-colored salsa.

                Pollo mole negro tamal - I liked this one as well, but it had a dense masa stained brick orange that seemed like it was resteamed. Still very tasty, a bit too sweet for me as mole negro almost always is, but adding the orangey salsa brought it into balance.

                The orange awning outside has no lettering on it. But the poster indicating that it will be La Victoria soon is up. Maybe next week.
                La Victoria "coming soon" sign -

                No final decision on the menu changes yet. But I was assured that the prize-winning tamales would continue. These are really good, so I'm happy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thanks as usual, Melanie, for supporting the little guys.

                2. That's not a great location for a restaurant, but more than that, there isn't much of a Oaxacan community in that area. It's far more Michoacan. The reason people in LA know Oaxacan food is that there is a large Oaxacan community there. That makes a real difference.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: realspear

                    Yes, he said as much, that the Mexican community was mostly norteƱos. There has been a big influx of Oaxacans to Northern California, but this first generation are pretty low on the economic ladder and don't go to restaurants. OTOH, the crowds on the sidewalk waiting to get into Oaxacan Kitchen in Palo Alto every time I've driven by there are all palefaces, haven't seen anyone who looks vaguely Mixtec, Triqui, or Zapotec there.

                  2. Looks all gone now. The menu's standard taqueria - a branch of Victoria Taqueria from San Jose, apparently.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: bbulkow

                      My brother's been there at least twice since the La Victoria signs went up. Same people, printed menu has changed, but he's been able to get tinga, and other things not on the menu by asking. The orange sauce in the squeeze bottle that I'm so enraptured with is what La Victoria is famous for, so it was a part all along. He bought a squeeze bottle of the sauce to take home for $6.

                      Apparently one of the SJ locations is due to close and this one takes over. The marketing, or lack thereof, is still puzzling. Nothing highlights the tamales or the spicy orange-colored sauce that make this spot so worthwhile.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Today I noticed some of their internal signage mentions the orange sauce, but not how you get it. The torta I had included the sauce, as well as the squeeze bottle at table.

                        I didn't ask about the specialties. I can't imagine they'll keep cooking them without being on the menu, but you never know.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Al pastor. It was above average, but rather small (even for the bargain $5) and not much above average. I've got several superior torta options closer.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              Where else besides La Casita Chilanga (I like the one on Middlefield better than the El Camino location)?

                              That orange squeezy sauce is really good, I have to admit.

                              1. re: P. Punko

                                La Hacineda, Menalo Ave, Menlo Park - tortas in general, barbacoa torta in specific. They actually make their own barbacoa, which sets them apart a little. Not a mexico city style like Chilanga ---- I wish they pressed their tortas, maybe if I ask ----

                                La Hacienda's somewhat of a hidden gem. Standard mexican market, but cleaner than most, slightly higher quality & prices. Hidden because only those in that nabe would wander by. Tables out front for the eating, which is better than some market + taqueria combonations.

                                The cafe next door, Cafe Zoe, ain't bad either. Good wifi, relaxed seating in the back, a decent panini, music on fridays. Coffee could use improvement but is generally tasty.

                                1. re: bbulkow


                                  La Hacienda Market
                                  1933 Menalto Ave, Menlo Park, CA