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Best Paella in San Francisco/Oakland?

Most posts on this topic are several years old so I'm hoping there's better news than in '07. I was traveling and had paella in Portland at Toro Brovo and it was delicious. I am hoping somewhere here can do as well. Any ideas?

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  1. Best Paella I have had locally is a parties or functions that hire a Paella master to cook for the event.

    I tried Barlata in Oakland a year ago and it was good but not fantastic.

    But they are closing soon.

    1. Coqueta has perfectly fine paella, but it wasn't particularly mindblowing. Seafood/meat wasn't too rubbery, there was a bit of funk and decently flavorful without being too salty.

      9 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        I second this... The times I/we have had it, the rice was cooked to proper doneness and the all important 'crispy bits' were present too... ^^

        1. re: goldangl95

          Do they make it with the soccarat (bottom crust of browned crispy ric)? Have never seen it in a restaurant with the desired masterful rice crust on the bottom contrasting with the softer uncrisped rice of the top. And of of course, pefectly cooked seafood.

          1. re: stanbee

            Speaking of soccarat, I remember when I asked the Venga paella guy for some at Eat Real, he said that he doesn't make his paella that way because no one likes that part. :(

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I was gonna say maybe the restaurant's different than the street version. But here's what Luke Tsai's review said: "And in general there was little if any socarrat — the crunchy, caramelized rice crust that forms at the bottom of the pan, prized by many as the very best part of the paella."

            1. re: stanbee

              I just had the paella at Coqueta last week. Very tasty, but I don't think would serve 2-3 people (per the menu) as a meal even with a few tapas. Shrimp were tasty but almost overcooked (not quite rubbery) and there were 6 anemic clams. Not sure if I would order this again for $45 and no soccarat. I haven't tried B44 but took a look on Yelp and one person said the paella was good but complained that there was a lot of rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Soccarat?

              1. re: jzc

                My post on Coqueta has two photos of the paella we had. You can see the soccarat.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Your's looks so yummy. I wonder if they had a different chef when I went. Ours looked anemic overall in regards to toppings. Shrimp were decent sized but I had to hunt for the chorizo. It was chopped up and I think mixed in. Clams were tiny and dry and no soccarat in sight.

                  1. re: jzc

                    I was there on a Sunday afternoon. I think our paella order might have been the first one the kitchen made that day, as soon as dinner service started at 5pm.

          2. venga paella was a minor disappointment. the veggies in the vegeterian paella were great. the rice was alternating between mushy and crunchy. poor cooking?

            2 Replies
            1. re: shanghaikid

              At Venga we had both the Traditionale (chorizo and a bit of seafood) and the Arroz Negro, both were excellent and properly cooked. Venga is very light on the protein, FYI for those who haven't been there. We usually get a skewer of the grilled shrimp to throw in.

              Venga is very different than Duende. Venga is small, plain, quiet, very simple. We enjoyed it a lot!

              We really liked Zarzuela but it was the wedge of tuna empanada that knocked our socks off. Parking is hideous so we parked in the nearby garage which added another $20 to the tab.

              1. re: jaiko

                seems timing is everything. went lunch or early afternoon one day. got a parking space in front. only one other table present. went for the posted "special" which wasn't since i found it on the menu online afterwards.

                with paella, the rule may be: order when it's busy so paella will be fresh. no doubt i may have gotton "leftover" rice. veggies fresh so that's a good sign.

                echoing mooncake, thought portion (rice and veggie) was small. no doubt Venga is trying to sell appetitzers too.

            2. Love, love, love Toro Bravo!

              In Oakland, Duende is very good. There's also a pretty good paella place west of Jack London Square--Venga.

              I've spoken to at least one Spaniard who swears by Zarzuela on Russian Hill, but I have no personal experience there.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Rapini

                I liked Duende's paella in Oakland a lot too (and also really like Barlata's arros negre, which is similar, so I imagine their paellas are good too--but not sure what their last day is...)

                1. re: artemis78

                  They said probably end of August. Depends on when the liquor license transfer goes through, I believe.

                  B44's is identical except maybe a bigger portion.

                2. re: Rapini

                  Toro Brovo was my favorite meal of the whole vacation. I also loved their grilled octopus and bacon wrapped dates.

                  I have wanted to try Zarzuela but the parking is just impossible.

                3. Had one exceptional one but there was no bottom glory of crisp browned rice crust. When I revisited,the paella sucked -change of herbs.

                  Best in my kitchen

                  1. My favorite is the arroz negre at Barlata (which is closing soon) and B44. Regular paella, Cesar in Berkeley.

                    I'm eager to try Venga Paella, a new specialty place in Oakland.


                    2 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Tried Venga Paella two nights ago. I think it is decent, neighborhood fare; Barlata and Duende are both better, but almost a different class. The squid ink version was very good (we had his paella at an event at Fairyland and it had more crispy edges then). The traditional was smokier, but still good flavor. As mentioned, it was less protein, but felt more homestyle. All of the special paellas were gone (probably becuase they were open all day for World Cup). The tapas were so-so ... except for the blood sausage - excellent!

                      2. Skimpy protein at Venga's worries me. Small portions are one of my husband's biggest complaints.

                        I was surprised no one mentioned Esperpento.

                        Is the noodle paella at B44 a fideo? Is it good?

                        What's Cesar's like?

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: Moon Cake

                          The portions aren't small at Venga; they're just more rice-heavy. And the prices are roughly half, or even one-third, of a lot of the other places mentioned.

                          That said, it's much more of an everyday, neighborhood-y type of paella place, not something I'd make a special trip to try.

                          1. re: abstractpoet

                            Good point about Venga being a more everyday type of place. It's what owner/chef Eduardo Balaguer, who is of Catalan decent and previously worked at his family’s traditional paella restaurant in Valencia, Spain, was aiming for.

                            Moon cake, are you referring to Cesar's/Oakland, on Piedmont? That's a terrible place, ignored by the owner and boy, does it show (at least, that was true last time we went 2 yrs ago). Service and food are third-rate, although they do make a decent ceviche.

                            1. re: jaiko

                              Bar César on Piedmont hasn't served paella for a while. It was purchased by Harold Brandel last year and no longer has any connection with or similarity to César Berkeley, which is still good and makes one of the better restaurant paellas.

                              1. re: jaiko

                                I was asking about Cesárs in Berkeley that Robert mentioned.

                                Is the paella at Venga enough or do you have to order Tapas also?

                                1. re: Moon Cake

                                  Depends on how hungry you are. Seriously. Venga doesn't super-size their portions to American tastes. We usually get a skewer of the shrimp and the stuffed piquillo peppers, which are simple but fab.

                              2. re: abstractpoet

                                Venga just catered my party last week - 50 some people, and it was great. The guests were raving about it. I like the restaurant paella but I liked the party paella better. His stuffed piquillo peppers are delicious.

                                1. re: lmnopm

                                  When I looked at photos of Venga's paella it looked like a small scoop of rice with a bunch of salad. No crust to the rice because it's spooned out of the paella pan.

                                  1. re: Moon Cake

                                    We've noticed very few places include the socarrat, especially in the small individual servings. Zarzuela, B44, and Barlata didn't, at least when we ordered paellas. As JoyM points out re Esperpento, it takes time to create that burnt rice crust.

                                    As an Asian-American, it's always been ironic how growing up, we considered the burnt rice at the bottom of the pot (not truly burnt, but crispy brown) to be unfit for anything but chazuke - poor people's food. Now it's a prized element. LOL, how our perceptions change!

                                    1. re: jaiko

                                      Right, I always have to ask for it. And it seems to be a relatively rare request, but other than Venga gets a very positive response when the places realize their customer has some experience with paella.

                                      And for barleywino, check out Best Taste when you're in Oakland.

                                      1. re: jaiko

                                        Wow, I never thought about how common burnt crisped rice is.

                                        See also Persian tahdig :

                                        Mexican Molcajete:

                                        Korean dolsot bibimbap

                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                          Tahdig is so popular that Maykadeh took it off the menu, but if they haven't run out you can get it by request.

                                          I've never seen rice in a molcajete.

                                        2. re: jaiko

                                          You didn't butter the crust, heat and eat it like popcorn? No fon joo? I guess that would be fare for boat people.

                                  2. re: Moon Cake

                                    I really like the paella at Esperpento. There are several versions (meat, seafood, meat & seafood, and veggie, IIRC), it takes at least 30 minutes to get it, and it always has that all-important crust of crispy, almost-but-not-quite burnt rice at the bottom. And while you're there, get the grilled artichokes.

                                  3. I had the paella at Duende in Oakland a couple of months ago, and thought it was excellent.

                                    1. The paella stand at Off The Grid Fort Mason last night was surprisingly delicious! I say surprisingly because I'm not a huge fan of food trucks, apart from convenience (OTG vendors tend to be about over-the-top foods over quality and flavor) but the paella was really good. It's made fresh to order and served steaming hot & spicy, full of whole roasted bulbs of garlic, about 4-5 large plump shrimp, tender pieces of chicken and chorizo sausage over perfectly cooked (soft and moist) rice. A plate is only $9.

                                      I'd love to find a place in the Bay Area that makes a traditional paella recipe with rabbit. I haven't seen it on any menus in San Francisco.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        How was it made to order? That's almost by definition not paella unless it takes half an hour.

                                        B44 does paella with rabbit.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          You're right, Robert. I should have just said that it was made fresh (ie. not sitting around in the pan) as I had to wait approx. 8 minutes for a new batch, which was served steaming hot. I seemed to be the only one at the tent counter at the time, so it could've been made to order... :)

                                          1. re: OliverB

                                            So they make it traditionally in big pans and have a fresh batch every (# of pans / cooking time) minutes?

                                            That's what I'm looking for. Either that or made to order with a warning that it will take 40 minutes or whatever.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Yes sir! I didn't see them changing pans/batches because I just happened by, but I obviously placed my order at the right time. I can only assume that since they're on site for x-number of hours and only on specific nights, that they probably time for regular changeover often enough to ensure that they're serving consistently fresh batches. I didn't take note of the name, but I'll see if Google can help with that and try to dig up some pictures.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Google comes through: Ñora Mobile Spanish Cuisine!


                                                Apparently an Oakland outfit. You can see photos of their pop-up and paellas through that Yelp link. They also had these delicious looking fried potatoe croquettes with various options which I didn't get to try.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                It did have soccarat on my one and only experience!

                                          2. Camino on Grand Ave. in Oakland is featuring Paella Mondays for August and September.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: foodeye

                                              When I had it the components were cooked separately and assembled. It was a very tasty rice dish, but not what I'd call paella.


                                            2. Haven't been to Venga or others mentioned here, so can't compare. But had one in Brava bar de Tapas in Healdsburg on a week night and it was definitely above average, not mindblowing (like the squid ink one in Santa Monica I had once, can't forget it ever), but I would eat it again.

                                              No soccarat there.