|Photos by Heider Beeler.
In Old Oakland this Saturday, Cinco de Mayo will be marked by a mother-daughter showdown. This epic battle pits California Culinary Academy of San Francisco training against Mexican home cooking. Latin-inspired California cuisine served in the quiet atmosphere of a stately Old Oakland Victorian storefront against a taco truck parked out front. The rooster against the hen: the Cock-A-Doodle CafĂ© versus Tacos El Pollo.
âI think itâll be fun - Mom and I competing with each other,â Blanca Arechiga, Chef-Owner of the Cock-A-Doodle CafĂ© and out lesbian, said laughing. âIâll provide the alcohol, and Mom will provide the food.â
Actually, the Arechigasâ Cinco De Mayo plans are less a foodie smackdown than the kind of tag-team Blanca and her mother, Martha, have been in the kitchen all along. The Arechigas moved to Oaklandâs Fruitvale district from Jalisco, Mexico when Blanca was small. As the eldest daughter, she learned everything her mother knew about cooking and prepared dinner when she got home from school, after milking the cow and the goats. She attended CACSF after 8 years as a waitress, graduating in 2001, and worked at culinary landmarks like the Claremont Hotel and Venus in Berkeley. When the Courthouse Grill went up for sale in 2005, her mother refinanced her house to loan Blanca the money.
As her daughterâs renamed cafĂ© drew packed houses, she helped with the cooking and made all the salsas. Three years later, Martha pulled up in a taco truck and announced she was quitting. In a documentary, her mom explained the food at Cock-A-Doodle was too high-falutin.
âShe said, âBlanca makes me make these weird pancakes and stuff,ââ Blanca told me with a laugh.
Now the pair feeds Old Oakland in shifts, the Cock-A-Doodle serving up breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch; Tacos El Pollo serving Yelp-celebrated tacos to the bar crowds at Broadway and 9th after the neighborhood restaurants have closed.
So keeping the Cock-A-Doodle CafĂ© open after the chickens have gone to roost is an event in itself. The liquor license, which theyâll use to provide the alcohol for their Cinco de Mayo celebration, allows them to offer a menu of cocktails, like mimosas and mojitos. The daytime offerings include Blancaâs signature graham cracker-crusted French toast â made with homemade challah â melt-in-your-mouth lemon ricotta pancakes, and six kinds of benedicts, including crab cake, grilled shrimp and smoked pork loin.
Blancaâs Jalisco roots show with her Mexican-style breakfasts. For Cinco de Mayo day, sheâs adding something special to the cafĂ©âs menu â Mexican wedding birria, a slow-cooked stew in a roasted pepper base that she makes with beef, served with corn tortillas, lime, cilantro and onions. Along with the expected huevos rancheros and breakfast burrito, Blanca offers a breakfast chile relleno served with poached eggs, black beans and corn tortillas. Her Latin Breakfast features tomatillo and chili verde short ribs with cumin blackbeans, fresh avocado and homemade queso fresco.
With ingredients from the Friday Old Oakland farmers market, the menu bends and sways with the seasons. The coffee is fair trade and plentiful. The service is friendly and lightning quick. A courtyard out back fills up before the wooden tables inside. Rainbow flags sit amidst rainbow plumed roosters in the front window.
Night and day, day and night, you can eat well thanks to the Arechigas.