Since 2017, La Perla Puerto Rican Cuisine has been winning hearts and minds with its monstrous lobster mofongo (fried and mashed plantains, topped with a whole lobster tail), its decadent pernil (roast pork shoulder), and its deeply flavorful arroz con gandules — all served out of a 500-square-foot convenience store in Oakland’s Dimond neighborhood. The Two Star Market has just a modest kitchen, and the bodega’s shelves of snacks and sundries served as the backdrop to the four tables the family-run restaurant offers for in-house eating.
All that is changing soon: Last week, La Perla’s owner, Cheo Ortiz, signed a lease for a new 1,500-square-foot location nearby — a former Subway at 3409 Fruitvale Avenue, still in the Dimond. When it opens later this year, it will be the East Bay’s only full-fledged, standalone Puerto Rican restaurant.
Ortiz started out as a cook at Borinquen Soul, the Puerto Rican spot that used to occupy Two Star Market, and took over the kitchen when Borinquen Soul’s proprietors moved on. It’s been a successful three-year run, as the Ortiz family also pulls in a lot of catering business, even getting picked to serve food to the Golden State Warriors during last year’s playoff run.
The decision to move from the bodega was a necessary one to grow the business and accommodate the families who drive to Oakland from all parts of Northern California to satisfy their arroz con gandules craving. “Large families and groups visit us routinely on the weekends, and we would like to have more space for people to enjoy our establishment,” Gabe Ortiz, Cheo’s son, tells Eater SF.
At the new space, La Perla also plans to serve cocktails and “healthier vegetarian and vegan options,” says Ortiz. With more kitchen space, the Ortizes can also offer a larger variety of fillings for their empanadillas and quick to-go hot food items. The hope is that customers will be able to walk up and grab items like papas rellenas (stuffed potato dumplings), alcapurrias (stuffed plantain dumpling), and bacalaitos (codfish fritters) — similar to how you might buy them at a beach kiosk in the coastal area of Piñones in Puerto Rico.
The expansion will allow the family to create a cultural space to enjoy live music and dancing. As Ortiz puts it, “We love to celebrate life and would like to establish a place for people to go and eat authentic food, listen to soulful Puerto Rican música, and dance!”
At its heart, La Perla is a community-oriented business — one that’s supported the people of Oakland with community events and holiday fundraiser drives, and supported people in Puerto Rico through its Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Now, the Ortizes are hoping for some community support of their own: Soon, they’ll launch a Kickstarter campaign that they hope will allow them to open the new restaurant as soon as possible — hopefully by this summer.
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