WHAT IT IS »
A vegetarian/vegan restaurant on Oakland, California’s waterfront.
THE BACKSTORY »
Encuentro features creative, sophisticated vegetarian and vegan dishes, as well as an eclectic wine list. From appetizers to entrées, and desserts to drinks, everything on the menu is seasonal, organic, and delicious.
The current co-owners are Linda Braz and executive chef Lacey Sher, formerly the owner-chef at Down to Earth, a vegan restaurant in Red Bank, NJ. Eric Tucker, the founder and executive chef at Millennium, an award-winning vegan restaurant in San Francisco, was a third founding partner.
Originally called Encuentro Café and Wine Bar and located seven blocks from its current spot in Jack London Square, on Oakland’s waterfront, the restaurant quickly outgrew its space. “When we relocated, in 2014, we moved up from being a café to a full-on restaurant,” Braz says. Encuentro is currently open for dinner only.
WHY WE LOVE IT »
The Spanish word encuentro means “meeting,” “encounter,” or “gathering.” Says Braz, “We had in mind a place where people could meet up and have something delicious to eat and drink.” Regulars include people who live in the neighborhood, as well as those who love Encuentro enough to travel there from farther afield.
The restaurant features locally sourced food whenever possible. Their mushrooms, for example, are grown just across the bay in South San Francisco. Everything—even the spices—is organic and of the highest quality available. The only two menu items that aren’t, or can’t be made, vegan are the dairy cheeses and deviled eggs. Many options are also gluten-free. You can easily make a meal of the delicious appetizers, which include cucumber tartines, tostaditas with appaloosa bean–pumpkin seed chili, and dates stuffed with goat cheese or macadamia nut pâté and walnut “honey.” You’ll find salads like seared, warm green cabbage; cheese plates (vegetarian or housemade vegan); and entrées like Spinach and Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna, Farro Verde with Roasted Vegetables, and Seared Turnip Cakes. Unexpected side dishes like Tomato Pudding and seasonal desserts round out the menu. According to Braz, one popular item is the marinated Wild Mushrooms with Smoked Pecan Pâté. It’s served with housemade fig chutney and crostini. Another customer fave: the Carrot and Sweet Yam Gnocchi.
Wine selections are offered by the glass. “This way everyone at the table can order what they want,” Braz explains. The majority are made from organic grapes. “A lot of our wines are vegan, which means they haven’t been filtered through any animal products like egg whites,” she adds. You’ll also find small-brewery beers and ciders.
The stylish interior features high ceilings, a long bar, green Italian tiles, and rustic tabletops made of compressed reeds. The staff is unfailingly knowledgeable and friendly.
Encuentro is very much a “celebration place,” Braz says. “We give people a special dessert on their birthday or other occasions.”
Unlike many meat-free restaurants, this one is truly veggie-centric. While some choices contain tofu or tempeh, Encuentro makes vegetables, raw grains, and nuts the cornerstone of nearly every dish. “Don’t expect ersatz burgers or chicken,” Braz says. “You won’t find any fake-meat products on the menu.”