Urban Latino Offers a Fusion Mashup

The Temescal outlet celebrates the Americas: North, South, and Central.


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Old World paella gets a New World twist with tomato, saffron, and Central American spices at Urbano Latino in Temescal.

Photo by Lori Eanes

When we think of fusion food, most of us imagine East-meets-West.

But at Urbano Latino, which opened last fall in Oakland’s Temescal district, fusion blooms when north meets south and west meets—well, farther west.

Case in point is its New World version of Old World paella.

“I threw some Central American spices in there, along with huge jumbo prawns, mussels, chicken, and tomato-saffron rice, but we use a lot of tomato and a lot of saffron. It’s paella, but it’s very, very different—spicier and drier than the traditional Valencian kind,” asserts consulting chef Munther Massarweh. He was hired to devise a new concept and new menus for what was formerly the Iron Pan creperie.

“I spent months researching the area, visiting its restaurants, talking to customers. A lot of young, up-and-coming couples live and work there, so it’s old money and new money. We wanted a comfortable, affordable place that’s a little hip but not over-the-top, and that serves Latin cuisine—not your standard beans-and-rice Mexican but something current.”

Born and raised in El Salvador, “I grew up with my mother cooking these dishes, and I love them,” adds Massarweh, who owns two Novato restaurants.

He used his mother’s mole-sauce recipe to create Urbano Latino’s Pollo con Mole, whose marinated half-chickens are cooked over hot bricks. And he tweaked thick Central American-style tortillas by adding house-ground salt and high-fat Spanish butter to the masa, then grilling them in pork fat over a hot press.

Popular at the bar are diverse tequilas, build-your-own fresh-fruit margaritas, and house-made negronis.

“Negronis are traditionally made with just gin. Ours is unusual because it includes some gin but mainly Slow Hand white whiskey, barrel-aged in-house for up to eight weeks. We rotate the barrels behind the bar so that our guests can see them.”

Beer-battered Anaheim chiles. Chorizo mac-’n’-cheese. Chipotle-sauced cheeseburgers. Masa cake/goat-cheese salad. Fried chicken with churro-waffles. Under Massarweh’s gaze, mashups take on new meanings.

Urbano Latino, 4307 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-922-1726, www.UrbanoOakland.com.

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