Beer-battered fish tacos are topped with serrano crema and pickled red onions. All images courtesy of Bombera

Dish By DishSan Francisco

The Twists on Modern Mexican at Bombera in Oakland, in Five Dishes

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Oakland  

Bombera is Chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros’s sophomore restaurant, which opened in May last year for indoor and outdoor dining in Oakland’s Dimond District. Bombera, which translates to female firefighter or firewoman in Spanish, is aptly named: the full-service restaurant is built inside an old fire station — there’s no other restaurant quite like it.

“A firefighter friend told us about the space,” says Rice-Cisneros. “I immediately drove by the location – I used to live a couple blocks away, but I never noticed the firehouse, even though it was right there. It was perfect.”

Prior to opening Bombera, Rice-Cisneros ran Cosecha for a decade or so in the Swan’s Market in Downtown Oakland. A Los Angeles native, Rice-Cisneros has cooked all over the world, from four-star hotels in Mexico City to fine dining restaurant Daniel in New York, to the famed farm-to-table Chez Panisse right here in nearby Berkeley. Bombera is the culmination of all these experiences.

Here is a look at a few of these dishes.

1. Pozole Verde

“Pozole isn’t meant to be shared, it’s meant to be eaten,” says Rice-Cisneros. Accordingly, she offers pozole in two sizes — a small for those who want to eat many things, and a large for anyone who wants to make a meal out of it.

The recipe comes from her Tia (aunt), and the broth contains lots of garlic, cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, and tomatillo. But the real secret is that Rice-Cisneros reserves simmered corn broth and cuts it with chicken broth, resulting in a simultaneously light and hearty soup. Lots of lime on top freshens the whole thing.

2. Tacos

You can get beer-battered shrimp tacos (Rice-Cisneros prefers Modelo Negro), but on Mondays Bombera does a fish taco, using delicate wild cod from Monterey Fish Market. It’s served on tortillas made from imported yellow corn from Mexico prepared in-house, nixtamal and all. A dollop of creamy, slightly spicy serrano crema and pickled red onions balance it all, and a cute cilantro sprig is the green garnish we need.

Pro tip: There’s an off-menu pork belly taco — it was a Cosecha favorite and is for the fans, friends, family, and those in the know (ahem).

3. Duck Carnitas

Instead of the usual slow-simmered pork that’s fried in its own fat for carnitas, Bombera does duck confit with Liberty Ducks from Sonoma. “I really, really love the family that runs the Liberty Duck farms,” says Rice-Cisneros. “It’s these sorts of small farms that were really hit [by COVID], and I just want to make sure we’re supporting the farmers and ranchers.”

The duck legs are slowly cooked in duck fat, citrus, and beer, then seared upon order to get a nice crisp on the outside. The set is served with a mole verde (green) made with toasted pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and lots of fresh herbs, as well as a side of beans and rice. Go to town or make tacos with them — the choice is yours.

4. Carrots

One wouldn’t think carrots would be a such a star menu item, but they’re a hit: “We have a lot of regular customers that followed us from Cosecha — they’re bananas over the carrots,” says Rice-Cisneros. It’s the literal first item on the menu, and it just happens to be a full-on vegan dish.

Carrots from Riverdog Farm are cooked in carrot juice, then seared to order in olive oil. It’s served on a bed of beans (they change often — you’ll find either butter, black, or borlotti, depending on what Bombera has on hand). There’s a salsa verde in the mix to brighten it up, as well as a spicy, crunchy toasted almond black chile salsa misantla. It’s hearty, satisfying, and Pretty Freakin’ Good, as one might say.

5. Cocktails

And because Bombera has a proper liquor license, you may want to consider a couple of cocktails from bar manager Christopher Sanne. A paloma never hurt anyone, here made with grapefruit cordial, pink peppercorn, cinnamon, grapefruit, and mezcal, topped with tonic. Or if you so please, the picture pair of pisco sours could be downed with ease.

There’s also beer on tap, as well as a whole slew of spirits to fit whatever spirit you’re in.