New Jack London Square Restaurant Cocina Poblana Challenges Assumptions about Mexican Cuisine

Oakland, CA – Jack London Square will receive a delectable addition this week with the grand opening ofCocina Poblana restaurant. The occasion will be marked with a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration at 4:30PM on January 18th. The opening is yet another sign of Jack London Square’s renaissance as the East Bay’s new epicenter of culture, cuisine, and commerce.

When Cocina debuts this Friday, guests are likely to find a few surprises on the menu. Though the staples of Mexican-American cuisine do make brief appearances on Cocina’s menu, the real attraction will be a slate of dishes that may be unfamiliar to the typical American diner.

“Too often, people believe that there’s nothing more to Mexican food than a small number of standard dishes: quesadillas, burritos and tacos.” said Head Chef Chris Zekos. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Mexico is home to an astounding culinary diversity. The United Nations recently issued a declaration, stating that Mexico had the most varied cuisine of any country in the world. Not only every region, but every individual town has its own distinct dishes, ingredients, and rich traditions.”

The menu at Cocina Poblana features a list of influences that spans the depth and breadth of Mexico’s 31 states, but owes its greatest debt to the regional fare of Puebla and Jalisco. One of Mexico’s oldest Spanish cities, Puebla is filled with genteel colonial architecture. Its cuisine is equally delicate and complex, as perfectly displayed in Chef Zekos’ Chiles en Nogadas. Poblano chiles are stuffed with a savory mixture of shredded chicken, fruit, and toasted almonds, then covered in a rich pecan and honey sauce and garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.

The cuisine of Jalisco, home of tequila and mariachis, is more robust and rustic, reflecting the region’s wild Pacific terrain. No matter its origin, every recipe blends traditional elements with modern techniques and ingredients. All the meats used by Cocina will be locally and organically grown, with beef coming from the Niman Ranch and chicken from Petaluma Poultry.

“If you want higher quality, more authentically Mexican food, you’ll have to hop a plane to the other side of the border,” said Michael Jimenez, Cocina’s General Manager.

Cocina’s influences are not only geographical, but personal as well. Many of the menu items are made with traditional family recipes, having been passed down through the generations of chef-owner Lito Saldana’s family. Four generations of Saldanas are represented in the menu, from Lito’s mother, Mama Luisa, to Lito himself.

Cocina receives its inspiration from the family kitchen,” says Saldana, “from the simple, elegant recipes of home-style cooking which I grew up with. When guests come into my restaurant, they are just that; not merely customers, but guests in my home.”

In addition to exceptional cuisine, Cocina Poblana will house a formidable selection of fine tequilas. With nearly 300 100% agave tequilas on hand, Cocina’s collection will be the largest in the East Bay. Connoisseurs will have the opportunity to consult with the restaurant’s knowledgeable staff, each of whom have undergone extensive training on the history, crafting, and characteristics of each tequila. The bar will offer tequilas ranging from those made in the traditional artisanal style to modern tequilas aged in Bordeaux barrels. In addition, the bar will soon offer a sophisticated tequila club, where patrons will have the chance to become certified as legitimate tequila connoisseurs. The center of the restaurant will feature an elegant glass vault where customers will be able to store their prize bottles.

The interior design of Cocina Poblana highlights classical Mexican themes, featuring tile mosaics and intricate tin accents. A “tortilla bar” situated in the heart of the space will allow patrons to see for themselves the care put into the crafting of the restaurant’s hand-made corn tortillas. The 250 seat restaurant will offer both indoor and outdoor dining for lunch and dinner service.

The opening of Cocina Poblana is yet another sign of Jack London Square’s rebirth as the East Bay’s center for culture, cuisine, and commerce. Last year, ground was broken on the new Jack London Market, a 180,000 square foot project soon to be the West Coast’s largest public market. The new building will be part of a $375 million renovation being undertaken by Ellis Partners and Jack London Square Investors.

Cocina Poblana is located at 499 Embarcadero West in Oakland. Cocina will be open for coffee, lunch and dinner, Monday – Friday and for Brunch, Lunch and Dinner on Saturdays and Sundays. for more information or call 510.451.4700.

About Ellis Partners:
Ellis Partners LLC ( was founded in 1993 for the purpose of acquiring and developing commercial real estate properties. The firm has a long history of championing and completing architecturally significant renovation and development projects.