As regular RFR reads will know, so far we’ve made a point of reviewing Richmond restaurants exclusively. But Richmond doesn’t live in a bubble. To expand our scope and get a taste for the flavors of our broader community, we at Radio Free Richmond have decided to review restaurants in San Pablo and El Cerrito, too. Here is our first: La Strada in San Pablo.
La Strada is as contradictory as it is delicious. The restaurant claims Tuscan authenticity to their food, but the owners aren’t Italian. The white stuccoed and terra cotta-shingled exterior make it look like a traditional Mexican restaurant, yet the inside is stuffed with “Italian” decor (plastic grapes draped over ledges, the words “La Cucina” over the kitchen window). So, what’s the deal with La Strada?
“Well, the owners, Martino and Adrian, worked in Italian restaurants for years,” my waiter explained. The two worked together in San Francisco’s historically Italian North Beach neighborhood before opening La Strada in 1996. Whether that translates into “authenticity” is up for debate. One thing that is certain, however, is that La Strada knows how to serve food.
To start, my waiter immediately dropped off a large plate of garlic-filled olive oil and a basket of bread. Promising. As I dipped the bread in, however, a few things were a little odd. I appreciated the garlic in the olive oil as a unique touch, but the sheer amount of garlic made it a little too spicy for my taste. Some parmesan cheese — sadly absent from my table — could have gone a long way in balancing the flavors. Or if the bread had been a little less cold, perhaps the spiciness of the garlic wouldn’t have been so overpowering.
Fortunately the main course — crab ravioli with a spicy cream sauce — was everything I wanted out of an Italian meal. The warm, garlic-infused sauce was the perfect pair to the hearty ravioli, which packed a significant amount of crab meat. Between bites of ravioli I found myself sopping up the sauce with the remaining bread. The bread was a little sweet, and it worked perfectly with the creamy flavors of the sauce. The owners’ years of experience in Italian kitchens were clearly present in this dish.
There were moments throughout the meal, however, where I became distinctly aware that I wasn’t in Tuscany. A pungent antiseptic smell drifted through the air of the restaurant, and it would occasionally waft over and entirely overtake the delicious aroma of my food. Also distracting was the “That’s What I Call Italian” soundtrack over the speakers, which lent itself to the kitschier side of Italian restaurants.
Upon further thought, perhaps La Strada is more tourist Italian than Tuscan Italian. It has the flavors of Italy, but the feel of a tourist trap in San Francisco’s North Beach.
That’s not to say La Stada isn’t a good restaurant. To the contrary, it’s one of the better establishments in the area. The restaurant also has a large downstairs space to hold larger gatherings like birthday parties or wedding receptions.
In the nearly 20 years that La Strada has served the area, the restaurant has become a staple for those who want a good Italian meal that’s more affordable than Salute E Vita Ristorante.
2215 Church Lane, San Pablo
Monday - Thursday: 11 am to 9:30 pm
Friday: 11 am to 10 pm
Saturday: 11:30 am to 10 pm
Sunday: 11:30 am to 9 pm
View their website here.