Joy radiates from Parche, Uptown Oakland’s new contemporary Colombian restaurant, the way a rainbow radiates from a pot of gold. It’s bright and warm and you can’t not smile when you look its way.
On a Friday night just a few weeks after opening, there’s not a single open seat in the house. Guests sit in blue-and-white woven-backed stools at a sunny bar lit by geometrical pendant lamps, and under grand handmade balays that hang like umbrellas from the dining room ceiling. They recline in colorful lounge chairs under the gaze of Colombian jaguars and condors, and dine in front of splashy letterpress posters.
Their collective vibe isn’t just festive, it’s infectious.
At Parche, joy is infectious. (Courtesy of Parche)
Chef-owner Paul Iglesias has been waiting more than a decade to open Parche , a restaurant dedicated to his Colombian heritage and to his mother, who taught him that food is an expression of love. It’s one of the reasons the food here is served family-style. Sharing a meal—really sharing each dish, not just sitting together at the same table hunkered down over individual plates—is one of humanity’s most deeply satisfying experiences.
In Iglesias, Parche has an ambassador as charismatic and engaging as the restaurant itself. Though he must have about 10,000 things to do, he moves through the dining room like he’s got all the time in the world, stopping to welcome guests and walk them through the menu.
Like the country itself, Parche’s take on Colombian food is multidimensional. It’s influenced by the flavors developed by Indigenous South Americans and carried across oceans by Spanish conquerors, enslaved Africans, and Lebanese immigrants. It draws from the riches of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and, in true Bay Area form, takes a holistic approach to ingredients (not to mention offers multiple plant-based options).
Parche chef-owner Paul Iglesias. (Courtesy of Parche)
The menu is split into poquitos, small plates, and boteros, large ones. From its four styles of ceviche, I select the tumaco, a medley of rock cod, coconut-infused lemongrass (“lemongrass is essential to who we are,” says Iglesias), leche de tigre, and the teardrop-shaped South American peppers adorably referred to as sweeties.
Feeling the tropical vibes, I order a Manabana (for the pronunciation, says Iglesias, think Sesame Street ), a vodka cocktail with tart guanabana, sweet banana syrup, and golden bitters. The thoughtful spirit-free menu offers a similar version, the Tart n’ Tropical, sans alcohol. Loading oversized spoonfuls of ceviche onto just-made plantain chips, I try to narrow down the rest of my meal. It’s not easy.
I have to do the patacones, I tell Iglesias. I’ve had them in Colombia but can’t remember ever having seen them before in the Bay Area. They come perfectly fried and crispy, palm-sized coins that the three accompanying sauces—house aji, criolla salsa, and labneh with pickled veggie—render hopelessly addictive.
The carimañolas are another must even though, honestly, I have no idea what exactly to expect. The style I order is made with hand-rolled yucca dough infused with squid ink and stuffed with sweetly succulent blue crab in homage to Igelsias’ youth in Maryland. I’m very glad to make their acquaintance.
(Courtesy of Parche)
Listed among the large plates, next to the Tolima-style lechona (confit pork chop, spiced rice, panela jus, chicharron, pickled red onion, and anise arepas) and the brisket Cundinamarca (beef brisket, corn-queso, and rosemary purple potatoes), I spot my absolute favorite South American dish: encocado, seafood in creamy coconut sauce. Iglesias’ version knocks it out of the park. The black cod, shrimp, and mussels are melt-in-your-mouth tender, the coconut lobster and squash broth is decadent in its sweet savoriness. I know it’s meant to be shared but feel the strong urge to guard it like a lion guards her kill. I want every last drop to be mine and mine alone.
As soon as he knows I’m interested in dessert, Iglesias sends out a dish before I’ve even had a chance to blink. “I want you to ask yourselves this when it comes,” he says cryptically. “Why not burrata?” Why not indeed, especially when it’s drizzled with raspberry-guava-Buddha’s-hand sauce and arequipe (a caramel similar to dulce de leche), and dusted with a salty-sweet crumble.
There’s so much more on the menu I want to try: salmon salpicon with crispy plantain rings, arepas with slow-cooked shredded beef and fried quail egg, a root beer float made with tres leches crumble ice cream. A second cocktail courtesy of beverage director Eric Syed—this one a spiced rum, clove and chai concoction called the Vaca Flaca—only wets my whistle for what I haven’t yet tasted, including Iglesias’ creative Spanish-style gin and tonics.
But as usual, my eyes are bigger than my stomach…and my car isn’t going to drive itself home.
Lucky for me—lucky for us all—with its great food and a vibe that’s as fun as it is welcoming, Parche looks destined to stay.
// Parche is open for dinner nightly; 2295 Broadway (Oakland), parcheoak.com
For dessert, burrata with arequipe and a salty-sweet crumble. (Courtesy of Parche)