Anthony of Popoca
What strikes me most about Anthony’s food is the level of intentionality behind it. The masa is fresh-milled, the pupusas are stuffed and formed when you order, and everything is cooked to perfection over a bustling, smokey fire. Eating at Popoca, it’s evident that Anthony doesn’t just cook you a meal, but makes you an offering of heritage.
The dishes are recreations of street food Anthony eats when in El Salvador, but with local Bay Area flavor. Every single item is made from scratch. The dishware is reminiscent of the plates and bowls he remembers from his grandparents’ house (Anthony hunted for suitable replicas in The Mission). The oil used to flavor the food is slow cooked over the fire in a pot filled with cloves of garlic. The produce is locally-sourced, the herbs come from the garden. No detail is overlooked.
You can’t help but get the feeling that Popoca, meaning ‘to emit smoke’, is what Anthony’s culinary career has been building up to. After years in fine dining at restaurants including Saison, Commonwealth, Quattro, and Michel, Anthony was ready to take full ownership of his food and introduce the Bay Area to the El Salvadoran cuisine that he loves.
BAYDISH: What was the motivation to leave fine dining and start your own pop-up?
ANTHONY: When you work for other people you are forced to work around what they feel is important, and to create with boundaries. It's important to learn from others and to never stop learning, but I felt I was finally ready to break out without any influence to build something that's mine.
BAYDISH: How does heritage play a role in your food?
ANTHONY: Herritage is the reason why my food exists. I started Popoca because I wanted to be closer to my roots, learn about my roots and teach what I've learned through food.
BAYDISH: Why is it important to you to cook your food over an open fire?
ANTHONY: Cooking over wood adds so much depth and flavor to food. It's the oldest form of cooking and is part of everyone's heritage. It's also a way to bring people close to stay warm but also because it makes the ambiance feel romantic and cozy.
BAYDISH: How would you like to see the Bay Area restaurant industry change?
ANTHONY: Better quality of life in cooks and chefs. I think there's a lot attached to that though. Restaurants are too often afraid to charge for what their food is worth based on being judged as too expensive. I would love people to understand what it takes to run a restaurant. The labor and the price for quality is not cheap so why does the food \we make need to be cheap? I spend more money on cooking at home sometimes then I do eating out.
BAYDISH: What are you most proud of?
ANTHONY: Easy, I'm most proud of my son. He's already so wise and has such a big heart. I'm sure he'll make tons of mistakes but I can already tell he's gonna be one of the greats.
BAYDISH: What do you hope to teach your son through food?
ANTHONY: To be open minded and curious. I want him to learn that food is the universal language that brings everyone together. I hope it'll be a big part of his adventures and his moments.
Keep up with Anthony at Popoca Oakland and catch his pop-up at Classic Cars West Beer Garden. Stay tuned to find Anthony working on new dishes like Salvadoran Blood Sausage, Ceviche, and other foods inspired by local Bay Area produce.