This is no taqueria, “bun and run” fast food establishment.
Under the guidance of chef/owner Ivan Tellez, this upscale eatery has been around since 2016. At an early age, Tellez worked for family-owned restaurants and butchers shops in his native Chalupas, Mexico.
“From when I was a kid, food has always been my passion,” he recounted.
Since arriving in the United States as a young man, Tellez learned his trade in the San Francisco culinary scene. Among the places he worked were Chevys, Benihana and, most notably, the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7. While many learn their craft in culinary school, Tellez’s education consisted of being employed by two or three restaurants at the same time.
Utilizing his job experience, Tellez parlayed savings and borrowed money from friends to purchase his first food truck in 2013. After the fleet expanded to three, he needed to open a stand-alone restaurant with suitable food preparation facilities.
Given the high quality of food, Canasta Kitchen quickly picked up a solid customer base.
Made to order
Tellez’s culinary expertise can be summarized in his version of Chile Relleno Camaron. Most Mexican eateries stuff a pepper with soft cheese, coat with egg batter, fry and set aside for several hours. Canasta makes each dish to order, adding shrimp, mushrooms and vegetables as requested. Served with a traditional red or green tomatillo sauce, the end result has the texture of a well-made lasagna.
Tellez’s Green Pozole with hominy is somewhere between a soup and a stew. He serves it with radishes, onions, cilantro and a choice of meats. With house-made tortillas to soak up the delectable broth, the pozole personifies Canasta’s excellence.
Another noteworthy selection is the Empanada Trio, originating from the early food truck days. A generous portion of chicken, beef and pork sits on top of a thick masa-cornmeal dough. Finished with melted Cotija cheese, arugula, fresh pico de gallo and sour cream, this is one of his signature dishes.
Canasta serves its menu selections with house-made pinto or black beans. Rather than using lard to impart taste, they utilize carrots, paprika, cayenne and garlic to create a distinctive flavor profile. The pureed black beans are the best I’ve ever tasted for any cuisine.
The menu includes an assortment of ceviche, burritos, tacos and quesadillas, all made with fresh ingredients. Also of note is Canasta’s dessert menu, which features a delicate flan and delicious churros.
Food trucks continue to play an important role in Canasta Kitchen’s economic profile.
“During the lean days of COVID, our mobile vehicles and a loyal customer base allowed us to stay in business,” Tellez noted. “Today, we serve meals everywhere from Bishop Ranch to schools.”
As an involved community member, Tellez works with the JA Foundation, started by former Golden State Warriors Juan Toscano-Anderson, and other charitable organizations to help feed the homeless.
A limited Happy Hour menu with discounted drinks is available 3-6 p.m. weekdays. This is an excellent way to sample the Canasta experience. In addition, they offer brunch on Saturday and Sundays featuring Chilaquiles and Huevos Rancheros. Tellez also operates a restaurant under the same name in Alameda.
Canasta Kitchen, at 2018 Mt. Diablo St., is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Contact Richard Eber at email@example.com.