by Vickie Lewis
Breakfast and lunch dining opportunities in Contra Costa expanded in February 2015 with the opening of Bubbaloo Café, located on South Marina Way in Richmond, in what one might consider an “industrial area.” However, the venue is actually in a very desirous location, adjacent to the Marina Bay harbor, with ample parking and spacious accommodations to complement the view and proximity to the bay.
Bubbaloo owners, Gio Gelera, and his wife, Candice Ngyuen, grew up in and currently live in San Leandro. Their families have owned and operated restaurants in the Bay Area for years, and the couple had aspired to open their own café business for some time. Their opportunity came when their landlord approached them with a proposal to occupy their current location. Candice acknowledged that as soon as they stepped foot into the space, “we immediately fell in love with the location, and all the potential an eatery would have here.” They were ecstatic to be able to bring their plans and dreams to life.
So why the name Bubbaloo? Gio grew up as a huge fan of the “I Love Lucy” television program, and unfortunately, two names that were initially proposed for the café (presumably from the show) were not usable. Ultimately, the couple combined the names of their two pet French Bulldogs, Bubba and Leeloo, to derive the name “Bubbaloo” for their café! Candice shared that Bubba and Leeloo show so much affection to them, and they “want to express that same level of dedicated affection to the hungry souls who dine with us.”
Bubbaloo offers breakfast and lunch selections Monday through Friday from 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM. They offer a selection of simple yet interesting items for both meals, many of which are influenced by various cultures. Some of the family recipes used at Bubbaloo go back several generations. The owners and staff meet regularly to review the menu for opportunities to add to or subtract from the menu, and to determine daily specials that will stimulate their customers’ taste buds and keep them coming back to try new selections.
The interior of the café is spacious with a high ceiling and has a very open, casual feeling. There are 8 tables, as well as bar seating along the front window for dining and/or using the free Wi-Fi. Outside seating is also available at concrete tables, complete with umbrellas for sunny days. There is also a “cozy corner” in the café with a plush sofa and chairs, perfect for enjoying coffee or chatting with friends. In addition to the flat screen TV, patrons can also admire a beautiful hand painted mural that adorns one large wall of the café. The mural was painted by an urban artist by the name of “Reptile”, and is a vision based on a dream he had after seeing the empty wall in the café. At first glance, it appears to be a painting of the San Francisco skyline; however, a closer look reveals many other features; for example, images of Mother Nature breathing life into the earth; and a few hidden items, such as characters from the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—and yes, even Waldo! The mural is vibrant and colorful and makes for a great conversation piece among customers.
My guest and I visited Bubbaloo for a late afternoon lunch, and had the opportunity to see the appetizing presentation of several prepared lunch specialties, separate from the selections we ordered. The lunch menu includes sandwich and burger options, as well as salads, hot dishes, and a special of the day. In addition to classic sandwiches, Bubbaloo offers several specialty sandwiches such as Chicken Teriyaki, Hot Pastrami and Bacon, Seared Salmon Filet, and the Bubbaloo Banh Mi prepared on a fresh baguette. The four burgers offered can be prepared with beef, turkey, or vegetarian patties, and include all the standard condiments and a few more! We saw the Bubbaloo Burger with Loaded French Fries, and the Blue Ribbon Chicken with regular French Fries, both of which looked very hearty and delicious. The Shaking Beef and Rice plate (made with tender chunks of filet mignon), as well as the Lemon Grass Chicken and Rice plate (which is Candice’s mother’s secret recipe) also looked appetizing, and the aromas of both were wonderful. The portions of each item were very generous and the prices were reasonable—most menu items cost well under $10.00. My guest decided to try the Blue Ribbon Chicken sandwich with a side of Italian Wedding soup. I was enticed by the loaded fries that I’d seen served with the Bubbaloo burger, so I ordered a side of these along with a Cobb Salad. For starters, we ordered the Lumpia appetizer, one of Bubbaloo’s specialties.
While we waited for our lunch, we were served glasses of iced Vietnamese Coffee. This coffee is a special recipe prepared by the head chef, Loretta, and it was superb! It was rich, creamy, smooth, and sweet—and tasted a bit like mocha. However, I learned that there was no chocolate in the coffee—just the rich flavor of Loretta’s special blend of ingredients. Bubbaloo also offers a full espresso bar, and an assortment of other beverages, such as sodas, teas, and water. While sipping the iced coffees, we enjoyed the fresh Shanghai Lumpia, fried to a golden-brown perfection, and served with a sweet garlic chili dipping sauce. All I can say is “Yum!”
Our meals arrived quickly and with equally nice presentation as the entrees we had seen earlier. The Blue Ribbon Chicken is a Crispy Fried Chicken Tenderloin topped with Swiss Cheese, Honey Ham, and Honey Mustard Sauce on a Brioche Bun. The bun was very fresh and soft, and the chicken was hot and tender, and the combined ingredients made for an exquisite flavor. The accompanying cup of Italian Wedding Soup was filled with small pastina and meatballs in a savory broth. Soups are homemade fresh daily, and some other daily selections include Lobster or Crab Bisque, Clam Chowder, and Tomato Basil, to name a few. My Cobb Salad was very large, piled high with ingredients, including seasonal mixed greens, chicken, egg, bacon, avocado, bacon and blue cheese crumbles. There were numerous dressing choices, and I chose to combine Caesar and Balsamic vinaigrette. The avocado was not sliced but rather scooped in small mounds, making it easy to mix with the other salad ingredients. This entrée was recommended by our excellent server, Amara, and I would definitely recommend this as a very hearty and healthy lunch for only $8.25. Last but not least, the side order of loaded fries was excellent and sinful! The portion size of French fries was quite large, and they were generously topped with freshly cooked crumbled bacon, onions (chives), sour cream, and what appeared to be a blend of cheddar and Monterey Jack grated cheeses. The fries were also drizzled with Bubbaloo’s special homemade sauce, which is a bit like Thousand Island dressing, but with a spicy kick to it. (This sauce is also used on a number of other items offered at Bubbaloo’s). Besides the fact that the fries were delicious, I enjoyed the fact that the toppings were not gone after the first few bites. Loaded French fries can be served as a side order to any of the sandwiches or burgers available on the menu.
Gio and Candice are planning to open the café on Saturdays and also will begin hosting Sunday brunch in the near future. If you aren’t fortunate enough to work or live close enough to Bubbaloo to go there during the week, their new weekend hours will give you a perfect opportunity to try out this newer Richmond eatery. Bubbaloo also offers catering service to local areas, so be sure to check them out if you are seeking good food for an upcoming event. They have catered many times for local businesses and have received rave reviews for both their food and service. Check out their 4.5 star rating on Yelp, as well as their recently posted Yelp video that features some of their best selling entrees. Candice, Gio, and their staff are committed to making your dining experience pleasurable so that you will come back to dine with them often. Try them out—you’ll be very happy that you did!
1402 Marina Way South, Suite B in Richmond | 510-680-5126
Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM