We'd driven by Marina Restaurant hundreds of times, but never thought to stop. The restaurant has a plain facade that is not exactly inviting. Still, I'm committed to trying every restaurant in San Leandro so when our dining plans fell apart one night in June 2004, I suggested we give it a try.
The small restaurant is cozy inside. The walls are covered with wood paneling - giving it a slight Swiss aura - and there is some happy Mexican art on the walls. At 8:PM, when we got there, the restaurant was deserted save for the family that runs it and a woman waiting for take out. Another couple came by while we were there. The lack of patrons proved to be a good thing as they didn't have (or at least didn't offer) a high chair. Without a method to restrain her, Mika wandered about soon after finishing the meal.
Marina features two menus: Mexican and Italian. The Mexican concentrates on taquería style dishes: burrito, carne asada, chile colorado and three types of shrimp (prices for entrees average $8). The Italian menu features traditional Italian-American dishes like veal scallopini and pastas (about $8-13). The problem with restaurants that attempt more than one cuisine at once (rather than harmonizing different cuisines under the same culinary philosophy) is that they are seldom very good at either. Unfortunately this was the case with Marina Restaurant. The dishes we tried varied from eatable to OK, but nothing we had was actually good.
I wanted to try both menus so we ordered guacamole and garlic bread as appetizers (the latter came with the meal) and Mike had a carne asada super burrito ($5.75) while I went for the Pasta de la Casa (~$8). Complimentary chips and salsa were brought to the table when we arrived.
The chips were warm - always a plus - and pretty good. The salsa wasn't too spicy, a fact that Mika surely appreciated. The guacamole, however, was terrible. It had an extremely creamy texture and no flavor at all; there were no avocado chunks of any size and almost no hint of onions or lemon juice. The mashed avocado had clearly been mixed in with some other substance (sour cream perhaps?), but the result was not good.
The garlic bread suffered from a similar problem - it barely tasted of garlic. It was a little overdone, but it wasn't bad. I liked it with my pasta sauce. The Pasta de la Casa consisted of penne pasta with a bolognese-type sauce that included several types of ground meat. Parmesan cheese was grated at the table. The sauce was quite homey and satisfying and occasionally would offer up a hint of fennel from Italian sausage, but generally suffered from a lack of seasoning. Mika enjoyed the penne, and we finished the whole dish.
The best that can be said for Mike's super burrito is that it was huge - it truly lived up to its name. However, it had no flavor whatsoever. The carne gave no hints of having been asada, and none of the other ingredients (rice, beans, lettuce and cheese) seemed to have any seasonings either. In all, he characterized it as "edible" but would prefer not to eat it again.
Marina prides itself on being "family owned since 1979," though apparently the family which runs it now is not the same that ran it back in ‘79. It is, however, a family affair. "Dad" (I presume) was our waiter, while Mom was running some numbers at a table. The kids had dinner there too, and also helped a little with the waiting.
I'm sad to have to give Marina Restaurant such a low rating. I love that restaurants be run by families rather than business conglomerates and I was really predisposed to like Marina. Indeed, I liked the ambiance and the prices are extremely reasonable. But the food just didn't cut it with us. I don't think we'll go again, but if we do we'll probably order from the Italian menu.
2144 Marina Blvd.
San Leandro, CA
Open daily 10am to 9pm