A restaurant I can call “ours”

I always wanted to have a neighborhood restaurant. I don’t mean a restaurant in my neighborhood, but a place I could consider “my restaurant”, where I could go for lunch or dinner without thinking twice about it and would go there a lot. A place where they’d get to know me and my food preferences.
When I was in college, Pirro’s, a small, super-cheap restaurant on Shattuck was “my” restaurant. My friend Connie discovered it and soon we were all hooked. The food was simple and good, I really liked its hearty tomato sauce, and the portions were generous and cheap. A lunch-portion of ravioli, large enough for dinner, was abut $4.25 (keep in mind this was over a decade ago). I could also get a glass of wine (never carded me) for about $2. As a non-adventurous broke college student, this was perfect. They never really got to know me – even at those prices I couldn’t afford to go that often – but I certainly felt it was my restaurant. Whenever I had to take someone out to dinner or suggest a place to go, that’s where we’d go. Pirro’s close a few years ago, and a (pretty good) Thai restaurant opened in its place, but I will always have fond memories of it.
When we moved to San Leandro, Pring’s, a coffee-shop on East 14th, became “our” restaurant. We liked the food – their San Francisco burger was our favorite – and loved the service by veteran waitresses. We also liked how the restaurant was open until very late at night and that the portions were large enough to share. Our favorite waitress did get to know us and what we ordered and we could always do some small talk with her when we got there. Alas, Prings was sold (probably for too much money) and soon after that it closed. Now it’s an Italian restaurant, Bella Italia, which we don’t like nearly as much.
For some time, I’d entertained the hope that Pee Wee’s could become our restaurant. It’s only down the street from us and like Pirro’s, it’s Italian and quite cheap. It doesn’t have the atmosphere of Pirro’s, but it has the advantage that it’s child friendly enough. Unfortunately, I don’t like the food nearly as much as I liked Pirro’s. While I oftened found myself craving the melt-in-your-mouth softness of Pirro’s pasta, I can’t even recall what Pee Wee’s taste like, even though we’ve gone there several times.
For quite a while, then, I mourned the lack of a neighborhood restaurant I could call my own. Then, a few months ago, Le Soleil opened in downtown San Leandro, only a few blocks away from my home. We liked Le Soleil right away, the food was yummy, the service friendly and the atmosphere stylish yet inviting. The portions at first were on the small side, but they grew to be nicely filling and the service has become not just friendly, but solicitous and outstanding.
Despite all this, I never thought of Le Soleil becoming our restaurant for the simple fact that it serves Vietnamese food, which I don’t associate with comfort. And yet that’s what it has become. I should have realized it last summer, when after watching a movie on our “girls night out” Lola and I decided to stop at Le Soleil for some dinner – only to run into Mike and Michaela who were dining there, and later greet our friends Tita and Percy who were also coming there to eat. Without much throught, Le Soleil became the place for Mike to take Michaela out for dinner on my girls night out – and for Lola and I to dine when we can’t think of anything else (and there isn’t anything else better in San Leandro), we now try to go at different times, however. It’s also the place I take friends from out of town (unfortunately their vegetarian selection is not great, so it doesn’t work for Regina) and a regular stop when Kathy comes to visit. And it’s the place we go when we don’t know where else to go, which is quite often.
We still haven’t become friends with the waiters, though knows Michaela and always gives her some candy (with our permission) but I’m sure that will come. For the time being I’m just glad to have found a restaurant in San Leandro I can call “ours”.

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