Give me guava ceviche, clarified milk rum punch and all the golden insides, without flying to Florida.
It’s LITA, a new Miami-inspired restaurant opening today in downtown Walnut Creek that has already had dinner reservations through the weekend. Located at 1602 Bonanza St., LITA has been in the works for two years and brings together veteran talent from San Francisco, Oakland, Miami and Mexico. Owner Ghaben Partners, the family of restaurants behind neighboring Broderick Roadhouse, has managed to create a one-of-a-kind spot that fuses modern Cuban and Jamaican fare with Miami vibes and still feels like the Bay Area.
LITA is a showstopper, and these can sometimes tire me, especially when backed by investors who know little about restaurant management. But the Ghaben cousins have run restaurants in and around Walnut Creek since the 1980s, including The Original Mels Diner, which closed in August after 20 years but will soon be home to a hot fried chicken concept of a new generation Ghaben.
They “really love Walnut Creek,” co-owner Rolla Ghaben told me during last night’s preview, and felt that “the city really needs something like LITA.” From their Lafayette restaurant, Batch & Brine, they brought in executive chef Nick Peters to run the kitchen, which served the bustling crowd at fast and confident speed, as if floating pearls of homemade mint syrup in mojitos or turning poached Maine lobster into corn dogs (that’s a Miami thing) is something they’ve been doing for years.
As you enter LITA, everything is brilliantly lit like an iPhone filter, from the marble bar to the custom infinity mirror by Orange County artist Nicky Alice. The purple-patched booths and bar stools are meant to mimic Miami sunsets, but in my opinion, they provide a luminous juxtaposition to the faux concrete walls, which were hand-sculpted by the Miami-based Colombian artist. Miami, Lorna Samara Ash. Gold accents are perfect.
The food too. It’s surprisingly good. The dinner menu is divided into appetizers, ceviches, tacos and empanadas, larger plates and family favorites. Each has only a few options, all made with local ingredients whenever possible. Roasted pineapple and Fresno peppers give layers of gentle heat to crispy, coconut-braised pork belly in a soft homemade blue corn tortilla ($11). The fresh, buttery kampachi is marinated in guava and coconut milk, with cucumber and jicama for crunch ($20).
And Ancho Chili’s Coffee Ribs ($30) are just as tempting as the Half Ventura Heirloom Marinated Jerk Chicken ($27) and its vegetarian counterpart, brimming with jerk maitake mushrooms, Caribbean slaw, tomatoes Scott-Bonnet and coconut rice. ($18).
LITA’s cocktail program is equally impressive. Curated by bar consultant Alex Arriaga, who brings his experience from Lafayette’s Barranco and Emeryville’s Trader Vic’s, the 10 craft cocktails are cutting-edge without being boozy. The dreamy St. Croix Crystal Milk Punch ($15), which comes with an edible flower popsicle, is made by steeping three types of rum with cooking spices, citrus zest and pineapple and using a technique called milk clarification to make the drink crystal clear. , and far too drinkable.
Seriously, go for it.
LITA is open for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday; www.litawalnutcreek.com.