Fresh Mex

Oakland is at the center of the Cal-Mex movement

We can now call it: 2012 is officially the year of the California-Mexican bistro.

Comal and Copita debuted this year. Nopalito opened a second location. And in the past two months, two small neighborhood restaurants in Oakland have opened, both evincing Mexican flavors and Bay Area sensibilities.

At Destino, a converted house in Grand Lake with a warren of rooms, chef Marisol del Rio calls on her French culinary training and Mexican upbringing. Her best dishes may be sopecitos ($6.50), silver-dollar-size corn cakes topped with black beans and chorizo, and a resolutely traditional birria ($16), beef braised–melted down, really–in a brick-red purée of chiles and spices. Destino, 3909 Grand Ave. (at Wildwood Ave.), Oakland; 510-788-4152 or destinobarandrestaurant.com

Nido's chef, Silvia McCollow, cooked at B Restaurant and Cosecha (another Cal-Mex spot) before opening a restaurant east of Jack London Square with her husband, Cory. McCollow credits her sources on the menu, and blends traditions with dishes like a fat, tender pork chop ($16) ringed with a swirl of intense chile-almond mole, more nutty than hot; it's served with grilled squash and a sweet-corn tamal. Nido, 444 Oak St. (at Fifth St.), Oakland; 510-444-6436 or nidooakland.com