I don’t typically order a veggie burger when I eat out, mostly because it’s one of those things I can whip up (as in, de-thaw and toss onto a frying pan) at home.
And so I found myself on a Monday afternoon, perched solo at a window table in the back, biting into a crispy, golden-brown bun packed with a vegan patty, butter lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, spicy pickles, and blue cheese, smeared with 1000 Island dressing.
The textures were perfect. It was juicy AND crunchy. It had that just-right amount of spice and tang, and it was far superior to anything I could assemble at home. Best of all, it came cradled next to a bed of fries: thick-cut, bronzed, and generously salted. I’d brought a book to read, but the flavors, the oldies music streaming from the jukebox, and the view of a sunny West E Street were companion enough.
Lucca was opened in 2009 by Jan and Carol Lucca. Prior to that, they owned O’Leary’s, a bar farther down First Street. When rising rents forced them to relocate, they had trouble finding a space zoned for a bar, so they needed to incorporate food into the business. Their original concept for Lucca was French Californian cuisine, but it didn’t catch on. A new vision emerged: Gastro-pub style food.
“We figured Benicia needed more of a bar and grill with upscale bar food,” says Sonya Battersby, Lucca’s longtime general manager. “There was nothing like it at the time — you really only had Mexican, Chinese, pizza and seafood.”
Aiming for a menu that could be loosely described as “San Francisco food meets Napa,” Lucca found its stride. Today, Chef Allen Manuel and his team offer a range of shared plates (including jalapeno poppers with garlic cream cheese and bacon), sandwiches, salads, burgers, pasta dishes, and meat and seafood entrees, plus three daily specials. The popular Fish and Chips are served with creamy coleslaw, and the batter is made in-house with Sierra Nevada beer. Tuesday and Wednesday nights feature the Fried Chicken special, served in a bucket with cheddar biscuits and campfire corn.
“We take your basic dish and put our twist on it,” says Battersby. Lucca provides plenty of drink options to pair with your meal: cocktails made with seasonal fruits and herbs (they brandy their own cherries and make their own simple syrups), 20 beers on tap, and a California-dominated wine list, with more than 30 choices offered by the glass. You won’t find a better deal on bottles: with a minimum $15 food purchase per table, you can enjoy any bottle of wine at half price.
With brick walls, orange accents, and a sculptural lighting piece above the bar made with electrical cords, Lucca has a modern industrial vibe that’s inviting whether you’re dressed up for date night or stopping for lunch after a workout. “We get people from all walks of life,” says Battersby. “We wanted to create a local place that anyone feels welcome at.”
Since 2016, Lucca has become Benicia’s go-to spot for outdoor live music, transforming their back lot into a lively beer garden with bands and barbecue. From March through October, you can listen to everything from country to motown to rock—while downing a cold brew and digging into fare like bratwurst, tri tip, or a Kobe hotdog. The bands hail from all over California, performing on an intimate corner stage.
“People love what we’re doing and love that Benicia has it,” says Battersby. “With friendly staff and good food that our cooks are proud of it, there’s always a reason for people to come to Lucca.”
439 First St., Benicia