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New! Platano Salvadorean in Berkeley

  • m
  • maus1 Aug 3, 2006 03:32 AM

Tried a new Salvadorean in Berkeley: Platano, 2042 University Av.

Partially unfinished space, but the kitchen up and running.

Yucca cosida-nice size, great crispy pork, and a nice side of cabbage.

Tamales de sal- two wonderful masa tamales in a bannana leaf.

Albondigas- great taste and the sauce was home style light tomato. The meatballs with a mint overtone...just a bit dry.

Carne guisada- very soft with string-beans, potato, carrots. Like grandma would make if she was salvadorean!

Nice sides of beans and rice (red) and a simple salad.

Give it a try...it is definitely above average, great service by a nice Slovakian student...highly recommended.

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  1. Thanks for the report. There was one previous report about the pupusas

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    I was driving by it today and it really is a nice looking restaurant. Not your usual Salvadorean hole in the wall.

    If you try more, please report back. I'll try to get over there one of these days.

    1. My husband and I tried this place a couple of weeks ago. Though it was good, I don't suspect it will make it. First of all, let me say their pupusas were good, as were the platanos con crema y frijoles (fried plaintains with cream and beans), but they have a very big (and empty) restaurant to maintain. They also have some minor things that could become major for their business (i.e. their website doesn't have a phone number on it, the interior decor is classy, but the paintings are quite kitch (would work well for the hole in the wall Salvadorean restaurants I am used to, but not the high end they are going for) and then they have a minimum order amount per person for lunch and for dinner....this seems odd as it is among the throngs of cheap, yummy college food around Shattuck and University. It also seems a bit like shooting themselves in the foot, as they don't have a lot of customers yet, and it might turn people away. On the bright side, the server was very sweet and accomodating, and like I said, the food was as good as any of the delicious Salvadorean hole-in-the-wall joints we have in LA (that I feel many people don't enter because they seem too ethnic or something). Anyway, I must leave this post now, as we are in search of their phone number to get some take-out pupusas (They have 6 or 7 different kinds- I recommend the flor de loroco.) I hope the best for them, but I hope they can adjust to fit their clientel.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bellarella

        what is the minimum order amount per person?

        1. re: bellarella

          I tried this place tonight as well.

          First of all, even at 6:00 on a weeknight, the place was almost empty except for a few quiet grad student-looking types. This was true of just about every other place on the block, and I've seen the same many other nights. Can someone explain what's with the creepy funeral-parlor atmosphere at all those restaurants on that block? Walk past a strip of restaurants in downtown SF around the same time, and they'll all be packed, lively, and inviting.

          That being said, I had a good first experience with Platanos. The cheese/loroco pupusas are very flavorful (I liked them better than those at their sister restaurant Kaliente in El Sobrante), the space is nice (especially the bar in the back) and the staff is nice. I'd love to see it full and thriving one of these days.

          1. re: Agent 510

            "Can someone explain what's with the creepy funeral-parlor atmosphere at all those restaurants on that block? Walk past a strip of restaurants in downtown SF around the same time..."

            No tourists, students have gone home, cold weather keeps people away from the distant movie theaters and bars. Most places in downtown are busier at lunchtime.

            But Ryowa always seems to have a decent amount of business and Taiwan keeps at it even though it's getting more and more threadbare. The pizza place a couple doors up has changed hands several times in the past couple years, as has the sushi place across the street. How the Ghanaian place and the Tibet Cafe have survived the lean times amazes me.

            I've been to Kaliente; didn't know the two spots were related.

            1. re: Agent 510

              That part of University has been like that forever. Creepy is a good way to describe it...although it's not scary, just weird.

              What needs to happen is some urban renewal money and planning like many other run down downtowns (ex: San Jose, Mountain View, etc, etc.) which equates to better street lighting, *maybe* some outdoor dining (might not be wide enough), small store front improvement grants (paint) and some landscaping (trees and light posts) on the center medium because University is as wide as a freeway.

              In many ways what's going on in that block is the same as what's going on at upper Telegraph Ave. and partly why Cody's left. City gov has to step up. I don't see much changing however until there's some kind of wake-up call.

              1. re: ML8000

                Downtown Berkeley's had plenty of planning and spending, it's just been mostly incompetent and counterproductive.

          2. This restaurant certainly needs business--that's true. It has inherited a cavernous space that's been various Chinese restaurants. But as previous posts have said the pupusas are good and the service is good, and I'd note that the plantains are good as well.

            They had a menu on the counter from a Salvadorean restaurant in El Sobrante, on San Pablo Dam Road--I assume there's a connection.

            There ought to be a niche for this restaurant, since the nearest Salvadorean food to the south is in Fruitvale (Los Cocos) and to the north is hard by the freeway in Richmond (La Bamba, masquerading as a standard taqueria).

            1. Just wanted to give a quick update on Platanos. I've eaten there 5 or 6 times, and the food has been consistently good (sometimes very good). I stopped by at lunchtime yesterday for takeout, and picked up an order of pollo asado (grilled chicken leg/thigh) with a side of casamiento and salad, an order of platanos with beans and cream, and 1 each of the following good-sized pupusas:

              -cheese, zucchini, tomato, onion
              -pork, black beans, cheese
              -cheese and loroco
              -pork
              -cheese and beans
              + a side of a sort of light cabbage slaw with vinegar

              The total was a little less than $30, and everything was really good and fresh (the chicken was a little bland for me, but was shared with an enthusiastic toddler). I noticed that the wait time had improved -- everything was ready in about 15 minutes. The food was also packed to go exceptionally well. If you like Salvadorean food, I would really encourage you to try this place.

              1. I wouldn't think papusas would travel well, but if they do that's great. What's loroco? Sorry, I'm new to this.

                1. Loroco is a light-green, somewhat starchy Salvadorean vegetable. I've heard its flavor described as a cross between zucchini and broccoli. I think it's actually the buds or flowers that are eaten.

                  1. I've been using Downtown Berkeley for 25 years and it is a vastly better place--for eating and almost everything else--than when I started. I'll leave it to another discussion to decide how much the public investment in lights, widened sidewalks, signs, healthy trees, improvements at parking facilities, a greatly expanded library, new Berkeley Rep theatre (substantially publicly funded) etc. has contributed to that renewal.

                    It's harder for blocks west of Shattuck to make it as business blocks in Downtown Berkeley than blocks east of Shattuck. University is the only one with a substantial retail presence west of Shattuck. The big flow of people in Downtown Berkeley is from BART east to the university--witness Alborz and all the other thriving restaurants on Center St. The best thing Chowhounds can do for the University Shattuck-Milvia block is eat and drink there, at Platanos, Jaykarta, Au Coquelet and maybe other places.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Nathan Landau

                      It looks like this block is getting another tenant, Bobby G's Pizzeria...

                      http://www.bobbygspizzeria.com/index....

                      It's not open yet but the place looks really nice, and based on the website, sounds like it could be chow-worthy (rather than just another La Val's).

                      It's true that a few blocks in downtown Berkeley are looking good (like Center btw Shattuck/Oxford) but many, like the one discussed here, are just desolate and look like they've been forgotten by time. Being on the edge of DTB's pedestrian zone, where it starts to peter out into a more car-dominated area, doesn't help. Maybe a couple good new restaurants can slowly turn things around.

                      1. re: Nathan Landau

                        Contrast the variety and value for money offered by Ryowa, Jayakarta, Platanos, Cafe Tibet, Papa's, Tropical Paradise, Plearn, and Taiwan with any block that gets BART-UCB foot traffic.

                        I think the relatively bad business environment on University means lower rents and more interesting food.

                      2. I have been at Platanos a couple more times and it has been consistently good (not necessarily great!) But it is always relatively empty. It is sad that even though very close to the University and businesses that area of Berkeley remains so grim. I have a theory that it is related to the automatic opposition that Berkeley "progressives" have to any change in the area (see the Trader Joe's debate recently). But that is for another forum!!!

                        The new Vietnamese down University was very good for dinner last week. As soon as I try it again I will post more in detail.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: marlon

                          I think it has more to do with the fact that there isn't a critical mass of people actually living in that area. To have much street life at night, you need a mixed residential/commercial area, and the University/Shattuck area is bounded by the University on the east, a large commercial/civic area to the south, and more commerical to the west. The only significant concentration of residences is toward the north, and those people are probably more drawn farther north on Shattuck toward the gourmet ghetto or they get in their cars and head down to 4th street. Furthermore, that area has been hurt by the closing of the UC Theater a few years ago.

                          On topic: someone mentioned that this was the only Salvadoran food between Fruitvale and Richmond. Has anyone tried the place across from the West Oakland BART station?

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Berkeley has added a bunch of big new apartment buildings downtown in recent years, mostly south of University, but the primary effect in terms of food seems to have been to draw chain places that cater to the student-ghetto population.

                            I think we're getting chow-worthy places like Platanos and Jayakarta on University precisely because landlords can't charge as much. Line that stretch with 180-units-per-acre apartment buildings and they'll be priced out.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Pupuseria San Salvador
                              1498 7th St
                              Oakland, CA 94607
                              (510) 763-1467

                              If you want to know, probably break it out in a separate topic. There have been two mentions I remember on Chowhound. One was recent and they couldn't remember too much. The other I couldn't find but IIRC, it was fine but nothing to rave about.

                              There were two reviews elsewhere on the web, one of which was pretty funny, the complaint being the tortillas were hand-made using actual hands ... and then the guy ordered a burrito. The other guy liked the pupusas, said they were a bit greasy and maybe skip the burritos and focus on the Salvadoran food.

                              The Chowhound posts I saw weren't enthusiastic enough to make me stop by on a recent West Oakland trip.

                              However, I've still have the following joint to check out down that way
                              The Lord Provides Store, Village Cafe, Thrift & More
                              1053 8th

                              So I might check out San Salvador too. No immediate plans though.

                          2. I have tried a few Salvadorean restaurants in the past and they were very, very bland.

                            Even dishes that sounded and looked spicy...were bland.

                            Is that typical?

                            It reminded me of typical Cuban peoples food.

                            Rice,beans and plantains and on special holidays...more plantains.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Mission

                              Pupusas are bland, but the curtido that's served with them is sometimes pretty spicy, e.g. at La Santaneca in SF. I think of pupusas mostly as a vehicle for curtido.

                            2. Well it's good to be reminded of Robert's list of places on that block, though neither Plearn nor Taiwan have thrilled me for a long time. There's certainly value in low retail rents, but given the general weakness of retail nationally and in the East Bay specifically, I don't think we're in danger of losing that.

                              Any analyst of business will say that more residents mean more customers for busineses, including restaurants. A good example of the value of dense housing in supporting restaurants and eateries is Valencia and Guerrero Streets in the Mission in SF.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Nathan Landau

                                Certainly housing density around 16th/Val is important but I'm guessing at least 60% of the diners aren't from that neighborhood, just like College Ave brings people in from outside the 'hood. Maybe 16th/Val is an unusual example.

                                Part of it is density but it's also destination as well. Look at 4th St. in Berkeley. As much as Berkeleyans will smile eco-friendly rhetoric, it's the parking on 4th St. that brings people in. I think the revitalized Berkeley Rep supports this idea.

                              2. Finally got around to trying this. Some of the best pupusas I've ever had. The rice version of the revuelta (pork and cheese) was my favorite.

                                On the other hand, the worst curtido ever. No oregano, no vinegar, not enough salt. Shockingly bland.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  yes. .. the pupusas are stellar - did you try both kinds - harina de maiz and harina de arroz? I have never like rice flour pupusas until I tried these. Amazing! The curtido is a puzzle. I've asked people if it's a regional thing but no one knows why they would serve such poor curtido.

                                  How was service for you? I love the pupusas and the albondigas are very, very good but I have not returned because of the service.

                                  1. re: pastryqueen

                                    Yeah, tried both. Corn were good too.

                                    Service was fine but it was not very busy and our order was simple.

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I have to agree the pupusas were excellent. I was there two weeks ago and the service was quite good, but it was earlier in the evening. I am looking forward to a return visit soon.

                                    1. re: frangelica

                                      thanks to both of you .. . perhaps the service issues have been ironed out and the secret is to go earlier in the evening.

                                      Now if only they'd work on their curtido. :)

                                  3. Had lunch there today. Very satisfying. Not as transcendent as Gloria's in LA but better than I would have predicted. The pupusas were very nice, plantains done properly with the crema in a little bowl on the side (nice touch). The sweet corn tamale was a bit dry but also less rich than most, with a good flavour. I am not a curtido expert, but what was on offer seemed a reasonable foil to the rest of the food. I've had "boring" Salvadorean before, and this was not boring. We will return for dinner soon. The lunch specials are quite well priced. They were doing reasonable business, and service was efficient and friendly. --PR

                                    1. Link:

                                      -----
                                      Cafe Platano
                                      2042 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704