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Sep 4, 2007 03:30 PM

Sol Food - San Rafael

We were trying to go have dinner at Sabor a Spain last night, but they were closed so we opted for this Puerto Rican Restaurant.

I have to write that I was really dissapointed all in all.

With so many times passing here, seeing it packed and the very fact that they had to open a second location due to this very popularity - I had high hopes.

We ordered a Cuban sandwich, a Jibaro (fried, flattened Plantain "bread" & steak sandwich inventied by PR immigrants in Chicago) with salad, rice and beans, the Special: Picadillo and the Tostones con queso and tomato as an appetizer (upon the recco of the woman taking our order).

The Jibaro was the only worthwhile dish of the bunch and I could see myself coming back for this alone. The unusual combonation really worked - crisp, hot, and salty plantain with the sweet fried onions and thin medium juicy steak.

The greens were nice in the olive oil and lemon dreessing.

The Tostones con queso would have been decent if it were not for the copious amont of jack cheese melted over it. A Judicious sprinkling would have been much better.We kind of ate around the edges . I liked the garlic and olive oil mojo undercurrent - once you got past the queso.

I don't really want to mention the pathetic cuban. Barely pressed,, flooded with ballpark mustard which drowned out any other flavor. Scraps of roast pork rather than slices of juicy meat. One afterthought of thin ham and measly pickle. Dont order this.

The picadillo was ok, Thats it. It was written as ground beef but I kind of think it may have been ground pork. Not much of a sauce - and nothing to that little sauce. No spice, herb element. Pretty boring.

One thing I did like with a major disadvantage (high salt level) was the beans. They were brothy pinto beans with maybe a little ground pork, potatoes, peppers and -what I really enjoyed- manzanilla pimento stuffed olives. They were actually served us 2 ways - with the picadillo in a little wooden bowl, rice alongside/ with the jibaro - over the white rice.

The Jibaro's beans over the rice were much more edible because the rice cut the salt. The presence of the spanish olives should be taken in mind when seasoning the beans.

So I think I'll stick with El Rey Pakal next time I'm in town.

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  1. K-R, sorry you had a bad experience. I have to say that I love Sol Food. I live in Oakland and can only get there on weekends, but it has become a special adventure for me and my husband. I have only gone to the little/original location. One of the things I like most is that most plates include a salad and starch option. The offer is one of the most fresh and complete meals I've found in restaurants in the Bay Area. And the price for the amount of food is unbeatable.

    I usually get an order of the baked chicken thighs. These have always been moist and delicious. It comes with a salad and tostones or maduros. The tostones are crisp, hot, and fablous. Other times I have ordered the fish special that comes with rice and beans, tostones/maduros, and a salad. More often than not, a slice of avocado is included. I've never found the food too salty, but it is more salty than Cal cuisine. They also try to use organic and sustainable ingredients, which I appreciate.

    I have lived in Cuba and in Miami and in my experience the Cubano (cuban sandwich) that most Americans *think* they should get is unlike any Cubano I've ever had. Not that "authenticity" (tongue in cheek) should trump deliciousness, but.... Most Americans want moist fatty pork and, like you, are appalled at ballpark mustard. For me Cubanos have always been a little dry and it wouldn't be the same without that tangy yellow mustard and pickles. Also, no Cuban I know would want their tostones with jack cheese on top. I'm surprised that that was on the menu. What could they be thinking?

    Anyway, give it another go if you will. The older little restaurant, albeit space limited, is just precious. I like to sit outside in the sun among the banana plants. I'll have to try the Jibaro; it sounds delicious.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sarvey

      Thanks for your response and assessement sarvey. The chicken I have seen does look very good and I am always not thereon the day with that special of the pasteles, and the roast pork which i really want to try.

      If you make it all the way out from Oakland - for the food - I must have hade a fluke experience. The kitchen was pretty busy. :)

      1. re: sarvey

        I second the baked chicken thighs with tostones. I love the whole thing, especially with that liquid hot sauce. It's also quite a lot of food.

        I tried the Jibaro a while ago but it didn't work for me. I think the problem was what I considered a poor excuse for steak inside the sandwich.

        1. re: Mick Ruthven

          Addition of a shake of pique is needed with much of the food, especially if one is used to Mexican-level spice. (g)

          Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine
          732 4th St, San Rafael, CA 94901

          Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine
          901 Lincoln Ave, San Rafael, CA 94901

      2. If you expected fine dining, you went to the wrong place - this is semi-fast food. Excellent for that, IMHO, but sometimes a menu item may not succeed.

        The mustardy Cubano surprised me too. But I finished the whole thing feeling good about it - hey, it came quickly; filled me up in a pleasant way. By the last bite, mustard tasted good....

        2 Replies
        1. re: Waterboy

          Fine dining, no - I just expected more for a place that just won best new restaurant in the pacific sun - for what its worth.

          Funny you mentioned fast food - as that exact thought crossed my mine while witing in line. The machine the guy used looked exactly like the one I "manned" at 15 at Burger King.

          LOL - do they really use that much Mustard and ball park to boot?! I could swear that there are place that use a little dijon...

          1. re: kare_raisu

            My last order was tapped in with the guy's credit card on the touch screen. Fast food indeed.

            Their Cubano has enough yellow mustard to cage your eyeballs wide open & straight ahead at first bite. Half as much would do - next time I'll request same. Good chow all the same....but Betty's Oceanview takeout does it better (Berkeley).

        2. I've never seen tostones con queso or Jibaro at Sol food, though I only eat there about once or twice a month, and haven't been lately. Never had a bad experience, however. Are you sure you weren't at Mambo's Cafe, the Cuban Puerto Rican place right next door?

          4 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks Melanie, I actually checked after I posted and was busy trying to delete my post when I saw your reply. Oops, guess I never looked at that part of the menu. Sorry!

              1. re: gumbolox

                No sweat, but how about you tell us which dishes you like the best at Sol food?

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Well, the chicken thighs, of course. The sauteed prawns. I love the maduros, but am not the tostones (I think I just don't like tostones). Always liked the beans. The Sunday special of roast pork and tamal is my favorite and I had a whole fried fish special on Fridays a few times that I liked, but this was a while ago, before the big place opened. I've had the aros con pollo a few times and liked that.
                  Now I'm getting hungary. Better go to sleep.

          1. UPDATE:

            Well, I went back as promised above. If only - because El Rey Pakal is no longer an option for the people of the North Bay.

            I have to say my meal this time was a complete 180 in the positive direction. I took two friends and they were also impressed - their first time having PR food.

            I do have to mention one negative aspect: the food was lukewarm.

            So if you like your food hot, and have the similar pet peeve in that respect as I do - you may want to cross your fingers and hope for the best. (Interesting to note that The MIA waiter delivered our food about 5 min after the bell was rung. Later, a couple of young women were delivered their food by the white clad chef himself - which I have never witnessed before).

            >>Camerones Criollos
            I ordered the Camerones Criollos which were perfect big juicy shrimp in a tomato-onion sauce that I must learn to recreate. Divine Simple Sauce if there every was one. This was atop perfectly cooked white rice - which looked to me to be short grain Japanese - a great foil for the camarones.

            For $2 extra I got the Mofongo - rather than tostones or maduros which was probably a waste of money. I liked it - but it was presumably just mashed old cold tostones.

            I have to comment about the olive oil that dresses the mixed greens that accompany the dish. It is perhaps one of the most fruity, buttery olive oils I have ever tasted. Similar much to the hard to procure Studd's . I also appreciated the healthy half of avocado to add to each bite of rice and shrimp.

            >>Pastelon de Carne:
            This was kind of like a dish that I make at home but instead of a raisin, olive and almond studded picadillo with a white sweet potato topping, it was an unadorned picadillo witha mashed sweet plantain topping. You may liken it to qa Carribean Shepards pie. Very good but need a souse of the table mojo to lift it.

            Not as good as last time but not bad

            >> Tostones con olivie oil and garlic sauce

            9 Replies
            1. re: kare_raisu

              Well, I went back as promised above. If only - because El Rey Pakal is no longer an option for the people of the North Bay.

              Why no longer an option?

              I'm just no longer on top of posts anymore since I'm only able to read fewer and fewer each day due to slower and slower software. This was the first time I was able to catch this post. So if El Rey Pakal closed, I have yet to read that post, if ever. Don't see anything about it closing on Yelp which has to do for me these days.

                1. re: kare_raisu

                  I am very sorry to hear that. They just needed a better location, the food was great...

                2. re: kare_raisu

                  We've been there 3 or 4 times. We like the fried maduros and the beans with olives. But we generally find the food a bit too salty so haven't been back in a while.

                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    I love this place. We come from Oakland too. Me, I'm all about the platanos - Maduros and Tostones. My wife loves the mofongo. And I love the hot sauce. The bistek with onions is wonderful and I like the salad too. My wife usually gets the shrimp or the chicken. I wasn't so crazy about the pork special but I can't get enough of Sol Food.

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Thanks kareraisu for giving it another try and for the follow up! It is so funny how one day a restaurant can do it all wrong and the next...pure heaven!

                      1. re: sarvey

                        The prawns are always reliable and had the chicken thighs at a catered party this past summer, very good. And the pique is also available by the bottle to take home. One of the best homemade hot sauces I've had.

                        1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                          For casual dining Sol Food is very good. I have always enjoyed everything I have had there...of course their HOT sauce is great.