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GOOD Cuban or Jamaican Restaurants in SF/East Bay? Do they exist?

Hello fellow food lovers. I moved to the Bay Area from Florida, and LOVE the food options out here. However, there appears to be almost NO Caribbean food here. I'm Cuban, and have eaten a LOT of very good Jamaican food, and so I am wondering if there are good restaurants that serve these foods in the Bay Area? Preferably in the Oakland/Berkely/Emeryville region or in SF?

I really don't want to be disappointed, which has been my experience with Jamaican food here and I haven't dared try Cuban because my standards are really high. The one Jamaican place I went to was so bad...the plantains were very dry and obviously old....that right there is a crime in my opinion.

Is there anything out there? Or should I just wait for visits to Florida and keep cooking at home?

Thanks!

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  1. Welcome! I don't know which part of the state you are from, but having grown up in Miami I can tell you that despite outward appearances, the Bay is a decidedly saner place than south Florida. :)

    Flavah Island Cafe on San Pablo in Berkeley has excellent ackee and saltfish. Cuban food for the most part is probably not going to match up to what you are used to, but I thought the Cuban sandwich at El Nuevo Frutilandia in SF was solid enough. If you do a search on the board you'll find several threads on other Jamaican/Cuban options.

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    El Nuevo Frutilandia
    3077 24th St, San Francisco, CA

    5 Replies
    1. re: bigwheel042

      the plantains and jerk chicken at Back a Yard Grill Menlo Park are good.

      1. re: bigwheel042

        I'm going to search the board now. Do you know if the restaurant changed hands? Flavah Island Cafe? Cause that is the bad place that I went to

        1. re: bigwheel042

          Not sure why there is no mention of Sweet Fingers in San Leandro. Awesome jerk chicken and whatever else the chef if playing with. I agree this is not Cuban but it is Jamaican and fine. Really ought to be considered for best possible Caribbean food.

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          Sweet Fingers
          464 E 14th St, San Leandro, CA 94577

          1. re: theomordha

            Yeah, Sweet Fingers is worth a try. Not in the same league with Hibiscus but not the same price, either.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/510538

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            Sweet Fingers
            464 E 14th St, San Leandro, CA 94577

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Ohhh I biked by there the other day. The S.O. really wants to try Jamaican food so I will try this out. And then maybe post a review :)

              Also, I love chowhound! I'm new to the site this is awesome!

        2. Do you recall which Jamaican place you tried? Can't say whether there's anything better if we don't know the starting point.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I actually tried the place on San Pablo, at that point it had a different name. i don't know if the new name means better food, but apparently bigwheel042 liked it. I don't know if I would try it again, plantains are so basic and easy to make well that if a restaurant's plantains aren't good, then I don't trust anything else they have.

            And sadly, the Cuban sandwich or torta, that many of you are familiar with in the bay as a staple of Mexican resturants is in no way, shape or form Cuban food. I don't know why its called that. I had never seen one in my life before coming out here!

            Thanks though! And yes, the Bay is MUCH saner than South Florida. That's why I am here!

            1. re: wokwok

              Flavah Island Cafe definitely changed hands since when it was known as Jamaican Soul--the new chef-owner had nothing to do with the old place. I very much like his ackee and codfish (available at breakfast too) and oxtail stew. The codfish fritters are pretty good too. Plaintains have always been fine. Can't speak to the rest of the menu.

              That said, the place has somewhat irregular hours and I'm always afraid that it isn't getting enough business to stay afloat. But if you haven't tried it since the ownership change (a little over a year ago), I'd definitely give it another shot.

              As for Cuban food, I'm no expert, but the one meal I had at Havana (in Alameda) was decidedly mediocre. Some people seem to like Paladar in SF, but I haven't been.

              1. re: abstractpoet

                If they changed owner and chef then I will try it out. I will also post reviews on the Cuban and Jamaican places I try, as I have had very good authentic Jamaican food on the island, at great restaurants in Florida and in my friend's houses.

                1. re: wokwok

                  Everything in this thread suggests you will continue to be disappointed by what you find in Northern California. There is no significant Cuban, Jamaican, or Caribbean population here.

                  1. re: Windy

                    Sadly it seems that you are right. I guess I will just focus on the amazing food we DO have here and get my fix in Florida! I wanted to make one last attempt to find good food before giving up!

                    1. re: wokwok

                      That's a healthy attitude. At least you have something to look forward to when you go home. In LA the Cuban food is better since there is a population. Might be worth a looking if you're there.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Hmm, I lived in LA for many years and I wouldn't call Cuban food a particular strength down there - most people gravitate to Versailles, a rather mediocre place that is NOT related to the Versailles in Miami. However, I did really like El Cochinito, in Silver Lake, for their lechon, and it's definitely worth it to stock up on Cuban bread/crackers at Porto's Bakery, which is located close to the Burbank airport.

                        1. re: Cicely

                          Versailles is mediocre, in my opinion, but when I lived in LA many years ago the best Cuban places were downtown somewhere and they were really good. I went there with Cubans. I've never found good Cuban food up here, and I have a Cuban friend here who hasn't found one either. He does sort of like Los Cubanos on Almaden in downtown San Jose. http://www.loscubanosrestaurant.com/
                          But, his mother is here now from Cuba, so I think the best is at his house.

                          -----
                          Los Cubanos Restaurant
                          22 N Almaden Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

                          1. re: Cicely

                            It's not a strength but it's better then the Bay Area. I wouldn't make a trip to LA for it but if I were there I'd look.

                  2. re: abstractpoet

                    And as for Paladar is SF....I checked out there menu and don't see myself getting there before 3pm on a weekday. Their Saturday menu seems to be composed of Cuban inspired California fusion food for the well-heeled Financial District crowd...a lemon shallot vinaigrette is NOT authentic Cuban! Has anyone tried this whole in the wall on 24th St past Capp in the Mission? The menu says they have Puerto Rican and Cuban food, but I wanted to ask someone before I tried it

                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        Here's my (brief) report on Havana from a while back:
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4769...

                        A couple more in-depth reports in that thread, but basically I did like the Monday night mojito deal and the focaccia-like bread. Many of the other tapas-style dishes were too sweet (and seemed more fusiony than Cuban), and the Cubano was just OK, even by my not-so-picky standards. We haven't been back.

                    1. re: wokwok

                      The Cuban sandwich at El Nuevo Frutilandia is a true Cuban sandwich with roast pork and pickles, not a Mexican-style torta cubana. The menu is split between Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes though, which is something you'll see here more than you'd probably like to.

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                      El Nuevo Frutilandia
                      3077 24th St, San Francisco, CA

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      I just got jerk chicken and plantains at that spot in Berkeley under its old name. As I mentioned bad plantains and the jerk chicken...honestly it tasted like some stuck chicken legs in a crockpot with cajun seasoning.

                    3. Only a few places worth mentioning: Paladar, which serves Cuban and Colombian food in the Financial District for weekday and Saturday lunch; Back a Yard, listed above.

                      Habana in San Jose isn't bad. It's not entirely authentic, but they have a lot of options you won't find otherwise.

                      You can get decent plantains at many Mexican restaurants, served with crema and black beans. Poc Chuc is Yucatecan, so not Cuban, but Caribbean and awfully good. But honestly you might be happier exploring Salvadorean and Guatemalan food (San Miguel restaurant on Mission is a nice start).

                      There's also a newish Puerto Rican restaurant, Parada 22, which I haven't tried yet.

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                      Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill
                      1189 Willow Rd, Menlo Park, CA 94025

                      Poc Chuc
                      2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                      Habana Cuba
                      238 Race Street, San Jose, CA 95126

                      Parada 22
                      1805 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Windy

                        Yes, lot's of Mexican restaurants mix Central American items on their menus. Search the board for places that serve pupusas, they will most likely also have plaintains on the menu.

                        For Puerto Rican, Sol Food in San Rafael is excellent and their Cuban sandwich is great. Plaintains three different ways too.

                        1. re: pamf

                          There's this newish unsuspecting diner, called Mikey's in San Rafael with a Cuban chef. They just added a Cuban special on the menu yesterday, Masitas. It came with a bowl of tender cubed pork shoulder, with a complex tart broth/sauce, as well as rice and black beans. Really delicious.

                          When I told the owner they should add it to the regular menu, he said they were planning to and would feature even more dishes, even Peruvian ones.

                          Right now, they have your regular diner fare, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican breakfast dishes. Everything has been surprisingly fresh and tasty.

                          -----
                          Mikey's
                          783 Andersen Dr, San Rafael, CA 94901

                          1. re: DezzerSF

                            Wow. Peruvian/Cuban/Puerto Rican food ALL IN SAN RAFAEL? I think I am going to have to pay a visit. Thanks for the tip!

                            1. re: DezzerSF

                              Thanks for the tip for Mikey's. I really enjoyed my lunch there. Do let us know if you try more dishes. Here's the post, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/753549

                        2. Try Parada 22 next to Cha Cha Cha., SF

                          tiny, atmospheric.

                          The Cuban sandwich isn't exactly authentic. Has lots more filling, sliced thicker than Miami Cuban; bread - no lard- but tasty anyways. I loved the homey boiled Yucca topped with a green olive. ILimited menu. You won't find all your old favorites

                          Small menu. No papas rellenos, no black bean soup, no pecadillo

                          Chan Chan new Cuban @ 18th below Market. Small with lots of atmosphere in Fran Gage's old bakery place. Small menu missing many wanted dish. The star anise in the Shrimp Criolla was new to me and delicious.

                          -----
                          Chan Chan
                          4690 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                          Parada 22
                          1805 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: stanbee

                            Chan Chan is more like a visit to Cuba than a Cuban restaurant.

                            I enjoyed it, but see my old post on it from last year. They basically serve only a few things until they run out. When they feel like, at a mysterious but reasonable price. It won't remind you La Carretta or Islas Canarias at all.

                            -----
                            Chan Chan
                            4690 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            1. re: stanbee

                              Hum I will check it out. The star anise is probably a Havana invention due to the large Chinese presence there. I'm fine with a small menu if what they have is good.

                            2. Our family really likes Primo Patio, but I have no idea if its what you're after. Seems to be a bit of a Caribbean fusion of Cuba, Jamaica, and the kitchen sink. Whatever it is, we love it and go there a lot.

                              -----
                              Primo Patio Cafe
                              214 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                              1. Tropix on Piedmont in Berkeley has gotten some local love, but I can't vouch for it personally. And I'm not sure she's still there, but at the corner of Sacramento and Oregon in Berkeley a little doll opened up a storefront and served up some amazing Jamaican food. She never advertised a number; never advertised it at all in fact, but she had amazing curries and jerks among other things. I'll ask around or take a spin by there on my way to work and see what I can see. I warn you though, if she IS still there, it's in an iffy neighborhood; you'll be safe but if you go at night park in front and keep your eyes open - but be prepared to eat really well.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mamachef

                                  This was Penny's, and it is closed.

                                2. What is the present status of Yardie Jerk.
                                  http://www.yardiejerk.com/menu.html

                                  -----
                                  Yardie Jerk
                                  3301 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94608

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    Yardie Jerk reopened two weeks ago.

                                    I went and had oxtails, which were good but didn't live up to their past glory. The jerk chicken was reported to be as good as ever.

                                    I've been enjoying New Karibbean City lately. Horrible atmosphere (it's a deserted bar\community center during the day, but I only do takeout anyhow) but the food is really tasty. I've had their curry goat (excellent) jerk chicken (very good) and Ox Tails (good). The plantains and festivals are very good.

                                    I'm curious to hear the original posters take on Yardie Jerk and Karibbean City. I don’t know much about authentic Jamaican food. I was also horribly unimpressed by Flavah Island.

                                    -----
                                    Yardie Jerk
                                    3301 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94608

                                    1. re: 10foot5

                                      adding link

                                      -----
                                      New Karibbean City
                                      1408 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94612

                                      1. re: 10foot5

                                        I think I might pass on the Cuban places, I am just so spoiled by grandma's food and the level of restaurants in Florida that I will probably be happier if I just satisfy my cravings at home. Judging from the feedback on this thread, i don't know if any of them will satisfy me.

                                        I have heard great things about Sol in San Rafael. As far as the Jamaican, I am going to investigate this weekend and post back. I am not nearly as much as an expert on Jamaican cuisine, but I have had a lot of VERY good Jamaican food so i think I can critique it to a certain extent.

                                        1. re: wokwok

                                          The food at Sol is fine but I think you'll be disappointed. Habana Cuba in San Jose is the only place I've been that was like real Cuban home cooking.

                                          -----
                                          Habana Cuba
                                          238 Race Street, San Jose, CA 95126

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Hum yes and my grandmother is Cuban/Puerto Rican so I've had the best of both worlds my whole life. Thats why I turned to chowhounders...i can't stand sub par food when I can just make it WAY better at home!

                                        2. re: 10foot5

                                          A word or two of warning about New Karibbean City. Timing can be very important.

                                          I've gone on a Wednesday (They are supposedly open Wednesday through Saturday 11AM through 2AM) around 1PM and was told no food would be ready until 2PM at the earliest. (Almost of a pleasant reminder of Penny’s where opening time, was shall we say, very flexible)

                                          I went yesterday at 11AM and was clearly served day old Goat Curry (which wasn't so bad) and reheated, day old plantains (which were awful) and no Festival.

                                          Every other time I've gone has been after 1PM and the food has always been fresh, the plantains and festivals moist and freshly cooked.

                                          -----
                                          New Karibbean City
                                          1408 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94612

                                      2. Hibiscus in Oakland. Chef / owner is from Barbados.

                                        Habana in SJ is the best Cuban I've found. Paladar in SF does some pretty good Cuban dishes but is more of a Colombian place.

                                        El Nuevo Frutilandia was started by Cubans years ago but last time I was there I think the owners were Puerto Rican. Close but no cigar.

                                        Poc-Chuc, well, the Yucatan is on the Caribbean, but the food is nothing like Jamaican / Trinidadian etc.

                                        -----
                                        El Nuevo Frutilandia
                                        3077 24th St, San Francisco, CA

                                        1. Link

                                          -----
                                          Hibiscus
                                          1745 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

                                          1. Good luck on the Cubano. I was in Tampa on business twice in the mid 90's and ate Cubano at La Teresita Cafe. I haven't found anything out here to approach those sandwiches.

                                            That said, you might try Henry's on Durant and Bowditch south of campus (name might have changed). I had a mini Cubano at a UC Berkeley fair and it was quite good. I had several of them actually. Venus in downtown Berkeley has a Cubano on the menu. Can't vouch for the authenticity or quality, but it is a popular place.

                                            The other Cubano that I do like is a prepackaged sandwich by Panini Time. I improvise a sandwich press with a cast iron skillet and it does remind me of what I had in Tampa.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                              Which of the locals have you tried and found wanting?

                                              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                You don't NEED a sandwich press. It helps, but my grandma made cuban sandwiches that were incredible over a camp stove in a frying pan. I think a lot of it is the bread, Cuban sandwiches are supposed to be made with Cuban bread, however you can't really find that outside of the East Coast. Its very different than a bagette for instance. That and it needs to be the right kind of pork if you are making the traditional Media Noche, it has to be Lechon Asado which is made with a mojo marinade.

                                                1. re: wokwok

                                                  You might try Poquito. I haven't been back to try them yet, but the owner (Ecuadorean) was talking about having someone bake special bread for his Cubano and Media Noche sandwiches.

                                                  -----
                                                  Poquito
                                                  2368 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                                  1. re: wokwok

                                                    I believe Havana Sol, Vallejo has a bread, or did, close to the Cuban bread.
                                                    http://www.havanasolrestaurant.com/

                                                    -----
                                                    Havana Sol
                                                    326 Virginia St, Vallejo, CA

                                                    1. re: wokwok

                                                      I'm not sure you can get Cuban bread the way it is in Tampa and Miami outside of Tampa and Miami. I'm told that it's actually a specific Cuban-American thing, in fact. (I moved here from Tampa in 2002.)

                                                      Occasionally I go on a Cuban sandwich hunt, with very limited success. :) I think the best I've found may be the previously-mentioned Sol Food in San Rafael, although it was a few years. There was also a taco truck, of all places, in San Francisco on Townsend that had a surprisingly good version and one of the few that seemed only mildly overpriced compared to prices in Tampa.

                                                      (For making these at home -- as heretical as I suppose it may be -- a good hoagie-style roll that's roughly the right size, shape and thickness works pretty well. The marinade for the pork roast seems to be the most important thing for getting the flavor right.)

                                                      1. re: Chipotle

                                                        I thought Sol Food's cubano would have been passable if I'd known to tell them to hold the mustard:

                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4900...

                                                        1. re: Chipotle

                                                          Its not heretical at all to make at home! Especially if you want to actually enjoy good cuban food here. And yes, the way the pork is cooked makes all the difference in the world!

                                                          1. re: wokwok

                                                            i think Chipotle was saying it would be heretical to use a hoagie-style roll.

                                                    2. I may have missed it but did anyone mention Bodeguita in Palo Alto? I had the ropa vieja and a cubano that was pretty solid. Certainly better then anything I ate in Cuba. Never been to Miami though, might wanna give it go if you are down there.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: trespinero

                                                        I thought Bodeguita's cubano was great. Everything else I had there was non-traditional and fusiony, though I'm not sure we tried the ropa vieja.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          My go-to there has been the Mastitas, but the last trip it wasn't served in the clay crock and wasn't as juicy.