Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine
732 4th St
San Rafael, CA 94901
There aren’t many places that I feel are truly worth the drive or wait, but Sol Food is definitely one of them. After another grueling day of labs and lectures, Sol Food was a wonderful treat. And thank God for Nicole who introduced me to this place. Cruising down I-580 across the Richmond bridge in her cute TSX with the setting sun hitting the waves of the peninsula. Fabulous way to end the day.
We arrived and I was immediately charmed by the casual and friendly aura surrounding the little street corner restaurant. The restaurant was decorated with large pots of palm and fern and other foliage. The walls were covered in warm, almost rustic or folk-ish paintings. Scattered around the dining room were unassuming wooden tables and chairs where patrons sat together with strangers to enjoy the meal. While I was taking in these surroundings, Nicole was already plowing through the menu and boy, it does need plowing! The choices were all too mouth watering for a new-bee like myself, so thank goodness Nicole was able to guide me through it quickly. We placed our order at the counter, and resorted to sharing a table with another couple. And it WASN’T awkward at all! The atmosphere of Sol Food encourages intermingling and sitting amongst strangers. It is very friendly. At the table, we were greeted by a large candle, and green plantains served as table decor. Food was served fairly quickly, but I was honestly too absorbed in conversation and still too in awe of the place to notice the time.
The first dish to arrive were Nicole’s Maduros or sweet fried yellow plantains. Very good and pretty much dripping in oil, but who can say no to sweet fried plantains? Out also came our JAR of what I will temporarily call carbonated limeade. This is not unique to Puerto Rican cuisine, I don’t think, because I often order it at Vietnamese restaurants too (soda chanh). It is just club soda, lots of sugar and lemon or lime juice. Very refreshing and it complemented the rest of our summer-y dishes well.
Nicole also ordered Ensalada de Camarones, a dish of pan-fried garlic prawns served with an avocado over a bed of organic greens dressed in a house-special lemon and garlic vinaigrette. I loved the prawns! They were nice, plump, succulent and well seasoned. Very nice texture and flavors to contrast the tangy salad. I was not fond of the house-special vinaigrette as it was too tangy/sour for my palate, but it must be a hit with other customers because Sol Food actually sells the vinaigrette by the jar as well.
I ordered the Wednesday special, Pollo Con Arroz, rice and chicken served with savory fried plantains, an organic side salad and house vinaigrette and a fresh avocado. And all I can say is, to die for! The plate was huge, and the colors were so beautiful! Dark greens, golden amber crisp plantains, browned chicken and even the dark charred marks. A feast for the eyes! And the flavors – delicious! The rice did not overpower the chicken, as I was expecting it too. It was mellow enough to let the chicken take center stage. The savory plantains were also a nice touch, and very different from the sweet maduros Nicole had ordered. These were flattened and seasoned with garlic salt then fried I believe. Nicole’s still retained the plantain shape. And it wasn’t until my plate that I understood the need for a lemon garlic vinaigrette. It is tangy and cuts through the other deep fried items, and a clear contrast to the otherwise only savory dish. It lightens up the plate and is great with the salad after a few bits of the rice and chicken. I am also not usually a fan of avocado, but the creamy, buttery richness paired soo well with the rest of the flavors on the dish. Super good.
And did I mention that the prices are VERY affordable? All this food for under $25, if I remember correctly. And I even had enough to box some for lunch the next day. The distance makes it a bit unaccessible without a car, but if you happen to be heading home from, lets say, Pt. Reyes, or find yourself in the North Bay, then it is definitely worth a drive over. And as a cherry on top, Nicole drove me back to Point Richmond where I recovered from food coma by devouring a Korean honeydew popsicle while watching the Cal men’s basketball game and being abused by a monster-size massage chair. A perfect end to what otherwise would have been another boring Wednesday.