Cheap-ish Puerto Rican: Sol Food @ SF Food Lab
With my hometown dining companions trailing behind me as I scurried through the Market St. mass traffic of vagabonds and ill-forgotten street pharmacists, it’s impossible not to spot the lone foreign flag hanging outside the door. As a self-proclaimed unpatriotic citizen, the flag represents more than nationalism. The flag represents my family, my roots, ancestry, colonization, poverty…everything. It’s amazing how that Puerto Rican flag can stir up so much emotion within me. The same emotions can be stirred within me when I smell the cooking of Puerto Rican food. Unfortunately, I did not get that smell when I walked into Sol Food pop-up last month, during their last week of production in the SF Food Lab space.
It was my dining companions’ first time eating Puerto Rican food and I was excited to finally arroz con gandules with them. Thus, the national dish was not on the minimalistic menu. There was roasted chicken (not exciting), shrimp “cocktail,” and one classic…the holiday pastele on the menu Reportedly, they put platanos, yautia and calabaza (pumpkin) in their pastele. My family doesn’t put pumpkin in theirs. The flavor was spot on, but the texture was super mushy. Either they hadn’t let the pasteles set, they overcooked them, or put too much pumpkin in them. And while I have never eaten a black bean in the many years of spending every summer in Vega Baja’s barrio affectionately nicknamed “la olla”, that doesn’t mean they aren’t apart of the cuisine, I just haven’t seen them. Strictly pink and kidney. The pollo al horno was…roasted chicken. There was nothing about it that was amazing, it was just an average, sort of dry, roast chicken. And that’s not to discredit the amazingness that can be a roasted chicken. This horno just didn’t have the glistening golden brown skin on top (it was skinless) that entices and makes the juices gleak out of your mouth. It just looked like $10 drab. Everything was under seasoned, except the big ass salad they gave you. I’m almost willing to convince myself that they were tossing a nod to California by putting a salad of mixed greens on my plate, but the cynical Puerto Rican inside me wants to say, they were just trying to diverge your attention from the small portions.
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The only thing I recognized as something spectacular for my dining companions, was the pique. What diners in the space were referring to as “orange soda.” All in all, ask a Puerto Rican if this food was good and I can guarantee you the Yelp reviews for this place would look a lot different. Ironically, my meal lacked soul. But, that mango iced-tea was good.