A Hidden Puerto Rican Gem in San Rafael, California
If you find yourself in the city of San Rafael, don’t miss a trip to SOL FOOD, Puerto Rican Cuisine. Whether or not you eat gluten-free, this eatery has plenty to offer. The Beef is all natural, the Chicken is Free Range, all the salads are organic. They offers several Vegan options and almost everything on the menu is offered Wheat Free.
On my first trip to SOL FOOD, I sampled two of the dishes off the vast menu. The first came recommended by the young lady at the register, the Tostones con queso, 5 tostones (green plantains, fried, smashed and fried again, topped with melted jack cheese and mojo (a garlic and olive oil blend), you may add fresh tomatoes or avocado to top this off. My second dish was the A La Carte, polo, (Boneless skinless Free Range Chicken thighs marinated with oregano and garlic, then baked. I also got a side of the most amazing black beans and rice. The black beans were simmered with peppers, onions and cilantro. I was in heaven. The portions are very generous and it is a great place to order several items and spilt them among your friends.
If you haven't been to Sol Food, it's owned by Sol Hernandez, an enterprising San Rafael native who decided to bring Puerto Rican food to Marin. She lived on the island for quite awhile with her boyfriend and his mother and spent her free time learning how to cook the local dishes. The original Sol Food is a tiny little almost shack like place on the corner of 4th and Lincoln in San Rafael. There aren't any formal indoor tables although there are stools by the window and up by the counter. Locals differentiate between the two in size, calling the original location on 4th Street "the small one", some I would dream of, if I visited Puerto Rico and the second location on Lincoln Avenue, more sit down restaurant. Now they have monopolized the Peurto Rican Restaurant scene in San Rafael, if they would only branch out to Sonoma County, we'd be talking. Maybe I'm partial because I live in Sonoma County. The drive to San Rafael for SOL FOOD is worth it.
Regardless of which one you choose, Sol has successfully created two restaurants, almost three spaces that look and feel like Puerto Rico: colorful shutters and chairs, green plantains holding down stacks of napkins, and big leafy plants gracing every inch of usable counter space. Loud, lively music streams throughout the busy cafe, and one of the things I love the most are the communal tables (at the larger location). Here, you may be seated next to a teacher grading papers, an older man reading the paper, employees on a break, and tattoo artists from down the street. There aren't a lot of places around Marin where young and old, conservative and liberal, come together and chat over pink beans and rice.
If you are lucky enough to live near by, they deliver, too........
Sol Food, Cafe (Small One/Original)
732 4th Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 451-4765 Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 7am-12am; Fri. 7am-2am; Sat. 8am-2am
Sol Food Restaurant (Big One)
903 Lincoln Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 451-4765 (same number as above) Hours: Daily from 11am-10pm