San Rafael's Sol Food: Puerto Rican food done right
By the time this post is published, I will have packed up a 14-food U-haul, probably strained my lower back, and sweated up and down five flights of stairs (no mom, there's no elevator) as I schlep my life's belongings into a little apartment in Alamo Square Park. I'm unspeakably excited about moving from San Rafael to the city; truthfully, this was all supposed to happen a year ago. But you know how things don't always go as planned. So as folks were busy making New Years resolutions and goals for the coming year ahead, I've been taking a moment to reflect on living in Marin and what I'll miss.
Now there's a big part of me that feels like this list is quite small. I'll be honest: I haven't been the most vocal member of Marin's fan club. In fact, I never even joined. Socially, I'm generally the youngest one at any given location by a good twenty years. I'm not raising kids, and I'm in a pretty darn low tax bracket so that makes me the exception. And heck, I often like to eat dinner after 9 p.m. Suffice it to say, I've learned to eat earlier. Not only can you not get a decent burger after the sun sets, you can barely get a gallon of milk or sack of flour. The place shuts down. However, San Rafael has a lot going for it, too. I loved getting to know all of the hiking trails with my mom's two dogs. West Marin is a quick, awesome getaway where life feels slower and somehow more conscious and deliberate. It's generally easy to park in Marin, I love my consignment store, and can't get enough of the Fairfax Scoop in the summers. And of course, you can get the best Puerto Rican food in the Bay Area. I'll miss all of those things, especially the latter.
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 outpost 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. When I first started hitting up the authentic eatery, I could just stroll in, order, and be on my way. Now I rarely go to this location because it's always obscenely crowded, and I can usually find seating at the other location right away. Locals differentiate between the two in size, calling the original location on 4th Street "the small one" and the newer location on Lincoln Avenue "the big one."
Regardless of which one you choose, Sol has successfully created two restaurant 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 bustling 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, gossipy college students, and tattoo artists from down the street. There aren't a lot of places around Marin where young and old, conservative and raucous, come together and chat over pink beans and rice.