Yuca Frita: Fried Cassava Root with Chipotle Aïoli; Arroz Con Pollo: Plantains, Black Beans, and Chicken; Budin de Pan Con Caramelo: Rum Raisin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
Occupation: Director Public Relations
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Charanga
Reviewed Charanga: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
This is a Latin restaurant specializing in Cuban and Costa Rican cuisine. City Search has named it the top Latin restaurant for the past three years, and it has been a favorite in San Francisco Weekly. I have been going to this restaurant for the past four years. It’s been open for nine years now.
Most restaurants have a few great dishes that people go for and love. You cannot miss with any of the dishes. In all honesty, every dish I’ve had has been great.
I love everything, and I cannot say enough nice things about it. I have taken my family, friends, and co-workers. It is always good every time I go or recommend it. The prices are great and the portions are good as well.
We started off the meal with the yuca frita, which are basically short steak fries that you dip in homemade chipotle aïoli. We also had the ceviche, which is ahi tuna marinated in lime, soy sauce, and ginger. It is light and flavorful and refreshing.
I had the Niman Ranch steak. It was so moist that you did not need a knife. My friend had the sautéed shrimp and calamari; this dish is complete heaven. Everyone should try this dish once. SF Weekly voted this as their favorite on Charanga’s menu.
I had the mango and blueberry baked crisp, which is a Latin style cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. My friend had the Mexican chocolate cake. It came warm with caramel sauce. It was flavorful without being too sweet.
I absolutely love the owner, Gabby. She knows all the customers and pops out of the kitchen every so often to check on her guests and ensure that everyone is enjoying themselves and the food.
I see families, dates, big groups of friends, all ages, and ethnicities. This is an old Latin family restaurant feel. I am a big fan of the famous San Francisco artist Deborah Walker whose paintings are on the walls.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Grubstake
Reviewed Charanga: Thursday, September 21, 2006
Charanga is a neighborhood “nuevo Latin American” restaurant, featuring a large plate tapas menu from Central American Islands and countries seldom seen in San Francisco eateries. A long, narrow room with 16-foot ceilings, colored spot lighting, a single ceiling fan, rustic hardwood floors, simple wood tables and chairs, pottery, and artifacts mixed with vibrant paintings in exotic colors, representing the area the food and drinks focus on.
The dining room was full with an eclectic mix of large families, hipsters, straight and gay couples, and even a solo diner or two. It reminded me of many small and intimate cafes one finds scattered around coastal tourist areas of Costa Rica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, where sexy music lolls guests into serene vacation scenes of freedom from the workday blues.
The food is lush and rich, using fine, fresh produce, fish, meats, and poultry, and slow cooked with lots of mild yet flavorful seasonings. The salad was served just seconds before my entrée, which filled the small table to capacity and left no room for a wine glass or my bread plate. The food outshone the minor detractions from the spare setting and charming but amateur service. The setting, music, colors, and other guests made for a fun and joyful evening dinner experience. Portions are generous, and I hope you save room for dessert because they have some very good choices, including a great ginger cake with coconut ice cream and a wonderful fresh fruit crisp with vanilla bean ice cream. Imported beers and ginger lemonade along with bottled waters and soda join wine, coffee, and teas in the beverage category.
Parking is a real problem in the Mission, so I used public transit and had no problems, but the neighborhood can be a little sketchy, so be careful. Prices are approximately $7.00 for salads and appetizers, $12.00 to $17.00 for entrees and $6.00 for all desserts. A sophisticated but limited wine list is fairly priced, and they offer a wide selection of sake-based fresh fruit cocktails, ports, and after dinner libations as well as non-alcoholic drinks.
I plan on going back and will recommend Charanga to friends.
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Viognier
Reviewed Charanga: Tuesday, September 25, 2006
Like most Americans, I’ve never been to Cuba before. But one step inside the wrought iron grills and the heavy black doors of Charanga, I felt instantly transported to a bodega in the heart of Havana. Coloful photographs and paintings of Cuban life lined the pastel colored walls. Articles like musical instruments, cooking pans, colorful dolls, pottery, and empty cigar boxes studded the walls, too. The high ceilings, old hardwood floors, ceiling fan, and red brick walls all added to its character. Lively music filled the air, and I loved the pulse of the Afro-Cuban rhythms.
I was seated at a simple wooden table with a set of small wooden salt and pepper cellars. I began my meal with a wonderful appetizer of yuca frita (fried cassava root). It was accompanied by a spicy chipotle aïoli. I know this is very selfish thing to say but I was so happy that I didn’t have to share that plate with anyone. I ate them all because they were so delicious! From the first bite to the last was this infusion of crispy texture seasoned just right moving into a light and fluffy center…just like a buttery potato. It’s always a nice surprise to be reminded of the importance of simple flavors. They really made my meal worthwhile.
For my entree, I selected the arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). A charming blue dish was heaped with a steaming mound of spicy rice infused with tender pieces of stewed chicken, plump raisins, green olives, peas, and cilantro. The garnishes were lovely elongated plantain chips and some thinly sliced grilled chayote squash. On the side of the plate were delicious homestyle Cuban black beans. I sipped on a refreshing glass of red sangria as I ate my meal. The entree portion was just too big to finish. Even though I didn’t think I could eat another bite, I gave in and ordered budin de pan con Caramelo. An incredible plate of rum raisin bread pudding arrived topped with carmel sauce and a mix of fresh mangos and strawberry garnishes. Sadly, I could only eat a few bites of this masterpiece. I needed a stretcher or at least a good turn on the dance floor to work off my fabulous meal at Charanga! I know I will return just for the yuca frita!
– Portion size: Very generous; each plate is enough for two people.
– Quality of food: Excellent, very fresh and tasted like home cooking!
– Service: Good/fair. There were only two other people there when I ate and I had to remind my waiter about my sangria order, but it wasn’t a big deal.
– Décor and atmosphere: Charming. It really goes well with the theme and menu of the restaurant.
– Bang for buck: Excellent. Like I said, the portions are generous. Eventhough I spent $37, two people would’ve had more than enough to share.
– Comfort: Very comfortable…friendly staff…good vibes
– Noise level: Moderate…I’m sure with the high ceilings it could get noisy…but I think that that would only enhance the venue.
– Wait for table: None; was seated immediately.
– Food arrival speed: Maybe 5-7 minutes; food was piping hot!
You can always find some kind of adventure in and around the Mission District. Parking in the area is probably sketchy at best. Luckily, there are parking garages and BART is easily accessible. The staff was very personable. After my meal, the owner Gabby, came out to greet me and invited me back for one of their special tasting dinners. The waiter even gave me tips on how to make my own version of yuca frita. I am so going to make it now! I will definitely recommend and return to Charanga!!!