Bear Bites: Cafe del Sol

5 mins read

The first thing that struck me about Cafe del Sol was the unique ambiance. Right upon walking through the quaint door to the humble establishment, I felt at home. Warm yellows and oranges washed over me and the quiet chatter of the other patrons soothed my nerves, which were admittedly on edge after a long night of biology homework. The hospitable tone was immediately set by a grinning depiction of the sun that greeted us upon entering — an extremely friendly hostess greeted us at the front with a vibrant smile and motioned us over toward a small table in the middle most room of the modest three chamber dining area. Before we had even begun perusing our menus, a waiter brought out a beautiful plate of complimentary taquitos, meticulously garnished with a handful of fresh, tangy guacamole and juicy salsa. I was love struck.

We briefly discussed which appetizer we would get, and considering everything sounded phenomenal, I let Jasper choose our dish. It was no surprise when he instantly decided on ordering a platter of chicken nachos which, to his disappointment, was meant for us to share. Moving on to the main course, I opted to order the Chile Colorado Plate, a dish consisting of tender beef soaked in a delectable spicy chili sauce and a side of rice and refried beans, and Jasper, after an irritatingly long deliberation, settled on the Mole Poblano before setting his sights on the alluring taquito dish he had been trying so hard to ignore.

While I will admit that “potato-filled taquitos” brings to mind an altogether more hearty meal than I was ready to handle — perhaps whole potatoes wrapped in a flimsy tortilla, maybe with a couple of french fries shoved haphazardly in — it really was nothing of the sort, more a kind of light appetizer-to-the-appetizer. It also came with chips and guacamole to the side. In the interest of time, and in order to maintain some semblance of self-respect or dignity, I’ll refrain from describing the vast quantities of guacamole I heaped on my chips or the distilled fury with which Ben glared at me as I quickly wolfed down everything on the table. I can assure you, however, that if we were in any less of a public location Ben would likely have physically subdued me in an attempt to grab some of the snacks. It wasn’t very large, but it was a nice start to what would turn out to be a great meal, with a very attractive presentation that we well appreciated before tearing it apart.

Naturally, the nachos were brought out first, about ten to fifteen minutes after we ordered them. The millisecond after I took a photograph, Jasper ravenously lunged for the plate and I could tell from the predatory glint in his eye that I would do well to not get in between him and his target. When I finally saw a window of opportunity, I reached for a heaping handful of nachos and began the rigorous process of stuffing my mouth until not even the slightest sliver of open space remained. The variety of fresh, familiar Mexican flavors, from nutty avocados and spicy salsa to crunchy corn chips and creamy cheese, doused my palate. Although I didn’t notice it at the time due to the destruction Jasper wrought on the presentation of our nacho dish, I was pleasantly surprised to notice on a review of my pictures that the nachos were actually arranged to reflect the restaurant’s logo, a beaming Mexican sun.

With perfectly timed precision, our entrees were brought out as we wiped the final crumbs of corn chips and cheesy residue from our lips. Although my green poblano rice and cheesy refried beans looked delicious, I couldn’t resist the highlight of my meal, consisting of a rich beef simmered in spicy, smoky, tomato salsa. The beef was unbelievably tender, and every piece delightfully fell apart in my mouth. The portions were significantly sized even despite the high price, and seeing as I was already stuffed full of nachos, I wasn’t able to finish everything and I brought about half my meal home to finish for another meal (which really means munching on reheated Mexican food while sleepily watching Boston gangster movies at two in the morning). Despite my bloated stomach, I couldn’t resist the prospect of dessert, and upon our waitress’s recommendation, Jasper and I opted to share a slice of their homemade apple pie. When it came out, our jaws hit the floor — not only was it beautiful, it was perhaps the most delicious apple pastry I have ever eaten. The golden brown crust flaked off and juicy apples plentifully spilled out onto the plate. It was gone in nearly no time at all, and as our server brought the bill over, we profusely thanked her for the phenomenal meal.

I decided to get a chicken dish with mole sauce — Mole Poblano. Again, names can be deceiving. There was no actual mole (so far as I was aware), but instead, it was a kind of chocolatey and tangy sauce. I was informed that it was not very spicy; however, I cannot deal with spicy food at all, and it ended up being a little too hot for me. This meant that I would shove a bite into my mouth, gulp down a couple of mouthfuls of water before the heat really hit, and repeat. This was more difficult than it sounded. My face was becoming steadily redder, I began to sweat, and Ben would not stop laughing. I swear it wasn’t that funny.

By no means was it bad, but the main dish was the most mediocre out of the three things I had. The chicken was cooked well, but could be a little tough at times (I had to cut some chunks with a steak knife), and the sauce was very good but it left, aside from an incessant burning, a weird aftertaste in my mouth. It came with more guacamole, but only two chips, which seemed kind of stingy, as well as some cilantro rice and refried beans. The cilantro rice was especially good as a counter-balance to some of the overwhelming sauce on the chicken. I did try to mix a bunch of the toppings from the nachos with some guacamole and a touch of the mole sauce, and (as is custom) instantly regretted my decisions. Mixing everything on my plate is how I got banned from every sushi restaurant in a five-mile radius of my house as a toddler, but luckily nobody aside from Ben noticed as (this seems to be a recurring theme) he snickered at me.

After we finished our dishes, we decided to power through and go for the dessert menu, where we picked up a small apple pie to share. This apple pie was not very traditional but was absolutely heavenly. The “pie” was a square sheet of puff pastry filled with apples and topped with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. This pie was nothing short of perfection and had beautiful drawings on the rim of the plate made of a caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and a (stunning) raspberry sauce. Some might call this too decadent, but to my mind, there is no such thing.

Ultimately, this meal was extremely filling, and I could tell Ben was just as full, if not more full, than I was. But while it was good, it was not nearly as stunning as some of the other meals I’ve had recently. I give Cafe del Sol a rating of 4/5.

For the second time in Bear Bites history, I find it necessary to disagree with my colleague’s assessment — Cafe del Sol is a solid 5/5 stars in my book, providing not only excellent and hospitable service, but also mouthwatering Mexican comfort foods served in flattering displays. A homely and accommodating atmosphere resonates throughout the restaurant, which, when combined with the bright-eyed staff, leads to a uniquely nostalgic experience, reminiscent of beloved home-cooked meals and warm family dinners.

My name is Ben Strehlow and I am a new addition to the M-A Chronicle team. I want to try my hand at writing features and reviewing local food at restaurants in the Bay Area with my friend and colleague Jasper Fu. In journalism, I want to work on my creative writing skills and work towards developing more powerful and evocative writing. Outside of the classroom I love to play the violin and viola and I consistently teach lessons to a wide variety of students. When I have free time, I love to bake different types of foods and desserts and watch movies with my friends.

I’m Jasper Fu, a senior, and this will be my first year with the M-A Chronicle. I’ll be writing anything from feature pieces to satires to food reviews with Ben Strehlow. I’m excited to work on my writing skills and broadening what I write in general. I’ve always liked writing, and also edit for an online fiction anthology, but this is my first foray into journalism and nonfiction in general. In my free time I fence (poorly), read (plentifully), and sleep (excessively).

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