As Political protests in Cuba As the summer progressed, restaurateur René Denis and his father moved to San Francisco City Hall. People were demonstrating in the street, some showing love for the country they call home, others showing support for residents of an island they may never visit. For Dennis, seeing a group of about 20 Cuban Americans gathered together evoked a deep sense of nostalgia.
His father is Cuban, and suddenly the two find themselves feeling like they were visiting family in Miami. When the group found out Denise The then week old restaurant Chao Pescao At the Civic Center was just around the corner, they followed the couple for a meal. “They were so excited to get a taste of their country food,” says Denise. “People were literally crying over the food because it reminded them of home, or of their mother or grandmother who is no longer with us.”
It’s stories like these that show why Denise’s Cuban and Colombian restaurant differs from run-of-the-mill Burger Shack—though San Franciscans love one. Burger Shack. For Bay Area residents who hail from Central and South American countries or have family roots, restaurants that make their childhood meals can also provide fortifications and refuge.
San Francisco’s Diversity is brought in by Ana Valle, founder and owner of Hee Abanico Coffee Roasters, to start your own business. Growing up in California and El Salvador, Valle had friends from places like Ethiopia and France; She doesn’t let misconceptions about her culture and home discourage her. She says she has a bright future when it comes to Salvadorian food that she deserves. “There’s a lot of creativity right now,” Valle says. As an example, she screams Anthony Salguero, who leads Salvadoran pop-up Popoca in Oakland, offers a spin on Salvadoran cuisine through a Californian lens.
Abanico’s menu is a showcase of Valle’s own experiences. She is particularly proud of her Café con Morro, a licorice-flavored seed indigenous to many countries, including El Salvador. Cubana is a compressed, powdered keg dream.
However, this is not the simple enjoyment of her culture. As a Latina woman, Vale says she is no stranger to unsolicited advice. While she says people mean well, she also says she has to defend her skills as a coffee roaster and businesswoman. And she’s not the first El Salvadoran business owner in the mission; Everyone knows the pupusas, fried and stuffed pockets that are ubiquitous around the Mission, but Vale says people want more. They want to see the different parts of the Salvadoran flavor that are less common. “They’re excited,” Valle says. “It looks like they’re waiting for a business like Abanico.”
It is a pleasure for Vale to talk about her experiences and inspirations. She says she likes to provide space for her community. “As in Salvador in the United States, we are from here but not really from here,” Valle says. “They enjoy the fact that they are being represented.”
These cooks have at least one thing in common: Fostering a deep understanding of their cultures can be difficult. Many people may enjoy the food and drink of another country, but making an impact in the community isn’t always that easy. It’s all too easy to eat quesabirria tacos Without thinking about the challenges facing the Mexican people, both in Mexico and in the United States. There’s a lot to learn and understand, Valle says. “I’ve always felt this,” Valle says. “People’s idea of culture comes from TV. And the news is mostly negative. “
She says people often think of her Civil War in El Salvador, or gang. If you don’t know the people, food or places of El Salvador, it can be nearly impossible to get to know the culture. Starting with your own business is a great way to get started, says Vale. “Maybe they will go to El Salvador one day,” Valle says.
“I’ve always found it difficult to find Colombian food in San Francisco,” says Chao Pescao Chef Denise. He had a spot: a hole in the wall of Valencia called El Mazahual that was closed about three years ago. “There was a Colombian grandmother in the back that reminded me of my grandmother,” says Denise. “I was sad to show up one day and see they were gone.”
That craving, as well as what he calls a lack of good Cuban food representation in the city, led to Chao Pescao. Tucked beneath the sprawling and immaculate Tenderloin Community Garden mural at McAllister, it’s hard to describe the restaurant without noticing the word “colorful.” It would be hard to describe the food without even mentioning the colour. Dennis’ Arepas de Puerco, for example, manages to cram bananas, cilantro, and pork into the Civic Center’s most vibrant bites.
Denise shows a love for other places in the Gulf that serve Cuban food, but after her 20 years in the industry, she still felt something was missing. While still running the Mediterranean restaurant Soluna Café & Lounge, the business that would become Chao Pescao, he tried Cuban food. It was a hit. “We did Latin Nights in Soluna,” says Denise. “Having been off for so long gave me time to think, and I thought I should really go for it.”
There was also a financial gain; Dennis says his people may be cheaper to cook in both Colombian and Cuban. This allows him to offer it at lower prices, which is important to Dennis as he contemplates a more-expensive San Francisco. Denise says it’s also self-service. “The food is delicious,” he says. “The Bay Area, or at least San Francisco, is missing.”
The care and time that goes into Cuban and Colombian food is what Denis Chao hopes to bring forth at Pescao. His family would spend days and nights on slow-cooked dishes such as Denis’s Ropa Vieja, with meat dripping from the bone. Dennis says that people are still surprised when they aren’t familiar with Cuban and Colombian food or culture. “Most of these countries, especially Cuba and Colombia, provide basic foods,” Dennis says. “The ingredients are not always very daring. This is exactly how they are presented.”
He acknowledges how difficult it is still to have all that consciousness, or lack thereof, for political action. But he does what he can. “Many of my families in Cuba have moved back and forth from the States,” Denise says. “I hear what’s going on there. It’s a sad situation… I can only help with the exposure.”
Despite the challenges, Dennis says San Francisco is at an advantage. “The palettes are a little more advanced here because of the different cultures that give us the opportunity to try all of these foods,” says Dennis.
From all their different parts of Central and South America, these business owners find themselves speaking a common truth. Being adventurous and brave in the kitchen continues its journey, while customers and diners have their own way to unpack longstanding and often mistaken beliefs about these rich dishes.