Sol Food (732 Fourth St. and 901 Lincoln Ave., 451-4765) isn't a high-concept, low-quality novelty. Housed in cheerful West Indies settings of peeling pastels, weathered ironwork, mambo music and enormous potted foliage—it's like entering a Caribbean courtyard—the two outlets serve absolutely creditable examples of the island's Afro-Hispanic comidas criollas (home cooking).
This isn't to say that the food is entirely authentic; the island's predeliction for the deep fryer has been tempered by Northern California's target demographic, and salt cod and pork innards aren't part of the program. But sink your teeth into the free-range
chicken thighs reeking of garlic and oregano, the creamy, soul-satisfying pink beans and rice, the crisp, hot fried plantains glistening with olive oil, and quibbling becomes absolutely...norte. The tembleque—coconut pudding with mango sauce—is unbelievably light, creamy and comforting, like an earthier, more elemental panna cotta, and is one of the best sweets you'll find. —Matthew Stafford