My wife and I were in the mood for some home cooking (we both come from Puerto Rico) and decided to meet some friends in San Rafael. We were going to try Mambo Cafe or Sol Food, depending on what things were like once we arrived (we had not been to either).
We walked into Mambo Cafe; it had plenty of seating and was empty (at 4PM on a Saturday afternoon). The menu looked good, but we could not see what the food would be like. We then went up the block to Sol Food.
SF was packed; all the seats were taken and there was a line of folks waiting on their orders. The food all looked fantastic and smelled like heaven. We decided to eat at Sol Food and figure out where to sit later!
We ordered the rice & beans (the 7 kids in the group loved it), the biftec plates (steak & onions), the cubano sandwich, the biftec sandwich, a chicken sandwich, some plantains (both the tostones and maduros and the mariquitas). All of the food was fantastic.
- the plantains are offered as "sweet" or "garlic". sweet = amarillos/maduros; "garlic" = tostones.
- the home-made hot sauce is awesome. Look for it in the jars on the tables; it looks like vinegar with chili flakes in it.
- the chicken sandwich was the best sandwich; the cuban was a close second.
- they have several "tropical" sodas (Fizzy Lizzy or some such).. it is not the same as the "jugos del pais" that you get back home. But the Passion Fruit one is not bad.
I cannot wait until they open the large sit-down Sol Foods next to Mambo Cafe.
San Rafael is 12 miles north of San Francisco, so it is easy to get to. We drove up from Mt View and our friends drove down from Sonoma. The trip was well worth it!
We ate at the Park Chalet a couple of Sundays ago (after a morning trip to the Zoo). The wait at the PC was less than the wait for the Beach Chalet, so that made the decision (it was 3 adults + 3 kids).
The menu for both locations is pretty much the same; the Beach Chalet items are about $2 more than the Park Chalet items (the view is not free).
Overall the food was excellent; we ordered 6 of the "small plates" and every one was well done.
The food at Nola is quite good, but the place can get rowdy/loud. They have a few different rooms that can be converted to host private events. It is a great place for a fun evening, but may pose problems during a busy night.
Also: Nola has, by far, the most family friendly attitude in the Bay Area. When my family shows up (2 adults, 3 kids ages 8/5/3), the immediately provide the kids a bowl of french fries each, along with the usual crayons/activity sheet/beads. This keeps the kids entertained while the adults get settled in. The food choices for the kids are also better than the usual "nugget/burger", they include fresh fruit salad and a huge dessert... all for $5!
Nola rocks, but I like Zibibbo for more "intimate" events.
Palo Alto has a couple of options, but the best location is Zibibbo:
I have attended several private events (including birthday parties to formal sit-down dinner) and the service and food have been fantastic. The food at Zibibbo lends itself to family style or large-app platters. I have not had a bad dish yet.