As the Uber driver drops me off at the address I have given him, his forehead crinkles with that parental concern as he asks, “Are you sure this is where you want me to drop you off for lunch? I don’t see nothing on this street.”
Tucked in a little protective nook behind a tree and a bus stop in Pioneer square is one month old La Bodega. The theme is Caribbean, Dominican to be exact, and eating a meal here will make you want to book a ticket to Santo Domingo.
The street might seem a little sleepy, but once you’re within the confines of the vibrantly painted walls of La Bodega, there’s something cheery, festive, yet laid-back about this Pioneer Square spot, that almost makes you crave a drink with a pink umbrella in it.
This newcomer is already packed during the lunch hour, and regulars have already called out their favorites. The pork sandwich seems to be at the top of that roster, with tender pieces of piggy topped with pickled onions (showing not all pickled onions are created equal), but it’s Alfau’s green sauce that ties this sandwich together. I notice a little bit left over at the end of my meal, and seriously contemplate licking my plate. I don’t.
As Manu prophesized before he opened his doors, “Jen, I’ve got a sandwich you’re gonna like even more than Paseo’s midnight pork.”
Fan club members of Paseo’s famous pork sandwich may want to try me for blasphemy, but I gotta say, Manu’s rendition is more my speed. I’ve never described a roast pork sandwich as light, but the green sauce and the onions eloquently balance out the richness of the meat. It’s not sloppy and doesn’t leave me gut bombed.
For vegetarians, the green tomato sandwich with gouda, avocado and slaw is a venerable sandwich alternative. I ask the couple next to me who are sharing sandwiches which version they like better. They have a hard time deciding and conclude, “We love the tender pork and green sauce, but we’ve NEVER tasted a vegetarian sandwich with so much flavor.”
Customers are also raving about the empanadas. Made from yuca flour, these doughy pockets have a reddish hue and are conveniently both gluten- free and delicious.
Manu, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, has channeled his culinary talents for the past few years by working at at Blind Pig Bistro, Ethan Stowell’s Anchovies and Olives, and Hitchcock. He also went to culinary school in Spain.
Tip: Don’t miss out on the special of the day, which seemed like the most popular order yesterday. The “La Bandera” is a grand ol’ serving of chicken creole with plantains and a pile of rice. As the people sitting next to me happily enjoy it, I overhear them reminiscing about a special from earlier in the week, where Manu served up a heap of mashed plantains with a pork cutlet on top.
The menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, includes about a dozen items including soups, salads, and some fine-looking desserts.
As I enjoy my lunch at one of the bar stools facing the outside world, I see two people walking back and forth a few times looking determined, yet puzzled. I head outside, inquiring if they are looking for La Bodega. They gratefully nod yes. I direct them inside, enthusiastically telling them I love the tucked away location. “It’s like a secret, and secrets are the best,” I exclaim.
As the couple steps inside as is greeted with a full house, one of them concludes, “Clearly not a well-kept secret.”
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