Food on the fringes

Ethnic cuisine outside your comfort zone


Devin Schwarz

Plantain “Spiders” are made from thin grated savory plantain formed into balls and fried into a crispy nest of greasy goodness. Plantains are a specialty at El Coqui.

Devin Schwarz, A&E Editor

Mexican here, Chinese there, a couple French and a handful of Italian. The cultural food landscape of Santa Rosa is as diverse as it is expansive, but it is frustratingly mainstream. So where does one go to break the norm and explore the world’s palette?


1129 Sebastopol Rd.

Sazon, Santa Rosa’s only Peruvian restaurant is one of its most precious hidden gems. Oddly located in the heart of Roseland, Sazon serves a class of food that would surprise anyone used to the taco truck cuisine of the surrounding businesses.

All five senses are on full alert as soon as you walk into the establishment’s tightly packed dining area. Delicious smells waft from the kitchen as chittery music floats from the speakers mixing with sounds of people conversing and the chefs communicating in their native tongue. By the time you’re seated, you think you have a grasp on what kind of restaurant you have just walked into. Then the menu is placed in front of you; it’s full of words you won’t understand and foods you’ve never heard of.

Sazon serves a huge variety of ceviches, fish cooked in lime juice and made into a salad; Chupe de Camarones, creamy prawn soup with rice, peas and poached egg; Pollo a la Brasa, heavily seasoned chicken served on a bed of fries; and the true shining star of the menu; Anticucho de Corazón, grilled beef heart skewers.

There is absolutely no way to go wrong at Sazon, whether you choose the executive lunch to have alone or go with a whole party and try their wine pairing menu with a little bit of everything on the menu.                

El Coqui

400 Mendocino Ave.

Like Sazon, El Coqui serves South American cuisine taken to a whole other level. Puerto Rican cuisine throughout history has been greatly influenced by other cultures due to its proximity to America and her trade routes. This is immediately visible on El Coqui’s menu as it has a great variation of dishes, ingredients and styles of cooking.

The enormous variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, daily specials and drinks will require you to visit every day of the week to fully appreciate the culinary landscape of Puerto Rico.

Choosing the best dishes on the menu is like throwing darts, but of the ones I’ve tried, the plantain spiders, thin strips of plantain fried into insanely crispy balls, and chicharron de pollo, un-breaded fried chicken crispier than anything your grandma dipped in flour, have got to be my favorites.



913 4th St.

Abyssinia sits tucked away on the east end of Fourth Street, serving up delicious Ethiopian cuisine with the freshest ingredients available, truly one of Santa Rosa’s greatest restaurants.

At Abyssinia, you come for the ambience and stay for the food. The interior is dimly lit and fabulously decorated to give one a real sense of eating in an exotic land. When the food arrives at the table, you can’t help but water at the mouth with anticipation; tender chicken, stewed lamb and steak tartar, fantastically seasoned and masterfully cooked by the restaurant’s single employee. Every dish at Abyssinia is accompanied with lentils on a bed of injera, unleavened sourdough bread made with teff, the smallest grain in the world.

As delicious as the tartar is at Abyssinia, some may be afraid of eating raw meat, although you can tell by looking it is far from dangerous. As an alternative, the second-best menu item is the Abyssinia combo, a plate served with all of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including doro we’t, stewed bone-in chicken; yebeg key we’t, stewed lamb cubes; yebeg alecha, spicy lamb strips; and tikel gomen, seasoned cabbage and root vegetables.

Break the mould that is ethnic eating in the Santa Rosa area, explore your senses and indulge your curiosity. Say what you will about Drake but he was right on one count: you only live once and only have so much time to explore all the food the world has to offer. Luckily you live in the Bay Area. You can experience all the cuisine you want without paying thousands of dollars on airfare.