Originally printed in the March 2020 issue of Produce Business.
This traditional Mexican restaurant mixes it up with unique and delicious produce applications.
Los Cilantros Restaurant at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA, offers an authentic yet innovative experience in Mexican food. Dilsa Lugo, chef/owner, tenders her culinary experience and skill to present a variety of family home-style Mexican dishes — some with a twist.
Opened six years ago by Lugo and her family, the intimate spot posts $700,000 in yearly revenue. Lugo explains the restaurant was born out of the inspired desire for genuine Mexican food and with a little helping hand. “We joined La Cocina (a non-profit food entrepreneur incubator) about 12 years ago and started formalizing the business,” she says. “I worked in another restaurant for a while, during which we were figuring out where to open and finalizing our plan.”
The restaurant focuses on fresh ingredients and real, quality Mexican food. “Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch with superior ingredients,” attests Lugo.
Produce is a huge contributor to the authenticity of the menu. “More than 50% of the menu is produce,” acknowledges Lugo. “We spend about $1,500/week on ingredients, and about half of that is produce purchases.”
Local is a priority for sourcing, and Lugo shops farmers markets regularly. “I also buy from other wholesalers who deliver and sometimes shop the wholesale markets, but time is a limitation,” she says.
Lugo emphasizes quality and flavor in sourcing. “Even the dried chiles have to be good,” she says. “They must have the flavor profile we’re looking for.”
A Tour Of Mexico
The Los Cilantros menu presents a culinary experience highlighting a variety of Mexican dishes and ingredients, especially produce. “Produce is a key component of just about every dish,” says Lugo.
Diners can start with a shredded Cabbage Salad tossed with avocado, cilantro and house-made dressing, a Jícama Salad tossed with mixed greens and orange slices, or fish Ceviche mixed with fresh lime juice, diced tomato, onion, Serrano peppers and cilantro.
Main courses include most Mexican favorites highlighted with major doses of fresh produce. The Chile Relleno Clásico features a Poblano Pepper Filled With Queso Fresco served with tomato salsa, sour cream, onions, refried beans and homemade tortillas. The Tostaditas all incorporate tomato, onion, cilantro and some type of unique produce component — for example, a Chipotle tomato onion sauce or diced nopales.
Lugo reports employing out-of-the-ordinary ingredients to make the dish more interesting. “For example, we sauté specialty mushrooms, oysters and creminis, with a very Mexican herb such as epazote,” she says. “We put the mixture in tacos or sopes.”
Los Cilantros draws a vegetarian crowd due to Lugo’s use of produce. “We use nopales for a tostada, which is very popular with vegetarian customers,” she says. “Because our menu incorporates a lot of vegetables and spices, we also get quite a few diners from Indian descent.”
3105 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705
Lunch Wed-Fri: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; Sat-Sun: 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner Wed-Sun: 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.