El Coqui Puerto Rican Cuisine – Best Latin American Cuisine
Guests in search of homemade Puerto Rican food will come from as far away as Sacramento or Santa Cruz to eat Chef Jacqueline Roman’s dishes at El Coqui in Santa Rosa.
“We have customers who burst into tears,” Jacqueline’s partner and co-owner Tina Jackson said. “They’ll tell us it tastes like their mother’s. Or their grandmother’s. The big tattooed ones came in and cried.
Jacqueline is proud of the fact that her little kitchen is reminiscent of the one her grandmother taught her to cook in. She was raised in New York by this grandmother, who was born in the mountainous rainforest of Jayuya, Puerto Rico. And she’s thrilled to offer dishes that aren’t common in the Bay Area.
When Jacqueline creates her classic sofrito sauce from scratch, she doesn’t just make dishes with fresh tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, onions and peppers. She also talks about what her grandmother told her to do with every meal she serves: “Make your food with love.”
That also goes for its simple bean, rice and plantain dish, fruit sangria and its signature Pollo Al Horno – spiced baked chicken thighs so tender the meat falls off the bone.
Her grandmother’s wise teachings paid off. El Coqui has won numerous awards, including gold at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair for the dish Pollo Al Horno.
And the restaurant won the best Latin cuisine category in the Bohemian several times, as well as the best new restaurant in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. El Coqui has also been featured on the Food Network.
Jacqueline and Tina have started an unusual restaurant.
Tina bought furniture and Jacqueline was her saleswoman. They succeeded. And they decided to open a Puerto Rican restaurant together “at the height of the financial crisis,” Tina said. “It was a crazy time.”
They opened El Coqui in 2009, with second-hand equipment which they bought cheaply, as many other restaurants were closing at that time.
El Coqui was built with “sweat fairness,” Tina said. “We mostly did it with our own hands.”
At the time, their vision was that they might be lucky enough to build a “little hole in the wall with four or five employees,” Tina said.
But they thought too small.
They now have about two dozen employees and thousands of customers visit El Coqui every week.
Just recently, customers were filling the front patio, salsa music was playing in the background, and everyone’s mug was overflowing with homemade sangria.
“The vibe was so good,” Tina said. “Our vision turned out to be much bigger and much more amazing than we thought.”
El Coqui Puerto Rican Cuisine
400 Mendocino Avenue
Santa Rosa, California 95401