We all know that Mexican food around Berkeley doesn’t come close to actual Mexican food. We had to resort to accepting the grilled fish tacos at Crossroads and drowning them in cilantro and Tapatio to feel like we’re eating something remotely similar, but let’s face it — we’re not.
Dilsa Lugo, the owner of Los Cilantros on Shattuck Avenue, thought the same thing when she and her family came to Berkeley in 2003 and couldn’t find a very nice Mexican restaurant to go to for dinner. After that experience, she began to think about the idea of opening up her own Mexican restaurant with a menu of homemade, family recipes, where everything is made from scratch and is focused on authenticity and fresh ingredients. 11 years later, her dream finally came true.
According to Lugo, she tries to make her food simple, with fresh ingredients, and, unlike other restaurants that deep-fry a lot of their food, she bakes her food slowly with natural juices. Los Cilantros also makes tortillas to order.
“That’s the way we like it,” said Lugo.
When we heard about the opening of Los Cilantros and looked at its menu and saw that it had food such as carnitas and chilaquiles verdes, we knew we had to check it out. Walking into the restaurant, we automatically noticed how nice it looked. The walls were a nice shade of red and had an arch that not only was a good focal point but also brought out the feel of an authentic Mexican restaurant. The restaurant also had a lot of natural lighting, and the floral decor on the tables made the restaurant comfortable to sit in.
What really set the tone for the restaurant, however, was the staff. We were automatically greeted with smiles when we walked in, and they quickly gave us our drinks and the food for us to try. They started us off with the Quesadilla Clasica, a handmade tortilla filled with Oaxaca cheese and green peppers. Great as a vegetarian option, it featured peppers that had a great amount of crunch and spice that was balanced perfectly with the creamy texture of the cheese. Lugo also let us try her sope, which is a thick tortilla filled with mole and chicken that’s topped with cheese, sour cream and onions. The flavor of the mole mixed well with the toppings, and the tortilla was great at binding everything together.
Lugo also brought out a fresh cabbage salad that had lime juice, avocado and cilantro. The pieces of avocado were great for bringing a creamy tone to the crunchy texture of the cabbage, and everything was rounded with a hint of lime juice and the cilantro. It was clear that the cabbage and avocado were fresh, while the crunch of the cabbage made it obvious that they mixed the salad right before they served it so it was coated nicely with the juice — but still fresh enough to keep the right texture.
Unfortunately, it isn’t walking distance for us Berkeley students. But a quick trip on the AC Transit will get you to the restaurant — you can take the 18. It’s also a little more pricey than what we would want on a college student budget, but considering the clean, fresh ingredients Lugo use and the authenticity of the food, we think it’s worth it to go when you want a nice Mexican breakfast or dinner.
Los Cilantros is currently only accepting cash, but Lugo is trying to change that.