Chef CJ Dilan is on a mission to show that Puerto Rican food is not just rice, beans, and plantains. Taking traditional Puerto Rican dishes, Dilan finds inventive ways to create them in grab and go options from inside the Dr Gleem Carwash at Sofrito.
“I came here to the car wash to get my haircut for about three years and I saw [the kitchen space] empty the first couple months,” Dilan said, “and every other two weeks, it kind of kept chipping at me and chipping at me. Then finally I was like, let’s get some information.”
With information on how to the rent the kitchen space inside of the car wash in hand, Dilan found no reason not to create a new concept for the space. He reached out to Brian Best of La Dee Da Catering to see what he thought of the idea. With a little more research, they decided to go forward with the idea, but with no set cuisine.
“So, what can we do that’s different that they don’t have here? We decided [to] keep it that neighborhood café that we use to have back home where you’d come in [and] talk to the owner,” Dilan said, “I know you by your first name. I know how your kids are doing. Because I live in the neighborhood I interact with a lot of people that come.”
After brainstorming on possible food concepts, Dilan’s sister suggested that he cook the kind of food they cook at home: Puerto Rican. But with a few of the other Puerto Rican restaurant owners in town being friends of Dilan’s, he decided to do something different with the concept as to not step on any toes.
Dilan’s Puerto Rican food has roots in the original cuisine, but he finds ways to take a classic meal and make it available to eat on the go. Waiting for an elaborate dish just doesn’t make sense unless you’re getting your car super detailed.
“We came up with the idea, why don’t we just put it all in an empanada? That’s pretty much been our answer when [customers] ask for an elaborate dish. Seems to work well with everything,” Dilan said.
Sofrito is the base of all the cooking, “It’s something you start off with and build your dish off that. Sofrito is an Africanized style. Puerto Rico is a mixture; a hotspot for the Spanish, Africans, and the local Taino,” Dilan said.
For newcomers to the cuisine Dilan suggests starting them off with the Cubano Sandwich, which has slow roasted Pernil (pork leg), pineapple and achiote glazed ham, swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and house pickles pressed on Cuban bread. You can also start off with the empanada of the day.
Once you’ve had a taste of the Puerto Rican flavors Dilan points you to Sofrito’s Instagram to check out flavorful off the menu items.
Dilan is dedicated to showcasing the best Puerto Rico has to offer, even if that means jumping on a plane and going to get Pastelillos de Chapin (Trunk Fish) from the island himself.
“You can’t get [Pastelillos de Chapin] anywhere in the US, I’m the only guy who’s got it. It’s only fished along the coast down there. I called from Florida all the way down to Texas and no distributers would do it,” Dilan said.
At Eleanora’s Market on Saturday’s Dilan also gives customer a taste of Puerto Rico in a breakfast taco by using slow roasted pork that’s made in house.
“Come by and give it a chance,” Best said, an investor in Sofrito, “local support is paramount. Meet chef CJ and the crew and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Dilan also makes sorbet, like the salted pineapple, and has Puerto Rican soda, like Coco Rico, available. Sofrito is located at 3103 Ella Blvd. inside of the Dr Gleem Carwash.