Cilantro has a season, and it’s now.
Diners at Emeryville's Best Coast Burritos request the cilantro-lime sauce by the ladle and cupful.
Kitchen gardeners know that Northern California is a great place to grow cilantro, and the best time to plant it is in the fall. Also known as Chinese parsley, the leafy herb loves the cooler months. Plant around October from seed, not transplants, for bushy harvests throughout winter and early spring.
Come summer’s heat, cilantro will flower and go to seed. This is not a total tragedy. Those round, yellow-brown seeds are actually coriander, the sought-after spice used in so much Indian cooking, Scandinavian baking, pickling, and mulled wine. In fact, the entire plant is edible, down to the roots that feature yet another, completely different flavor and are a staple in Thai curries.
Despite its seemingly global appeal, cilantro is also an herb that can be as divisive as current politics. Those who love it can’t get enough; those who despise it would rather, as Julia Child once aggressively proclaimed, “pick it out and throw it on the floor.” Often used in complement with spicier cuisines, the herb’s flavorful tang contains a soapy note that is appealing to some, overwhelming to others, a discrepancy sometimes chalked up to genetics.
Fortunately, Alvin Shen, co-owner and manager of Emeryville’s Best Coast Burritos—with a second location opening at 5100 Broadway Oakland this summer—doesn’t see too many of the haters at his modern Mexican eatery, where Best Coast’s (optional) cilantro-lime green sauce is requested by the ladle and cupful.
“We don’t go out of our way to broadcast it, but it’s there for people who want something new,” said Shen. “It’s great on tacos, pairs well with marinated meats, is a dip for chips. People are pleasantly surprised.”
Shen credits his wife and co-owner Michelle’s love for cilantro for the origination of the sauce and Michelle’s family for the origins of the eatery itself. In true West Coast style, Michelle’s Korean-born parents were given the opportunity to adopt and own the Viva Mexican Grill, an authentic Mexican taqueria in the Emeryville Public Market, back in the ’80s. The match was a success, and the couple went on to operate several Mexican eateries in the Bay Area, before scaling back to the original storefront.
When their Public Market lease was up, the group opted out of renewing and instead rebranded in the new location, near the Chevron at the intersection of Hollis and Powell. The clean, streamlined look is new, but many of the staff and cooks here have plied authentic Mexican cooking together for decades. The combination gives Best Coast an old-new vibe that works.
“We are truly a mom-and-pop family business,” said Shen. “And for many of our staff, it’s a generational thing.”
Shen, whose own roots are Taiwanese and whose family operated a Chinese restaurant in his native Central Valley, left advertising to join the business. Best Coast’s mashup of influences also includes San Diego—where Shen has family—home of California-style burritos stuffed with tender french fries along with carnitas, carne asada or other ingredients, a Best Coast staple.
Along with the new Oakland location, Best Coast Burritos is busy exploring a partnership with Emeryville’s Imperfect Produce to help procure, among other ingredients, fresh cilantro and limes for its sweet-and-spicy, new-yet-traditionally-inspired, authentically hella good Best Coast sauce.
Best Coast Burritos, 1400 Powell St., Ste. C, Emeryville, 510-654-4699, BestCoastBurritos.com.
Best Coast Burritos Cilantro-Lime Sauce
(Serves 4-5 people)
2 whole cilantro bundles chopped
3 fresh garlic cloves
1/2 jalapeño pepper diced with seeds (1 jalapeño for more spice)
4 limes thoroughly squeezed
1/2 cup of virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cup of filtered water
Blend all ingredients on high for 10 to 15 seconds.
Once blended, gently stir in:
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
3 teaspoons of brown sugar
Serve on spring salads, tacos, or as a zesty dip.
Published online on March 31, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.