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2245 Kearny St.
The Draw: Inventive dishes inspired by the cuisines of Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, and Spain; lively vibe
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The Drawback: Some dishes are a little pricey
Noise Level: Moderate
Don’t Miss: Pan de casa, tlacoyo cochinita, zanahorias, weekend paella
Park Hill’s Lucina is an undeniably fun restaurant. Not like ordering-out-of-a-clown’s-mouth fun or, ahem, watching-cliff-divers-plunge-off-a-waterfall fun. Instead, Lucina’s particular brand of amusement for diners is allowing them to try—and delight in—something they may have never eaten before. It’s a trust fall sort of fun, where you’re nervous and giddy because you don’t quite know what’s about to happen, but you have a hunch it will be exhilarating.
Lucina’s namesake is chef-owner Erasmo (Ras) Casiano’s mother, who made sure that everyone who entered her home was well-fed. The lineup of shareable Latin and Caribbean small plates blends Casiano’s Mexican upbringing with chef-partner Diego Coconati’s South American and Caribbean childhood. Everything about the restaurant, from the bench seating and floral-wallpaper-adorned bar to the dishes that blend surprising combinations of flavors and textures, is a soulful celebration of these bold cultures.
Dive into the unknown with the tlacoyo cochinita, a masa “boat” that holds kicky habanero-garlic crema and pork that’s been slow-roasted overnight. Give the dish a squeeze of the quartered lime, rip off a chunk, and eat it with your hands. The presentation is intentional—this is the kind of restaurant where you’re encouraged to play with your food. It’s a messy bite, yes, but it’s also tender and warm with spices such as Mexican cinnamon and achiote.
Another must-have to start your meal is the pan de casa. The sourdough-meets-cornbread textured loaf is delicious, but it’s the fluffy cloud of accompanying chimichurri butter that makes you overlook the $5.50 cost for a small serving. (We recommend upgrading to a large for $11.) While it is a bit of a downer that free bread at restaurants has all but disappeared, the upside is that, at least at Lucina, the care put into the pre-meal carbs makes them well worth the price tag.
If the aguachile negro is available (the menu rotates seasonally), order it—even if just for the shock value. The team burns garlic, onion, scallions, and four types of chiles to create an inky sauce called salsa ceniza. You will wonder how something so pitch black can taste so bright, and you’ll happily dip the accompanying tostadas into the sharp, citrusy pool—taking care to grab a shrimp, a cucumber ring, cilantro, and onion on the way—while trying to solve that riddle.
Carrots have never been my favorite thing to see on a menu—they’re often so snoozy—but I closed my eyes and leaned into Lucina’s multifaceted rendition of the ubiquitous vegetable. Casiano and Coconati toast a pile of rainbow carrots (zanahorias, in Spanish) in their giant pizza oven, the centerpiece of the open kitchen, and stack them alongside charred scallions and crispy pepitas. It all sits atop a swoosh of tangy crema agria (Mexico’s version of sour cream) blended with chives for a fancy, onion-dip-like accompaniment that has serious flair.
Alcapurrias, or Puerto Rican fritters, aren’t on many local menus, but you should give these fried parcels a try. Made with a ground yucca and taro crust, Lucina’s version has braised chicken spiced with cumin, coriander, paprika, and sofrito (the Latin American mirepoix of peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic). A little smoky and a whole lot crispy, the alcapurrias are best topped with the attendant tangy cabbage salad and then plunged into the spicy serrano crema, all of which cuts the heft of the batter.
Patrons dining at Lucina on Fridays and Saturdays are in for a different treat. The weekend-only paella is fantastic—but it does require patience. Each 10.5-inch dish, which easily feeds two to three, is made to order and can take up to an hour to hit the table. But once it arrives, every bite is an adventure. The inclusions change weekly based on what’s fresh, but my paella pan brimmed with red peppers, mussels, trumpet mushrooms, chorizo, shrimp, saffron threads, and large chunks of salmon. My only complaint was that the rice, the best bits of which should be scraped off the bottom of the pan, could’ve been crispier.
Lucina sources its desserts from Stanley Marketplace’s Miette et Chocolat (Casiano and Coconati also run the food hall’s Create Kitchen and Bar) and then assembles them at the restaurant. It’s a smart move, as one of Miette et Chocolat’s pastry chefs and chocolatiers, Gonzo Jimenez, is a member of Christina Tosi’s Bake Squad, the Netflix show that’s all about creating over-the-top treats. Unsurprisingly, the banana con dulce de leche is extravagant, with piped dulce de leche white chocolate ganache, banana crémeux (a cross between a mousse and a custard), and an enjoyable crunch courtesy of the sablé cookie on the bottom.
Found In Translation
We highly suggest branching out from the familiar offerings on Lucina’s menu. Use our primer on these items listed in Spanish to order like a pro.
Alcapurrias \ al-kuh-pur-ee-uhz
These giant pockets—stuffed with spiced chicken and sofrito at the Park Hill eatery—are a popular fritter in Puerto Rico. They are battered in yucca, taro root, and achiote then deep-fried to crackling perfection.
Congrí \ kon-gree
Tender black beans are cooked with fluffy rice and sofrito to produce congrí, which is often presented alongside plantains. The classic Cuban side dish is a satisfying addition to plates such as the churrasco y papas (chimichurri-glazed hanger steak with potatoes).
Maduros \ mah-doo-rohs
Maduros are ripe plantains that are gently fried to caramelize the sugars (think: the best banana you’ve ever had). Ask for the side dish, devoured throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, with the mojo pork chop.
Mofongo \ moh-fone-goh
This Puerto Rican specialty features mashed, fried plantains mixed with garlic and chunks of crispy pork. Lucina’s dish is served with a generous side of sliced pork belly and topped with an herb salad.
Pupusas \ puh-poo-suhs
In Honduras and El Salvador, thick, griddled corn cakes—or pupusas—are packed with meats, beans, or cheeses. At Lucina, the parcels are filled with ropa vieja: stewed beef, tomatoes, and sofrito.