Walking into the ASUC Student Union on campus, I was met with the familiar smell of roasting coffee from 1951 Coffee Company and the sight of students with faces practically glued to their laptops. Making my way towards Zellerbach Hall, an aromatic smell perfumed the spiraling staircase. Upon investigating, I was welcomed by the pop-up restaurants that constitute La Cocina’s Cantina: the newest food addition to UC Berkeley's multicultural campus.

La Cocina’s Cantina provides a space for entrepreneurs to build their business—the five different eateries will occupy the ground floor of the Student Union for the 2018 academic year. This term’s pickings range from sweet dainty bakes to heart-warming soul food. The restaurants are owned by women and POC, providing unique experience in offerings, culture, and backgrounds that come together in a color amalgamation of taste and tradition. 

Pinky and Red’s

Emily Hu

The Chicken and the Egg from Pinky and Red’s made me rethink any decision I’ve made to become vegetarian. Two thick slabs of french toast sandwiched a rich, oozing fried egg, and supported the weight of three crispy fried chicken drumsticks. The batter was interlaced with garlic and other finger-licking herbs. It was hard to tell where the egg ended and the decadent maple syrup began.

Reminiscent of fair food, this sticky, beautiful mess brought me back to carefree summers spent on ferris wheels and eating more than my stomach could handle.

Old Damascus Fare

Emily Hu

Serving up traditional Syrian food, Old Damascus Fare brought sweet spice to the afternoon. Jeweled rice paired with soft braised beef accompanied a simple salad of tomatoes and cucumbers for a refreshing and light meal.

The workers treated us like family, sharing stories and offering tamarind tea to compliment our baklava. The filo pastry was light and crisp, but sturdy enough to encompass the pistachios that were graced, or should I say soaked, with golden honey. 

A Girl Named Pinky

Emily Hu

Presented in perfect form, the baked goods from A Girl Named Pinky looked warm and inviting. Amongst the pastel macarons and piped cupcakes were slices of lemon-blueberry cake—a must try. The cake was beautifully chiffon-like, with stiff buttercream that provided the perfect contrast. Embedded with blueberries, the cake tasted fresh and light rather than cloyingly sweet. The lemon macaron had a tart curd in the middle, cutting the sweetness of the crisp outer lid.

Noodle Girl

Emily Hu

Aromatic spices wafted out of Noodle Girl, practically dragging you in to sample its four different noodle soups, fried spring rolls, or banh mi sandwiches. The chicken pho came out piping hot, the steam taking over my senses with nostalgia of when my mum whipped up hearty, wholesome soups at the slightest sniffle of my nose. 

Noodle Girl prides itself on using organic products; the chicken was incredibly succulent, the cilantro adorning the broth was refreshing, and the noodles broke from the norm. Instead of using thin round noodles, Noodle Girl opts for thicker, flatter ones that are perfect for sopping up the delicious soup.

El Mesón de Violeta

Emily Hu

The spicy chicken empanada from El Mesón de Violeta broke apart with grace—the packed filling spilling out and unleashing a smell of spices too complex to fathom. The chicken was married perfectly with potatoes, onions, and peppers; all the flavors coming together in an egg-washed golden parcel.

The accompanying salsa was also light and didn’t outshine the empanada itself. The spice hit at the end of the bite, with just the right amount of spice to warm the mouth without making you break out in a sweat.

The new faces of La Cocina’s Cantina will continue to bring spice and flavor to campus for the rest of the year. So, stop on by for eateries that feel like family, to get a taste of their homes when so far away from your own.