New Caribbean restaurant and bar opens in Sacramento, CA

A funny thing happened on the way to Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails’ opening.

The restaurant and bar was slated to be Sacramento’s first Puerto Rican-focused restaurant when it opened at 6401 Riverside Blvd. in Greenhaven. But people with roots in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados kept showing up to Bodega’s pop-ups, craving a rare taste of the Caribbean in Sacramento.

So co-owners Rafael Jimenez Rivera, Chris Sinclair and Emily Neuhauser broadened their focus. When Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails opens Saturday, it’ll be a “Californian-pan-Caribbean” concept with dishes from across the map.

“We’re bringing Port-au-Prince to the Pocket,” Jimenez Rivera said. “We’re trying to capture the flavors. We’re not trying to be this authentic place. We’re very familiar with the flavors and spices of the Caribbean, and we’re trying to capture that more than anything.”

Chef/co-owner Matt Brown, formerly of The Golden Bear, will still make Puerto Rican dishes such as tripletas (a sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon and a slow-roasted pork called pernil) and occasional specials like arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). But Brown and sous chef Sarah Saldana, one of last year’s Tower Bridge Dinner chefs, will take inspiration from across the Caribbean.

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A tipleta — a sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon and a slow-roasted pork called pernil — is served at Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails. Xavier Mascareñas xmascarenas@sacbee.com

They’ll serve doubles, a Trinidadian turmeric-infused flatbread filled with curried chickpeas and pickled mangoes. Cuban sandwiches will feature pork mojo, a tangy slow-roasted pork native to the island, but will come on Jamaican coco bread. Lighter bites include a quinoa/tropical fruit salad, fried plantains and fish tacos with green papaya salsa.

“We want to have, like, the vibe of the Caribbean, the Pura Vida lifestyle of the Caribbean where it’s about loving life and enjoying every moment,” Jimenez Rivera said. “It’s going to bring back memories with these spices and flavors, with the cocktails and music we’re playing, the whole scene. We want people to be transported.”

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Friends and family of owners and staff at Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails enjoy a pre-opening night Thursday. Rafael Jimenez Rivera, center, manages the restaurant and is an owner along with chef Matt Brown, Chris Sinclair and Emily Neuhauser. Xavier Mascareñas xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Jimenez Rivera’s grandfather ran a restaurant in Puerto Rico, while his father owned one in New York. Sinclair and Neuhauser own Good Bottle Shop in downtown Sacramento, which has earned a reputation for its strong beverage selection.

Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails’ drink menu will include riffs on mojitos, Cuban Libres, daquiris and other classics when the restaurant receives its liquor license. Sinclair also brought over an appropriate cocktail from his time at The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar: the West Indies Sour, made with Cognac, red wine, allspice liqueur and lime.

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Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails bartender Kerri Sneve pours out two mojitos for a night of hosting friends and family Thursday before a grand opening Aug. 6. Xavier Mascareñas xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Bodega’s wine will come from across the globe — Portugal, South Africa, Clarksburg — and beer is a mix of domestics and south-of-the-border specialties. The restaurant will use Camellia Coffee Roasters beans for cafe con leche, espressos and dulce de leche lattes, eventually incorporating coffee into the cocktail program as well.

Jimenez Rivera recommended pairing one of those coffee drinks with Bodega’s ham-and-cheese-filled pan de mallorcas, Puerto Rican breakfast pastries that are sort of like sugar-dusted brioche/croissant hybrids.

“It’s sweet and savory. It’s such a great breakfast sandwich,” he said. “That with a little cafe con leche, and your day is set.”

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Chef-owner Matt Brown works to finish a tripleta — a sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon and a slow-roasted pork called pernil — at Bodega Kitchen & Cocktails on Thursday. Xavier Mascareñas xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Bodega will function as a cafe to start, open 10 am to 3 pm Wednesday through Sunday. When the liquor license comes in, serve customers from 10 am to 10 pm Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

This story was originally published August 6, 2022 5:25 AM.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.

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