Mister Bolenca serving up chef’s home-inspired flavors in Berkeley

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About a month after Crosta Panini Bar closed its doors, former Crosta chef Sincere Justice launched his new food venture, Mister Bolenca, on Sept. 8 in the same place — but with a new focus.

Opening inside Highwire Coffee Roasters at 2049 San Pablo Ave., where Crosta was also first located, Mister Bolenca is meant to be reminiscent of and inspired by Justice’s upbringing in Baldwin Park, around the “ethnic enclaves” of Los Angeles, Justice said. The café will only operate Wednesday through Sunday.

“It’s really an homage to where I grew up,” Justice said. “I grew up around Filipinos and Southeast Asians. A lot of the flavors that I’m familiar with come from there.”

Justice described his new café as a “funky eatery.”

The menu, ranging from Japanese fried egg sandwiches to huevos verde sandwiches, is not only a radical departure from the more traditional grab-and-go style that Crosta had, but also relatively unique compared to other Berkeley eateries, according to Justice.

“There’s nobody doing what I’m doing,” Justice said. “Nobody’s taking Asian flavors and putting it into a sandwich. … I’m essentially working with bold flavors but inside of a sandwich.”

When asked about his ultimate vision for the café, Justice said his chief concern is maintaining the quality of the food he makes as opposed to expanding, adding that he enjoys working in a small space. In the year before opening Mister Bolenca, Justice traveled to four different cities in Asia — Tokyo, Taipei, Guangzhou and Hong Kong — jumping from one restaurant to the next and marveling at the ability of street vendors to succeed despite their various limitations.

Currently, Justice is running the café entirely on his own. In addition to running Mister Bolenca, Justice operates a pop-up food truck in Oakland called Tacos Sincero.

Andy Seidl, a friend of Justice’s and a co-founder of Neyborly, an event space company located nearby, applauded Justice’s Mister Bolenca for being “experimental.”

“I think he’s just a brilliant chef,” Seidl said. “I think he’s one of a number of chefs that are really trying to kind of flip the script on traditional restaurants. He’s trying to do a lot with a little … and I really respect that.”

Ehsan Sadeghi, a customer of Highwire Coffee Roasters, said he thinks Mister Bolenca’s opening may be indicative of a greater movement.

“I think it’s part of a general wave of young folks of color who are opening restaurants,” Sadeghi said. “It’s a general expression of what they ate growing up. … As a person of color and immigrants, you’re inevitably exposed to the food your parents cooked.”

Contact Jared Brewer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JaredBBrewer.