The creative minds behind local Raleigh favorite bu•ku explore a world of flavor in their latest venture, so•ca. We sat down with owners Sean Degnan, Tony Hopkins, and Todd Ohle, and Executive Chef Drew Smith to learn more.
First things first: where does the name so•ca come from?
Sean: so•ca stands for “south of the Tropic of Cancer.” It’s a name that speaks to the inspiration we drew from the traditional dishes throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America.
What will guests experience when they walk through the door?
Tony: We wanted to create an experience that offered something for everyone. It’s an upscale casual environment, yet it’s still very approachable and fun. The cuisine and atmosphere offer a little more polish than your traditional Mexican restaurant. The ambition is to create a Latin restaurant that maybe you haven’t seen yet — maybe you’ve seen portions of it — but you haven’t seen it all come together in one place.
Sean: And it was important for us to provide a lot of entryways into the menu, too. For instance, we have fantastic steak and seafood options on the menu if you’re coming in to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. But you can also come in for a beer at the bar and snack on a small plate of ceviche or tiradito, if that’s what you’re feeling. You’re not committed to any one kind of experience when you eat here. Each visit should offer something new.
And how is that concept expressed in the menu?
Drew: From a culinary standpoint, we’re hoping to take guests on a journey to discover all of the wonderful places represented on the menu. We’re thinking beyond familiar fare like tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, and instead introducing dishes that many diners likely haven’t encountered before. Whether that’s a national dish from Chile, a traditional holiday meal from Ecuador, or elevating a street food staple through the use of French cooking techniques and attention to detail.
What are your favorite dishes on the menu?
Tony: I think the humitas are really special. It’s a kind of tamale from Argentina that we make with house-made farmer’s cheese. It’s one of our vegetarian offerings, but it can really stand on its own without any of the usual “it’s good for a vegetarian dish” caveats.
Drew: For me, it’s the charred octopus. We’ve made a few adjustments to the recipe recently and now it’s really outstanding.
Sean: Steak churrasco. I’ve had many (and made many myself) through the years and ours at so•ca is by far the best. The powerful garlic and cilantro flavors in the chimichurri sauce really take it to the next level.
Todd: The jerk duck, without question. It really embodies everything we’re trying to do at so•ca: taking a traditional Caribbean jerk recipe, elevating it with duck, and applying French techniques to create a well-balanced, well-seasoned dish.
“Global” is clearly an important part of the so•ca story. What about local?
Drew: We don’t really advertise it all that much, but we always try to use as much local stuff as we can. We’re part of the Raleigh Farmers Collective, so we try to get as much of their produce as possible. All of our eggs are from Latta Family Farms in Hillsborough. The chicken is sourced from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, and our pork comes from Heritage Farms in Goldsboro.
What drew you to Cameron Village?
Tony: In truth we’d be trying to get into Cameron Village for a few years now. It’s such a popular shopping and dining destination for the Raleigh community, and one we’ve always wanted to be a part of. We jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself late last year. We really believe not only in Cameron Village but the surrounding area as well. Lots of really exciting things happening in this part of town.
Anything else our readers can look forward to?
Tony: We’re planning to start a weekend brunch offering Saturdays and Sundays. It’s going to feature five to ten plated brunch dishes, all based in the same elevated Latin approach you see throughout the rest of the menu.
Experience the flavors of so•ca yourself Monday – Thursday from 4:00 pm – 10pm, Friday 4:00 pm–12:00 am, Saturday 11:00 am – 12:00 am, and Sunday 10:00 am – 10:00 pm. Make your reservation online or call (919) 322-0440.