Oscar Flores, 53, was a server, dishwasher, and prep cook at the Back Bay’s much-loved Middle Eastern restaurant Café Jaffa for 28 years, until it closed in 2019. He followed his brother to the United States from El Salvador in 1988, wanting more opportunities. Next week, he’ll begin work as a prep cook at Greek restaurant Krasi, in the very same Gloucester Street location.
What’s the first restaurant you remember eating at in Boston?
Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End. I had a baked chicken dish. I started working there in 1988. I was a dishwasher.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?
It would be nice to fix the gap between the back of the house and front of the house — a way for tips to be shared with the kitchen.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you started working in Boston?
There are many more international restaurants than when I arrived. It’s been nice, as a Salvadoran man, to see more Salvadoran restaurants, as well as Greek and Middle Eastern.
What restaurants do you visit when you’re not working?
I spend most of my time working. When at home, I enjoy cooking for myself rather than going out to eat. When I do, my favorite is La Hacienda in East Boston.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think that you might work in restaurants someday?
Mostly watching my mother cook. I wanted to learn from her. My mother used to make a roasted chicken dish that I miss a lot, but it’s been over 35 years since I had it. I also had pupusas, a very typical dish, growing up. I grew up in Jocoro, Morazán, El Salvador.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?
I’m a hygiene freak and ordered salmon at a favorite restaurant. There was hair all over the dish — multiple strands of hair. I was so disgusted and embarrassed for them. I didn’t say anything and asked for the check. I haven’t been back 20 years, and they’re still open.
How could the Boston food scene improve?
More authenticity. If you’re going to serve Greek food, let it be real and original. There should be more authenticity overall, everywhere.
Describe your customers in three words.
Excited, serious, and educated.
What’s the most overdone food or drink trend right now?
Steak! Everyone does it, and everyone does it the exact same way.
What are you reading?
Nothing right now.
What’s one food you never want to eat again?
McDonald’s. There’s too much good food in the world.
How’s your commute?
I go on the Blue Line from East Boston to Government Center to Hynes. It’s about an hour round-trip.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing?
A real Salvadoran restaurant that isn’t just fast food, takeout, or counter service — a real, table-service restaurant with a wine program and a full bar.
What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?
Charlie’s, about a block from where we are here. We’d go after work. They closed a few years ago. Mostly, though, I miss Cafe Jaffa.
Who has been your most memorable customer?
Governor Deval Patrick was a regular of mine, and he always said “Hi” and remembered everyone’s name. There’s also a very famous Puerto Rican musician named Jerry Rivera who came in once and was my favorite at Cafe Jaffa.
If you were to eat your last meal in Boston, where would you go?
I’d get old-school shawarma from Jaffa, which I can’t get anymore. Or a Colombian dish at La Terraza on Bennington Street: rice, chicharrónes, and lamb with fried plantains and a sunny-side egg.
Interview was edited and translated.