Richmond - Cazuelas Grill – Serious posole and tortilla greatness at Hilltop Mall
Not only are these the best tortillas and posole in the Bay Area … I’ll bet they are the best in California.
I haven’t been to La Texanita in Santa Rosa yet but if the food there beats this I’d be astounded.
A friend was in serious need of a sympathetic ear, so three days away from the finish of my $3 a day eating plan, I needed to take a day off to meet with her. Someone recently gave me a tip about Cazuelas emailing ... "Some friends swear the pozole is to die for."
No kidding … seriously … no kidding.
The deep red broth was flecked with chile and herbs. There were huge tender pieces of pork with just a touch of fat. Even the fat was a gastronomic wonder that was almost like delicate bone marrow.
I despaired at adding the crisp cabbage, stellar fresh radishes, perfect chopped white onions to this masterpiece. Could perfection be improved … oh yeah,
This held up to the additions and even the little red dish of hot sauce upped the deliciousness. A shake of dried oregano and a squeeze of lime made that dish all that it could be.
The house-made corn tortillas are the best I’ve had in my life … anywhere … Mexico or the US … thick and golden with browned grill marks … words fail me.
The tangy ruby-red Jamaica was very good. My friend had the horchata and didn’t say much about it, but was diverted from her blues by the lovely-looking caldo de res which had a big piece of corn on the cob. It was good enough to make her comment on how good it was despite the misery she was caught up in.
The Caldo 7 Mares at the next table had beautiful king crab legs. The menu says it also has manila clams, black mussels, octopus, shrimp, fish and scallops. It looked delicious.
The only thing I haven’t made up my mind about was the chips. They looked bagged but had a nice delicate texture, air bubbles and a good corn taste. I asked if they used these chips for the chilaquiles and the owner said an emphatic “No, of course not”. So I’m thinking that chilaquiles fans might find some goodness here, but that is just a guess based on the excellence of my lunch.
Great salsa too … great. One thick, saucy red salsa that was assertively spicy and a green fresh tomatillo where the heat kicked in after a bit. My lips tingled a while after lunch.
There was also a salsa bar where they had three other delicious looking salsas and the best looking pickled carrots and jalapenos that I’ve ever seen.
The restaurant seems like it was once a Burger King and they sort of went with the color scheme while personalizing and Mexicanizing the place.
There is still the large front take out counter and a few booths with orange formica table tops and chairs bolted to the brown tile floor. However there are also wooden chairs and tables added to the mix. The yellow wall complements the fiesta ware in colors of orange, yellow, red and green.
Papel picado flags in cantelope and baby blue cover the ceiling with ‘Bien Venidos a Cazualas Grill cut out in the paper. There is some Mexican folk art and pottery on the walls and a colorful Oaxacan rooster roosting on the front counter.
The only odd thing I couldn’t figure out were the number cards on the table. They seemed unnecessary because there is table service and only take-out orders are placed at the front counter. Service was a little confused. We were asked for our order before someone gave us a menu. Then three people asked us what our order was. Everyone was very nice though, just scattered.
It is easy to find, located across from 24 Hour Fitness which is visible from the parking lot.
BTW, I am kind of fantasizing about the handmade corn tortilla quesadilla. Oh ... and they make their own chorizo.
Thank you good Dr. for the excellent tip.
Previous inquiry about Cazuelas with more info about the menu.
2138 Hilltop Mall Rd, San Pablo, CA 94806
I am excited to hear about this and will be sure to try the posole soon.
But, speaking of birria, a lot of the versions I've had around here have been too much fat and bone, not enough goat meat -- anybody have a great birria rec? Oakland, SF or South SF would be best but I'd be willing to travel about an hour to sample!
Unfortunately my second visit with another friend tonight wasn't as successful as the first. This is more of a what to avoid.
First the good
The carnitas was great, not crispy but very juicy and full of porky goodness ... but ... i wouldn't recommend ordering them in a taco. There was a little too much lard used to to fry they tortillas. The tortillas and chopped tomato/onion just muted the pork taste. Order it as a plate.
The flan was wildly different than any I've ever tried, but it was good. After a mostly mediocre meal, I took a look at the flan decorated with aerosol whipped cream and sighed, expecting the worse ... nope ... the flan was quite excellent almost as dense as cheesecake and full of cinnamon goodness. I'd tell them to skip the whipped cream next time.
The only ok.
Friend is a big chili relleno fan and pronouced it medicore. I don't order them often enough, but didn't think it was anything special. I'd give them points though for hominess. The sauce was a chunky thick sauce and very home made.
I do however know chorizo and it was only average. I wouldn't go out of my way to ordered it again or the queso fundido it was part of . Saucy mild chorizo covered with a thick layer of browned cheese. Served with flour tortillas so if you want corn be sure to ask.
At this point I was thinking maybe soups were their thing. Nope. Sadly I didn't like the tortilla soup with chicarron. My friend called the chicharrons 'dessicated meat' and didn't mean it in any good way. He also thought the soup tasted like it had been heated in a microwave because of temperature variances.
My big objection was that the ingrediants were pre-added. I prefer tortilla soup with the tortillas, cheese, avocado served separately so that they could be added to my taste and timing. The broth was ok, but it didn't match the greatness of the pozole. Pork is just wrong with tortilla soup. However, given the pre-added ingrediants it is unlikely I'll give the chicken version a try.
The salsa bar was scaled down from the weekend version, but it could just have been late in the day.
The lady at the table next to us who chooses Mexican restarants for particular dishes said the garlic shrimp were great here, so I'll probably try that next.
If it turns out the pozole and corn tortillas are the only great thing here, that justifies its existance.
My friend thought the Jaimaica was sweeter than he preferred. I strongly disagree and think the sweetness is perfect and this is one fine Jaimaica.
Until this moment I never knew there were different types of flan.
Although it was a square, it was more like this ... down to the whipped cream.
It didn't look like this more traditional type of version, though the recipe calls it Napolitano.
I never knew there were so many different types of flan listed by this site which has a recipie for cheese flan. I'm kind of wondering if there was some cream cheese in there due to the taste. I'll have to ask next time.
The first link is what Napolitano typically looks like (the recetas.com website is notoriously bad.... did you notice the link for Gluten Ham?)
As far as I can tell, Flan variations become popular in the late '80s. Of all the variations the only ones that have really become classics (at least in Mexico) are Coconut, Kahlua & Chocolate (Napolitano goes back much further... and is definitely a classic).
Personally... I have never encountered a Cheese Flan... but I now remember my favorite bakery in the low rent 'El Molinito' suburb of Mexico City (its really part of Mexico State).... had an empanada that was stuffed with traditional Flan & a sweetened Requeson (Ricotta like cheese) concoction.... it was all the rage in 1990... it seemed there were always 20 people in line.
I would be the one who directed the Dr. toward the place. I am a native of the area and have been going there since they opened. It has been one of my local secrets.
My first experience with pozole was homemade. My first trip to Cazuelas was on a Saturday. I took a chance and ordered the pozole to go. (You get about a quart on to go orders.) The man behind the register asked me, "How do you know pozole?" I explained how I had had it at a friend's house for a Pasada. He then explained how his mother-in-law made it fresh for each weekend. I was sold then. If mama was making it, it had to be good.
There were a number of years during which I would stop in at least once a month to pick up dinner to go. They are still in my cellphone directory.
The chile rellenos are fantastic -- although my mother will argue that she makes better. But I am a huge fan of the carnitas. They are cooked perfectly. And if you order the plate, they come with the wonderful handmade corn tortillas. I have even sat there waiting for my order only to see the cook slapping masa between her hands and then grilling up my tortillas.
Just a heads up. My mother has ordered the birria in the past and was not pleased. This is the only item on the menu that we have found to be less than acceptable.