Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
May 31, 2010 08:19 PM

El Molino Central, Sonoma

Pretty little white building with blue trim a few miles north on Hwy 12 from Sonoma square, advertising tamales, tacos, and Blue Bottle coffee. They just opened this weekend, apparently. Turns out the woman running the place is Karen (Taylor?), of Primavera Tamales. I didn't find this out until after I ate a delicious, freshly made mamela, and then it made a whole lot of sense.

We went for the coffee, at first -- there is, sadly, a dearth of great coffee in the Sonoma area, and even though not every place that touts their coffee as being sourced from Blue Bottle does justice to the beans, we stopped in. And fears were quelled: they pull a great espresso.

The coffee drew us in but the food will bring us back. Actually, that's not true at all; of course the coffee will bring us back. But I had a mamela, which I wasn't familiar with -- it was like a bigger sope. Freshly made masa cake (not only was the cake freshly made, but they are soaking and grinding their own masa right there, something I'm not sure anyone really does here). The masa cake was filled with black beans, sweet onions, a warmly spicy salsa, some cabbage, and cotija. It was simple and delicious, mostly because it is so rare to taste such fresh masa.

They have about four hot things on the menu (tamales, tacos -- sorry for lack of details). And tamales and a few other things to take home.

I can't find their exact address yet, I'll add a link as soon as I can.

El Molino Central
11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Memela is the term used in Oaxaca for a sope-like fresh masa antojito. I'd love to try one from Primavera because their freshly ground masa is so great. El Molino means "the mill".

    The inspection record show the address as 11 Central Ave. If that's right, it's across Hwy 12 from the Sonoma Mission Inn.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      It's a little north of the SMI, but I think they are banking on the proximity of the hotel for their clientele, because the pricing is definitely not geared towards locals. Tortillas are $3.50 per dozen! We tried a few things - chicken mole tamales in banana leaves - a plate of 2 was $8.00, a pork tamale $4.50 (both accompanied by only a ladle of sauce), a mamela $5.00. The pork tamales were also available by the dozen from the "grab and go" case $18.00 All three items were good, but they've got some service kinks to work out (in fairness it was opening day). Also, I'm hoping the Blue Bottle folks provide some training, as my coffee experience was not as good as Davina's. A cup of drip was weak, and not sufficiently hot.

      Everything is to go, as their is no seating.

      Blue Bottle Cafe
      66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      1. re: Sam B

        I dug up my first post on Primavera's tamales from 2001 and at that time, the tamales were $15/12. If they're the same size, that's not much of an increase to $18. It was great to be able to buy them fresh from the initial steaming, not reheated the next day at the Saturday farmers market, and it was a sad day when Primavera had to stop selling from the kitchen.

        More recently, I had the tamales at the Friday morning farmers market in Sonoma. This probably helped them gauge the amount of local business a storefront might generate.
        Here's the sign showing tortillas for $4 (don't know if this is for a dozen). They are quite thick, and might weigh as much as a couple or three of standard grocery store type.

        Too bad there's no seating. How's the sidewalk or ledges around there?

        And, is Primavera spelling memela as mamela (sic)?

        17070 Sonoma Hwy, Sonoma, CA

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Just from memory, but I think that they spelled it mAmela, yes.
          There are a couple of big Adirondack chairs in the back, I only noticed that driving by later in the weekend. There's not much room on the sidewalks right around there, in fact there's not much sidewalk to speak of at all (freaks me out to walk a stroller down that road, but I see people doing it all the time). Maybe they'll eventually reclaim one of the parking spots as space for tables.

          1. re: davina

            They have added some bench seating in the parking lot behind the store

            1. re: Sam B

              There are four or five small round tables behind the shop with ample bench seating and metal chairs in addition to the plastic Adirondacks - it's eat-in and make room for the next diners... or, take-out. Everyone's friendly - servers and diners. Sunshine and good food is a happy combination.

        2. re: Sam B

          Today's special, Tostadas De Tinga $9.50, was plated on a heavy paper plate with real-flatware-not-plastic for eat-in on the bench behind the shop - two tostadas were well-seasoned with the crunchy freshness of chopped radishes, marinated carrots, lettuce, and avocado on the spicy smoky Niman pork.
          The Quesadailla De Mercado has a generous and satisfying filling of mushroom and cheese with epazote, salsa chipotle and guacamole $9.50 - I liked this best of all for its contrast of the cooked mushrooms and cheese and the freshness of the crunchy veggies and the chunky guacamole.
          The Chalupas De Pollo $9.50 were proclaimed delicious and were served two to a plate - masa boats of beans, chicken, salsa verde, onions, cilantro and avocado.
          For drinks, agua fresca jamaica/hibiscus, hot chocolate, and Blue Bottle coffee.
          I did have my eye on the plate at the next table - the Chilaquiles "El Cardenal" served from 7 am to 11 am - with perfectly scrambled egg, it's Tostaditos in tomato-chipotle sauce dressed with Mexican Crema, cotija cheese, avocado and onion with soft scrambled eggs $9.50
          Also on the menu:
          Enchiladas Verdes Suizas - $9.50 Bubbling Chicken enchiladas with cream and cheese, onion, cilantro and a pickled cabbage relish
          Swiss Chard Enchiladas - $9.50 Braised Chard Enchiladas with Chipotle-Tomato Salsa, sour cream and cheese
          Crispy Yukon Gold Potato Tacos $9.50 for 3 crispy tacos with salsa escabeche, lettuce, sour cream, and cotija cheese
          Tamales Del Dia - plate of two $9.50 or 1 Tamal for $5
          Tortillas De Miaz - stone ground organic corn tortillas $3.50 dozen
          - Everything is fresh and delicious. It's a healthy start for the day.
          El Molino Central is busy with its take-out service - and a Take Home Party Food menu.
          I am looking forward to the October 22-23rd book-signing of Diana Kennedy's next book on Oaxaca - "Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy" at both Omnivore Books and Boulette's Larder in San Francisco.
          Watch for later news in the Fall - and hope for a book-signing in October at El Molino Central, also.

          El Molino Central
          11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476

          1. re: Cynsa

            I had the Chalupas De Pollo there today and it was really good except for the fact that the tortilla was very difficult to cut with the finely-serrated plastic knife. I mean VERY difficult. And the "masa boats" were piled so high with the good stuff that I couldn't image trying to eat them by hand. What am I missing here about how to manage those?

            1. re: Mick Ruthven

              Personally, I pick them up and eat them, mess and all.

        3. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks for the address, Melanie.

          El Molino Central
          11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              - at the original Barking Dog location on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs -

            2. re: davina

              El Molino Central
              17999 Sonoma Hwy
              Sonoma, CA 95476
              7am to 8 pm

              El Molino Central
              11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476

          1. So exciting, they're open at last! You can buy the masa from them too. $1.50/lb. I would call them first to make sure they'll have some at the restaurant for you. And they have machine pressed tortillas. I don't know how much they are, or if you have to special order them, but I'm looking forward to getting a bunch and freezing them. I make my own tortillas out of Primavera masa or homemade masa, but I can't get them machine thin, and they're a bit of work. I'd rather buy the tortillas and save the masa for pupusas or braided challah (note: tortillas freeze well but masa does not and it only lasts in the fridge for about a week, really 1-2 days before the texture is a bit off)..

            I know of NO other brand available at any price that are organic and have no additives and aren't total crud (like WF brand). Heck, even finding non-organic ones with no preservatives is next to impossible. I think only Trader Joe's has them. Even the local tortillas in stores have preservatives (and some have wheat!).

            1 Reply
            1. re: CyndiN

              We came home with a dozen stone-ground tortillas; still warm, I was was so tempted to unwrap them and start eating - with butter... but, I was driving and the butter waits at home in SF. We reheated the tortillas on the griddle the next day - delicious thick fresh corn slabs with a touch of sweetness from the corn.

            2. I've been in a few times, and the menu seems to have stabilized. They have a few tables on a patio in the back - you either walk through the kitchen or around the building to get there. Most dishes are served with a pickled slaw - I'm sure it has a name, but it seems to be cabbage, carrots and jalapenos?

              Usually 2 tamales each day. Lately it's been chicken mole or zucchini with cheese. $5 for one, $9.50 for two.

              Creamy chicken enchiladas. These were good, but too rich/creamy for my taste. Two good-sized enchiladas with tasty chicken filling, topped with a white sauce, green sauce and cheese. $9.50

              I think the highlight are the chalupas - soft masa boats with refried beans, chicken, lettuce, avocado and more stuff. These are really delicious. Two for 9.50.

              They also have chilequiles in the morning, a quesadilla, and they've had a pork tostada special for awhile (also tasty, but not as good as the chalupas). They also have a cold case with tamales to go (now in bags of 4), guacamole, tortillas and chips. For awhile they were doing an amazing pumpkin seed salsa, but they haven't had it on my last few visits.

              I haven't had the Blue Bottle drip, but they're doing a consistently good job on espresso drinks.

              Karen (the owner) has been there on most of my visits, but she seems to be more concerned about the food quality than the service. (which is mostly noticeable in contrast to the owner of C Casa in Napa, who is making a real point at communicating with her guests). Service is a little awkward, mostly due, I think, to language barriers, and a seemingly difficult cash register.

              Great food, though. I find myself sneaking up the road to get a cappuccino and unable to resist a tamale at the same time.

              Blue Bottle Cafe
              66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              C Casa
              644 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

              1. good food + good coffee and sunshine! too much goodness for a San Franciscan? I think I can manage - with a little help of good friends, too.

                1. I had breakfast here this morning and I am infinitely glad I did. I even called Eat_Nopal to express the regret that this place was about two years late in coming for us to enjoy the simple pleasure of it.

                  Chilaquiles "El Cardenal" were confidently some of the best I have had on either side of the border. The key point of texture to this dish was not ignored - as chilaquiles are almost always cooked to the point of slop north of the border. The tortilla pieces just ever so slightly gave to the balanced [non acidic, pleasantly spicy and smoky] tomato-chipotle salsa. Another point I noticed was that the corn flavor did not disappear but stood up to the sauce. Paired with some of fluffiest, fresh tasting eggs and the garnish of cotija, crema, onion and cilantro - this was definitely my personal manifestation of breakfast ecstasy.

                  About two months ago I was in Oaxaca city where I went to a tortilleria and restaurant called Itanoni where they use ancient strains of corn for their antojitos and tortillas.That place was pretty amazing but when they offered me a taste of a fresh tortilla from the masa that I saw was ground in their molino here at Molino Central- I could not resist. I could smell it from halfway across the room. This was the best tortilla I have ever eaten, better than that place in Oaxaca.

                  Some other points I want to mention - is that the kitchen feels very much like a restaurant in Mexico - you can just tell this place is serious business by sight alone. And that the three women working were all from different parts of the Republic - Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Michoacan, and Jalisco which is very good for the menu.

                  I'm considering moving back to the North Bay - this place just might seal the deal for me. ;)

                  Felicidades to Karen Taylor Waikiki - she has a wonderful new restaurant.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    Nice report! Primavera's chilaquiles at the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza farmers market are famous, but these sound even better at the new place.

                    Btw, Santa Rosa has a new neveria estilo Michoacan place in Santa Rosa called Fru-ta or Fruta. Hope you have a chance to check it out.

                    2770 Stony Point Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95407

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I'm hoping to hit it when I go to Rincocito Yucateco!

                      1. re: kare_raisu

                        Excellent 1, 2 punch!

                        P.S. Reminder that Rinconcito has the beef soup you'd asked about some time ago but I don't know if it's made with all the different kinds of offal. I haven't tried it yet.