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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

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  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. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/705331
          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.

                  2. Went here last night for the second time and we loved it.
                    Had the Tostata de Tinga and the fish tacos.
                    They had out samples of chips with their salsa/guacamole combo. Had to get that too, it was so good.
                    Both dishes were $9.50. Not cheap, but a pretty good value for what you got.
                    The vegetables on both dishes were fresh and cut nicely.
                    Made me rethink the $13.00 Beans con Todo I ordered at Juanita Juanita last week. I got it with grilled chicken, but it sure seemed pricey at the time.
                    I love El Molino, don't know why I haven't been more often since I moved up here.

                    Juanita Juanita
                    19114 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476

                    1. The new winter-spring menu is up.

                      Gone are pozole, potato tacos, mole poblano.

                      Up and coming are a chicken stuffed chile rellano, potato-masa sopes with ground pork, green mole. They still offer fish tacos, enchiladas Suiza, swiss chard enchiladas, and tamales. And chilaqules before 11 AM.

                      The website hasn't been updated yet - http://www.elmolinocentral.com/

                      1. The place has Diana Kennedy's personal blessing. That means more than any of you youngsters can know. We live a mile or so away and can say that El Molino may be one of the very best things about Sonoma CA (along with the Fremont Diner). The tamales and fish taco I'll pass on (having lived in San Diego and also having a mexicana sister-in-law who sends me tamales every Christmas) but the chilaquiles, mole, and chili relleno are superb. Every dish I've had is made with love. I can think of few restaurants that are prettier-- or more worth a visit. Go hungry. Dress warmly in case you have to sit in the north-facing outdoor dining area. (Kare_Raisu -- see comment below -- is a hounder to trust. Followed KR's advice when we in lived in San Diego and never once was mis-steered. Good to read you again KR!)

                        Fremont Diner
                        2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA

                        El Molino
                        5321 Hopyard Rd Ste A, Pleasanton, CA 94588

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pickypicky

                          Prettier is not a word I would have used with the north facing patio abutting the parking lot and the mini waiting area dominated by the above kitchen window menu. But the people are nice, the kitchen show is fun and in a few more months corn will be in season and Diana Kennedy's Chile Rellenos de Elote con Crema will hopefully be back on the menu.

                          411 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612

                          1. re: wolfe

                            Prettier: the assortment of right colors, the lovely antique tile floor, the bougainvillea, the attention to authentic details throughout the main room. While I wait for my food and look around, I feel transported to a fantasy Mexican street place but where the plumbing works. (not to mention the pretty smells that come from the open kitchen. . .)

                        2. Treated myself to lunch here today and it is all as good, if not better, as ever.
                          Chicken chalupas were more tender than the last time I had them, and the layers of flavor were spot-on.
                          They are now serving beer and wine, which will be nice in the Summer if you can snag a seat outside.
                          Beef brisket tacos tempted me, and I will be back soon for their chilaquiles. The portions are pretty generous, both the chilaquilas and chalupas plates have been more than I could eat in one sitting.
                          Of course today I managed to eat both chalupas.

                          1. They'll serve a beautiful choice of breakfast brunch options on Easter Sunday.

                            Be sure to check out their cooler - prepared meals, tamales & sauces. $6 for a pint of mole Oaxaca. $4.50 for half pint of pumpkin seed sauce. Amazing additions.

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

                            1. Summer menu is up.

                              Additions that I noticed:
                              Enfrijolades - tortillas dipped in black bean sauce served with queso fresco and scrambled eggs. Before 11 AM

                              Tostadas de tinga poblana- chicken and chorizo with cream, avocado, excabeche and cotija cheese

                              Enchiladas with chicken picadillo, red mole, cream, cotija and beans

                              Chicken tamales served with mole in/with banana leaf

                              Chile rellano with fresh corn, cream, beans and cherry tomato salsa

                              Quesadillas with chicken tinga

                              They're still offering:
                              Chilaquillas (before 11 AM)
                              Chalupa with chicken and salsa verde
                              Beef brisket tacos
                              Fish tacos
                              Enchiladas Suiza
                              Pork tamales
                              Green chile and cheese tamales

                              May still have swiss chard enchiladas - my notes unclear.

                              The red mole sauce is amazing!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Columba

                                Are they making Chile Rellenos del Elote con Crema from the Diana Kennedy recipe? I hope, I hope ,I hope.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  They didn't specify whose recipe they were using, but made it sound like; "they're back. These are the ones you've been waiting for." Sorry I didn't order it, but the mole enchiladas were amazing.

                                  The rellanos didn't appear to be deep fried, but rather, open chiles stuffed with fresh corn and something white on top. The plate was lovely with the red fresh tomato salsa on one end, the green chile in the center and beans covered in cheese at the other end.

                                  $11 plus $1 extra for fresh tortillas.

                                  1. re: Columba

                                    Thank you, that would be them. Missed them last year and have been waiting for corn to come back in season. No frying for those babies. White stuff the crema, sour cream or creme fraiche over poblanos stuffed with fresh corn, queso fresco and seasoned with epizote.

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      Hi Wolfe,

                                      Your chile rellanos with corn & white cheese are back on the menu along with other summer items.

                                      Can't remember other changes and new menu isn't posted at their website yet.

                                      1. re: Columba

                                        Thank you. Presently in Philly but road trip to be scheduled quickly on return.

                              2. What's up at El Molino Central?

                                The autumn menu!

                                Mole amarillo in enchiladas (chicken or cheese with beans) or in chicken tamales in banana leaf. Puerco con Verdolaga - purslane and pork stew-soup with all the tortillas you can eat. Quesadillas with chicken tinga and mole amarillo.

                                Chile rellano (fried with egg batter) with pork picadillo and early girl tomato broth - a classic dish from central Mexico with candied chilacoyote and beans. Beef brisket taquitos with avocado, tomatillo salsa, sour cream and cotija cheese.

                                They had the Salik P'ak today http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/782158 with other salsas, but I didn't see any tubs of mole sauce. There were fresh tortillas off the grill for $3.50 dozen. Four of the mole tamales for $14.

                                Prices from $9.50-11.

                                I had the mole enchiladas. Oh my goodness - that sauce is complex and intriguing. There's a photo on the wall showing the plant, piper auritum or Hoja santa, the sacred leaf is a key ingredient of the luscious mole. wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_auritum

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

                                1. Having another post come in reminds me I wanted to update on something. When I asked them a while back, they told me all the tamales were made with lard. Yet they advertise vegetarian tamales. When I was there a couple of months ago, I asked for clarification. Turns out that all the meat tamales have lard but the vegetarian ones do not. Unfortunately, there is no vegetarian one without cheese (for those of us who can't eat dairy), but if you eat cheese and not pork, you have some available to you.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: CyndiN

                                    The current vegetarian tamale is butternut squash with Monterey Jack cheese, so won't work for you either.

                                  2. Spring menu is up.

                                    Prices are $9.50-$11. Nachos are $7. Chips and salsa now $4.

                                    No chile rellanos of any type, but some amazing new dishes.

                                    Yucatan Panuchos- traditional botana from the Yucatan. Tortillas stuffed with black beans and a slice of hard boiled egg, topped with spice rubbed chicken, avocado and seville orange marinated habanero onion. (I had this and though it didn't look like a lot for $11, just two discs - it was tasty, filling and had a lot going on - every bite exploded with a range of flavors and textures.)

                                    Enchiladas with choriso, potato and carrot with crema, queso fresco, avocado and escabeche.

                                    Tlacoyos de Habas - stuffed masa cakes with refried fava beans, sals de abrol and nopal cactus picada.

                                    Mole Verde co Chayote y Elote - early spring green mole with green beans, pork and chayote.

                                    Chicken in a mole from Cuicatalan - chicken in a Oaxacan red mole, served with peas and carrots, Spanish rice and tortillas.

                                    Mushroom, spinach and cheese tamales.

                                    Cilaqules "El Cardenal" before 11 am
                                    fish tacos
                                    Chicken enchiladas Suizas
                                    Swiss chard enchiladas
                                    Nachos verdes
                                    Chicen in mole verde tamales
                                    pork tamales

                                    1. Summer 2012 menu is up!

                                      Jose’s tacos al pastor with citrus rubbed Niman Ranch pork, salsa de arbol and shaved pineapple

                                      Chicken enchiladas de mole poblano with cream, cotija and beans

                                      Tostadas de tinga poblana- chicken and chorizo with cream, avocado, escabeche and cotija cheese

                                      Salmon ceviche with purple onion and escabeche topped with avocado slices and tapatio sauce and served with tostadas

                                      Chicken tamales served with mole poblano

                                      White corn, zucchini & cheese tamales

                                      Chile rellano with fresh corn, cream, beans and cherry tomato salsa

                                      They're still offering: 
Chilaquillas (before 11 AM)
 Fish tacos, 
chicken enchiladas suiza,
 pork tamales, Swiss chard enchiladas

                                      1. I was there last weekend with my friends from North Carolina for a day-trip from the City. When I visited them in Winston-Salem, I got a lesson in stoneground grits. So they were advance-level candidates to savor and appreciate the masa produced in El Molino’s own stone mill.

                                        We ordered the three daily specials --- Chicken tamales with mole verde, beef birria tacos, and tacos al pastor. To drink, the strawberry and lime agua fresca as well as jamaica.

                                        Before we arrived, Bill had told me that he didn’t care for mole. Well, the green mole on this plate changed his mind. The delicate and tender masa freshly steamed in banana leaves and copious amount of buttery soft chicken filling made an even bigger impact. Becky declared the verduras en escabeche blended with crispy shreds of cabbage, the best slaw she’s ever had. Hardly a trifling statement from one who’s tasted as much coleslaw in a lifetime as she.

                                        As good as the tamales were, we liked the al pastor served on fabulous stoneground corn tortillas. Very complex, high-toned seasoning on the oven-roasted pork paired up with the hunks of fresh pineapple and floral, fruity chile de arbol exploded exquisitely in the mouth.

                                        The birria tacos, featuring Niman Ranch beef, were totally delicious as well. But this day, they were outgunned by the al pastor and tamales.


                                        1. Autumn menu is up


                                          We had

                                          Entomatadas $12
                                          Classic old-fashioned tomato sauce and queso fresco enchiladas, made with Riverdog Farm. Early Girl tomatoes; served with refried beans


                                          Quesadilla Mercado Abastos $11.5
                                          Chicken quesadilla with hoja santa yellow mole, crema and avocado

                                          Both were excellent - full of flavor, texture, interesting contrasts and complements.

                                          The cooler case was well stocked, there were fresh tortillas on the counter, new copies of Diana Kennedy's books, and organic tomatoes for $1.25#.

                                          They've put up more picnic tables with umbrellas out back, so we're not all pressed together on the back porch.

                                          I can't believe how much I still enjoy eating there!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Columba

                                            El Molino is our "local" neighborhood restaurant, and we have never been disappointed. Last Friday we went in for supper, and even though the Autumn menu looked fabulous, I had to have the late summer special Chile Relleno de Elote. Oh, my, it even surpassed my recollections from earlier in the summer when it was on the regular menu. The corn was crispy tender, the salsa fresca was bright and spicy and a great contract to the rich creaminess of the corn. The poblano tasted as if it had come from my garden minutes before being roasted.

                                            Also, we shared a guacamole that was among the very best I have ever eaten. All that and a glass of Unti Rose and the week's cares slipped from my shoulders.

                                            Something that makes me crazy is people complaining about how "expensive" El Molino is. Why, just across the street you can get a 1 pound burrito for only $7! Aargh....

                                          2. The problem I have is they claim to be mexican street food but charge above peasant prices...It would be nice if they could make something cheap like a 5.00$ meal...I mean rice, source cream and dash of lettuce with a Tamale couldn't be that expensive to make.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: DillMuncher

                                              I don't get your point, DillMuncher. You want a tamale and some sides for $5. But they already sell a plate with two tamales and sides for $9.50 to $12. That's two meals right there. You can also buy tamales to take home for as little as $13.50 for six of them. That's $2.25 each (or two for less than your $5).

                                              I hear you on overpriced places, but this isn't one of them. The food is priced reasonably for the quality of the ingredients and the extensive hand labor that goes into everything. I'd much rather pay slightly more to support a local business employing local people vs paying a chain (or even a local business) to shop at Restaurant Depot and heat me up frozen food filled with additives.

                                              I'm a bit far from El Molino to go that often but my local place (pretty fresh food, mostly handmade, not organic) charges not much less for plates.

                                              1. re: CyndiN

                                                the economics of preparing food by hand in moderate to small quantities makes it virtually impossible for the places with truly cheap prices on large portions of food not to make some essential compromises, and El Molino does not make those compromises. [the cheaper places will used commercially prepared stuff that comes in big cans, depend on heavy proportions of cheap starches and fats/oils, use cheap factory raised meats full of antibiotics and hormones.] El Molino's prices are actually more reasonable for the quantity served than other places making similar food of comparable quality.

                                                1. re: moto

                                                  Agreed. But the food itself isn't the biggest cost. Most places make compromises on the labor. Either by buying pre-processed food that is easier to prepare or by cutting wages/benefits/jobs. Or both.

                                                  1. re: moto

                                                    I know. they make good food it's just pricey. The place across the street uses inferior ingredients but you get so much more food for the money...and unlimited chips and salsa. That's a big plus.

                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                      I don't think thats fair, really. El Molino isn't over priced for what you get, but it isn't a bargain meal either, like La Bamba tacos are.

                                                      I used to go there a handful of times each month when I lived within walking distance. I would have gone more, but the prices stopped me.

                                                      I get that she's putting out high quality, freshly hand made food, and I appreciate it, but it isn't a cheap bite.

                                                2. re: DillMuncher

                                                  Well, even the place across the street charges more than $5 for a tamal, rice, beans, and some salad.

                                                  Sonoma abounds with mediocre Mexican food for about half the cost of El Molino, and pretty good Mexican food for 2/3 their cost. To me, it comes down to a choice. I would rather have excellent food at El Molino for a price that keeps them in business. When I want cheap, I cook it myself at home.

                                                  I do agree, though, that the Street Food designation that Karen uses at El Molino is misleading. To me, it is more like a riff on street food by a really great home cook like Diana Kennedy.

                                                  1. re: dkenworthy

                                                    >it is more like a riff on street food by a really great home cook like Diana Kennedy<

                                                    I took a Latina friend there a few months ago and she said the food reminded her of food you'd get at a wedding party in a home in Mexico City where the cook was very good.

                                                    1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                                      Now THAT is high praise, isn't it? I felt I was looking at an atypical, but VERY good, Mexican menu.

                                                3. Winter menu:


                                                  I've been reading about this place but hadn't been until today. We're in Sonoma about twice a year and this will be a regular stop in the future. We shared a chile en nogado and it was terrific. I now understand why it gets so much love. It deserves it.

                                                  1. No chile en nogados yet, but the chile relleno and chicken tamales with mole sauce are excellent.

                                                    Chilaquiles are served until 11am, but there's a great alternative served the rest of the day--- nachos! Giant triangular chips made from their corn tortillas are lathered with poblano-tomatillo salsa and topped with monterey jack cheese. They're heated enough to singe the outside of the chips. The chips are substantial enough that they don't get soggy, and there's enough other stuff (crema, chopped onion, cilantro, and thin slices of radish) to go around that no chips get unused. These are delicious.

                                                    Their refried bean are also notable. Made with onions, chilies, and house rendered lard, the beans have a subtle porkiness and smoky flavor. For all I know they do use chipotles, but this is night and day compared to preparations with one note chipotle flavorings and processed lard.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                      What a jewel this is, isn't it? And ya kinda got to know it's there. Looking forward to our next visit at Christmas.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Very true! Had the Dish of the Month not brought it to my attention, I'd never have veered off course to stop here.

                                                      2. re: hyperbowler

                                                        Current chile rellano is stuffed with pork picadillo.

                                                        Had excellent lamb tacos on special last Saturday.

                                                        Seems like the menu has shrunk a bit, but they had ceviche on the specials board too...so maybe they want more flexibility?

                                                        The owner was walking around with a stack of Mexican cookbooks - a good sign.

                                                        1. re: Columba

                                                          A cook book of their own? I've seen Diana Kennedy's there.

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            She had about 3-4 hardback cookbooks in hand - Diana Kennedy's on top.

                                                            I imagine her leafing through for more good choices for that specials board.

                                                            I hope she'll keep turning up gems for us to enjoy.

                                                            1. re: Columba

                                                              When I commented that I made my chile rellano elote con crema from Kennedy's cookbook the owner said so did she and in fact Ms. Kennedy was coming up from a cookbook signing. I think they are more than cookbook buddies.

                                                      3. Stopped here today on the way back from a Bedrock wine pick up. Bowl of guacamole and chips, beer battered fish tacos and pork tamales were all excellent. Sitting on the patio with perfect weather today was a nice bonus.