May 6, 2019
by Vesta Copestakes
How many bland burritos do you think you’ve eaten in your life? How many tasteless taco’s? If you’re out with a friend or family member (or even a kid!) there’s a new game in town, and it’s fun and delicious and worth a special trip to your local authentic Mexican restaurant. The new dish just transforms the ordinary experience into a spectacular event. It is called Molcajete, and it carries that transformative experience.
For a few years now, I’ve noticed these large steaming volcanic-like bowls at other people’s table and wondered what they could be? For a few years now, I’ve noticed molcajete on a few of my regular Mexican haunt’s “especiality” menus, but I didn’t dare order one without any information. They seemed large and a little pricey, too, like much more food or more than I wanted to spend on lunch. While the former is true, the later isn’t – molcajete’s may be the best bargain in any restaurant in Sonoma County.
Here’s what they are. A molcajete is a traditional Mexican three-legged mortar and pestle often with a pig carved out in the front. While it can be used for grinding and mashing salsas, spices and guacamoles, it is now seen in these parts as a blazing hot serving bowl for fantastically flavored stews. Somehow, these dishes feel like they display the heart of Mexican cooking; bold lingering spices, deep rich unctuous flavors, bright savory snappy tones and a wild array of exotic cactus and peppers simmered in full bodied sauces around an assortment of meats and vegetables. Served with a platter of tortillas and a side plate of beans and rice with a little salsa, guacamole and sometimes sour cream, you make your own little hand tacos from the bowl.
Besides the distinctive fun flavors and fanciful boiling serving dish, molcajetes are pretty large, so it almost begs the question of who you’ll want to be sharing a molcajete with? Your best friend, or group of friends, or family, everyone will love this dish. The costs generally range from $16 - $24, so a molcajete that serves 3 or 4 is a better bargain than most burritos, and its an infinitely more enjoyable meal.
Plaza Tequila, Petaluma. Bold sizzling sauce thickened with cactus, possibly tomatillo based. Plenty of meats in the bowl, but what sets Plaza Tequila’s molcajete apart is the simply delicious broth. It is flavorful and colorful and perfectly spiced up, so your palate savors every bite. An outstanding Molcajete that is worth seeking out.
Mi Ranchito, Rohnert Park. A brightly sizzling bowl arrives in one of our favorite restaurants. Mi Ranchito’s Molcajete carries bold flavors and a nice wedge of cheese that is pleasing and fun. This is a rock-solid restaurant with a good bar and great fresh guacamole, too.
Taqueria Molcajete. This is the Mecca of Molcajete. The base stew is a delicious red sauce that seems similar to an enchilada sauce. They have a range of ingredient mixes including, thankfully, a vegetarian option and a brightly flavorful fish one too. Here, at about 1/3rd of the tables, families and lovers and friends hang out and enjoy the vast array of molcajete possibilities, and each other’s company, with plenty of laughs and smiles and good times.
El Coronel Mexican Restaurant, Sebastopol. Bright and cheery, this restaurant seems like fun from the start. Wait staff is prompt and attentive. Then the menu arrives, and you look down and realize that this is the most expensive molcajete in the North Bay at around $30! But is it worth it? As it is, molcajete’s are a bargain. If El Colonel’s feeds a family of 4 for $30 and it’s great, then yeah, it’s still a deal. Their version comes in an array of sauces, each is better than the last. One of the more interesting is the mild creamy garlic, which allows the flavors of the foods to shine as the spiciness is diminished. So yeah, it’s still a deal and a very fun restaurant.
El Gallo Negro, Windsor. Could there be a better tequila bar in Sonoma? It’s hard to know for sure and would take some research, but this is a rockin’ fun restaurant. The molcajete is served in a cold bowl, so you lose the sizzling aromas. The sauce is more tomato than tomatillo, so it has a slightly heavier feel on the palate, but the classic meats and shrimp are there and it’s still an awesome fun time for a couple or a family
Taqueria La Hacienda, Sonoma. The old classic Sonoma Valley standard is still standing and putting out fantastic food and margaritas. The place is bright and fun, and everyone is laughing and having a great time, and why not, considering this is one of the premier molcajete restaurants in the county. The sauce is lively with tomatillo overtones and perfectly spiced. There is the cactus and spring onion on top and plenty of food for the entire Bear Flag Revolt army. You have to ask for a hot molcajete bowl though, they’ll do it if you ask, or the food will be hot, but the bowl will be cold. A molcajete worth seeking out.
So, let us know if you tried it, what you thought, or if your local Mexican restaurant has a molcajete worth noting. These molcajete’s are worth more exploration from the whole community
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