The Dish

Dig into Sonoma Valley's vibrant culinary scene.

Holy Molino

Photography by Paige Green

paigegreenSonomaVinter51614-0485EL MOLINO CENTRAL IS MEXICAN FOOD AT ITS FRESHEST BEST.

Next time you’re sipping your way up the valley from the town of Sonoma to the tasting rooms of Kenwood, stop in to El Molino Central. One taste of the authentic old-world Mexican flavors and you’ll swear time stopped, too. That’s because El Molino does things the (way, way) old-fashioned way. Every morning the staff at El Molino stone grinds organic heirloom corn kernels, from a single farm in Nebraska, into masa. It’s a process that dates back thousands of years (the term “molino” means community corn mill), and it’s the key to the tortillas and tamales at the heart of many El Molino dishes. If you like your chips thin, fresh and perfectly crispy, you’ll be in tortilla heaven.

But the stone-ground corn isn’t the only thing that elevates El Molino’s food to a fine art form. The locally sourced produce is beyond fresh and mostly seasonal. Topping any given dish you may find a pickled vegetable relish, avocado, organic chard or epazote, an herb native to South and Central America. Even the refried beans are culled from a heritage varietal called Rancho Gordo.
paigegreenSonomaVinter51614-0499The local foodie crowd recognized Karen Waikiki when she opened El Molino. Her Primavera tamales had become a bit of a cult sensation, especially since you could only get them at farmers markets around the Bay Area. But she’s careful to make sure she’s not just making pricey delicacy dishes for out-of-towners. “We want to the local community to buy and like these,” Karen says. That means making food that resonates with the nearby neighborhood’s mostly Latino working-class population.

If you’re up early in Sonoma Valley you absolutely have to hit El Molino in the morning for their Chilaquiles Merida. A traditional Mexican breakfast dish, it’s served soft and topped with roasted tomato and chipotle salsa with soft-scrambled Field of Greens eggs. With a cup of Blue Bottle coffee you’d be hard pressed to find a more incredible eye opener. After that, everything you would expect, tostadas, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, they’re all done with just a little unexpected twist of deliciousness. Example: Maria Ojedas’s Chilie Relleno has three cheeses, English peas, carrots and tomato Serrano salsa.

paigegreenSonomaVinter51614-0496The vibe here is casual and kind of cool, bright and colorful. Order at the counter and grab one of the few seats inside, or hit a picnic table on the patio. Even if you’re in a rush, don’t drive through the town of Boyes Hot Springs without stopping by to pick up a pack of tamales and a bag of chips. El Molino is right on Highway 12, just a few miles north of the town of Sonoma.