Mi Casa es La Casa in Sonoma
If you don’t know that Sonoma County's La Casa Restauraunt and Bar sits around the corner of 1st Street E on Spain Street, you might never find it. Which is odd, since it’s a family-owned institution, in business since 1967 and a landmark for locals craving solid, Sonoran style Mexican food, great margaritas, fun and entertainment.
Once visitors come across it – perhaps drawn in by live Latin soloist music that plays in the dining room during summer, or catching a peek of the patio in the El Paseo courtyard accessed from downtown Sonoma’s busy 1st Street – they become regulars, too.
The look: This classic old school Mexican, from the exterior with its red tile roof and Spanish font signage, to the interior of Saltillo tile floors, brick trim, leather Hacienda furniture, bright blue tile trim on the entry bar, and bar stocked with dozens of dramatically designed tequila bottles.
The two patios are dog-friendly, including the smaller one that serves the bar/lounge area, and the larger one that’s set in the El Paseo courtyard with an Old World Mexico style design of big shade trees and white twinkle lights.
To eat: This is the expected, belly-filling and wonderfully flavorful Sonoran style Mexican food that doesn’t shy away from lots of sauces, cheese, and favorites like jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese for dipping in garlic ranch ($7.50).
If you simply want small bites to go with your margaritas, go for the sampler platter, a monster of the most popular appetizers including cheese quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, beef chimichanguitas, chicken sope, beef taquitos, and chicken flautas with garlic ranch and ranchera dipping sauces ($26).
But my companions and I were going for full meals this late afternoon. So on this visit, I started with a cup of chicken tortilla soup, the light broth was generous with roasted bird and tender vegetables then topped with cheese, salsa fresca, cilantro, avocado slices, and tortilla strips ($6.50).
We also shared a large order of guac with the good, thick-ish complimentary chips and mildly spicy chunky salsa – the smashed avocados are lively with onions, tomato, garlic, cilantro and lime, and custom spiced to-order ($10.25) – plus a small order of fundido, the refried beans and jack cheese melted into a creamy dip blended with sour cream, chipotle, and ranchera sauce, topped with salsa fresca ($6.25).
it’s worth warning, entrees are huge, and come with Mexican rice, tomato vinaigrette green salad and your choice of black, pinto or refried beans. But that’s why leftover containers were invented. We piled on, and shared a bit, digging into gooey cheese enchiladas swimming in red, tangy ranchera sauce finished with sour cream and guacamole ($18.50). We dove into chile verde, the chewy braised pork simmered in mild, tangy tomatillo sauce and waiting to be wrapped in warm, torn pieces of flour tortillas ($19.25).
There was more heat in the mariscos a la diablo, but not too much. The white fish, prawns, and scallops marinated and sautéed with onions, bell peppers and ranchera sauce for bundling in corn tortillas are also a great choice ($21.25). And a newly added menu item, pollo con crema, was a table favorite, the grilled chicken, corn and chile pasilla sautéed in creamy sauce and finished in salsa and sliced avocado ($18.95).
To note: Vegetarians will enjoy the delicious avocado relleno ($14.95). A whole avocado is cut in half, and topped with a choice of sautéed vegetables or Portobello, black beans, queso fresco, green chile, salsa fresca and chile pasilla sauce.
Dessert: The usual suspects satisfy the sweet tooth cravings, including homemade fried ice cream in rich cajeta (Mexican caramel) sauce ($6.25), Mexican chocolate or horchata ice cream ($5), and my choice, the silky, wobbly homemade flan drizzled in Mexican caramel ($5.25).
To drink: Margaritas, man. These 16 oz. beauties are excellent, and I don’t even upgrade from the basic La Casa model, it’s so nice, made with Rancho Alegre 100% agave silver tequila, Triple Sec, and homemade sweet and sour ($9.25). The Top Shelf margarita is also superb, though, made with Hornitos Reposado tequila for bolder flavor, Cointreau, and sweet and sour ($12.25).
Details: 121 East Spain Street, Sonoma, 707-996-3406, lacasarestaurants.com.