A Taste of Cocina Maná
The tantalizing aroma of fresh-steamed savory tamales wafts from the Cocina Maná café in Windsor, beckoning passersby to duck in for breakfast, lunch or early dinner. The tasty bites are the work of owners Manuel and Lucina Morales, who catered to fans for more than a decade selling tamales from their Tamales Maná cart in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, and have now expanded to a real, sit-down restaurant near Windsor’s Oliver’s Market.
The recipes are based on longtime family recipes, the ingredients are premium, and each delicious bundle of love is made from scratch – just as with the Morales’ other menu items, including chilaquiles, burritos, tacos, guisados, and more.
As their website promises, “This is the food that will make you big and strong someday!” And keep you very happy in the process.
The look: Set in a strip mall, the unassuming store front is trimmed in stone, flanked by a large patio, and boasts an interior of soaring ceilings, tall wood bistro tables, accent walls in teal and neon orange, and big windows for a bright, cheerful mood.
To eat: The gorgeous tamales are handmade daily from all-natural ingredients, and no lard. Frankly, I love a good masa made with old-school lard, but these tamales are so mouthwatering, I don’t miss the fat. It’s difficult to choose from the tempting list of flavors - red chili pork, jalapeño cheese, mole chicken, green chili chicken, beans and cheese, or sweet pineapple with sweet raisins, ($3.50 each). The dense beauties are hearty and generously stuffed, perfumed with rich corn, and all drizzled in spicy red salsa or tangy green tomatillo salsa and Mexican crema.
So I solve that challenge by indulging in a sampler platter of three tamales, rounded out with rice and beans ($11.95, or $7.95 for a single tamale sampler, or $9.95 for two tamales). On another visit, I go for the tamale bowl, which brings even more goodness, as the bundle rests on a bed of rice topped with fresh beans and my choice of a homestyle braised dish. My favorite bowls include ladlefuls of tender, smoky sweet achiote rubbed Yucatan pork (cochinita pibil) over a spicy red chili pork tamale ($10.95); or pork in tart, kicky green tomatillo sauce over a green chili chicken tamale ($10.95); each dressed with pickled onions, salsa, cilantro, queso fresco and crema. This is the ultimate comfort food.
And joy – Cocina Maná serves chilaquiles all day, too ($9.95). The festive dish is usually a breakfast favorite, but I can eat them around the clock, since I love the marvelous mix of lightly fried tortilla chips smothered in red or green sauce for the ultimate, slightly soggy crunch, layered with soupy black beans. It’s sort of a deconstructed chilaquile, with the queso fresco, onions, Mexican crema and two eggs any style plated on the side.
Tacos and burritos (all $10.45) are different here, as well, stuffed with guisados, which are savory meat or veggie stews. That makes for messy eating as the juicy stuff leaks out of the tortilla wraps, but so well worth the piles of napkins. Besides my favorite cochinita pibil ($11.95 for a trio of tacos) and pork chile verde ($11.95), there is cubed steak braised with potato and onion ($12.95), shredded chicken tinga braised in tomato and chipotle sauce. ($11.95), and the vegetarian zucchini squash calabacitas simmered with onions and corn ($10.95).
To note: Serves days and hours change now and then, but most dishes are offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., while some tacos, burritos, several entrees and tamale plates/bowls are on the menu until 8 p.m.
Dessert: Champurrado is a delightful chocolate-based atole, a hot, thick Mexican drink, prepared with masa, piloncillo brown sugar and water or milk ($2.50).
To drink: Beverages include homemade aguas frescas ($2.75), horchata ($2.95), draft beer ($5.95 for locals like Henhouse Pale Ale), local wines like Murphy-Goode ($7) and margaritas ($6.50).
Details: 9238 Old Redwood Hwy., Ste.128, Windsor, 707-657-7701.