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Really excellent, authentic Mexican cuisines are a group of styles with a fascinating historical background. They're a true fusion, combining the corn, chilies, beans, tomatoes and nopales of pre-Columbian Mexico with rice, wheat, barley, beef, chickens, goats, sheep and pigs brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the early 16th century.

As the New and Old World cultural mix spread throughout Mexico, regional cuisines developed: the achiote and seafood dishes of the Yucatan, the tamales and moles of Oaxaca, the barbacoa and pozole of central Mexico and especially the soft tacos, tostadas and pan-fried tortilla wraps of Sonora and Chihuahua.These wraps became deep-fried, Americanized chimichangas once they crossed the border.

In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, northern Mexican cuisine was the indigenous cooking for 250 years, until the United States wrested those states away from Mexico. In the years since, styles of cooking from all over Mexico drifted northward into the border states, where a further fusion with American cooking took place. Hamburguesa, anyone?

And all this cultural mixing comes together in restaurants like Socorro's Mexican Restaurant in Windsor, and in thousands of similar Mexican restaurants across America.

Mexican haute cuisine it is not. But as the reader who suggested a review put it, "The food is good and the portions are big."

It is, in fact, a nice neighborhood Mexican place, a clean and colorful lunchroom in a bright new shopping center, well-suited to a town that mushroomed from just a few thousand souls in the early 1980s to almost 30,000 today and wasn't even incorporated until 1992.

From the west coast of Mexico and states like Michoacan comes the beloved Fish Taco ($4, 3 stars). Socorro's version is two corn tortillas, each loaded with three pieces of fried fish, a helping of pico de gallo and spicy red salsa picante. The tacos are accompanied by a small lettuce, tomato and crema salad, and the flavor of cilantro haunts each bite.

The large dining area has a raised level along the south wall, and the north wall is filled with cold drink cases and a huge photograph of a quiet Mexican bay surrounded by hills, its waters dotted with islands and pleasure boats. I kept wishing I could take my fish tacos and go there.

The floor is made of white and burgundy tiles. While the tablecloth is plastic and the placemat is paper, the napkin is cloth, and each table has a bud vase with faux red and pink carnations, a pretty touch. The stainless steel kitchen is open to view, where the cooking was done by employees who were obviously enjoying themselves.

Daily specials are permanently listed above the kitchen pass-through, but also small hand-written signs with further specials On two visits, these extras included menudo, chicken mole, three shrimp tostadas and hard-shell tacos.

Large combination plates include two entr? items — tamale, enchilada, chili relleno, hard taco, burritos of several kinds, tostada, flautas, taquitos and vegetable tamales — plus rice and beans, all for $9.50 to $9.95. Small combination plates with one entr? item plus rice and beans are $7.95.

The entr? items are also available by themselves. The Chili Relleno ($4.25, 2 stars), for instance, was strangely rectangular, but nevertheless was a tasty, if soggy, pepper stuffed with cheese and breaded, then fried.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Flautas ($2.50, 2 stars), or "flutes," are skinny tortilla pipes filled with your choice of chicken or beef and plunged into hot oil. The beef was chewy and the tortilla wrap crunchy. Both the chili relleno and the flauta came with a small salad given a dollop of sour cream.

The highlight was Chicken Fajitas ($12.95, 3 stars). The plate was laden with big chunks of grilled breast meat. A basket of three corn tortillas allowed for building your own fajita taco with meat, tomato slices, grilled onions and chilies, guacamole, rice, beans and sour cream.

While there's no bottle of salsa picante on the table to heat things up, a cup of seriously spicy dip comes with the pre-dinner basket of chips and can be used throughout the meal to put some spark into the food.

Socorro — the name means "aid" in English — serves up the Mexican version of a Shrimp Cocktail ($9.95, 2? stars). Six to eight shrimp are steamed hard until they curl into tight circles, with tails left on. They swim in a warm tomatoey broth where they're joined by cilantro and chunks of avocado. Lemon wedges and packets of saltines grace the plate alongside a cocktail chalice.

A Chicken Tamale ($2.95, 1? stars) missed on several fronts. The masa was thick and dense, the chicken dry, shredded and chewy. Both were tasteless, although a spicy red sauce did help out. A Pork Enchilada ($3.25, 2 stars) was a little better, with red sauce and melted cheese dripping over the tortilla that wrapped around flavorful pulled pork. Both the tamale and enchilada were a la carte, and each plate came with a little salad and sour cream.

To sum up: All the Mexican-American favorites are served as generous portions of good quality food at inexpensive to moderate prices. Your best bet is to try the daily specials posted on the wall by the kitchen.

Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.