La Hacienda brings its flavorful Mexican cuisine to downtown Sonoma
Why would a family operate two restaurants just two miles apart, with similar names, similar décor and similar menus? Such is the case with La Hacienda Taqueria in Boyes Hot Springs, open for more than a decade now, and the new La Hacienda Mexican Grill in downtown Sonoma, which debuted this past September.
The quick answer: take a look at the crowds at both spots. The owners of both Haciendas, Maria and Juan Sahagun, have a successful recipe of lovingly crafted from-scratch Mexican food, reasonable prices and quick, cheerful service. There are lots of Mexican restaurants in the area, but these two stand out with extensive seafood offerings, mouthwatering sauces on nearly everything and homemade desserts including flan and cinnamon-dusted creamy arroz con leche ($6.99 each).
You just can’t argue with the comfort food classics.
Of the two, the new Grill is the casual, much smaller sister, with about two dozen tables split between two cozy dining rooms, a gleaming stainless steel-equipped open kitchen and a salsa bar stocked with a variety of fresh-made hot sauces, pico de gallo, radishes and marinated vegetables.
Set in the former Pearl’s Diner on Fifth Street West, the space has been completely transformed - the Sahaguns partnered with chef Juan Valdivia and Beronica Perez and Carlos Rubio of Maya Restaurant on the Sonoma Plaza, pooling funds for the gorgeous hand-carved wooden chairs with rainbow colored cushions, polished wood tables inlaid with eclectic tiles and huge paintings of Old World Mexican landscapes.
Everything is good on this menu (with many, but not all, of the same dishes as at the Boyes location), starting with freebie crispy chips. But skip the usual appetizer suspects like the cheese-guac-sour cream quesadilla ($7) and chicken taquitos ($10.50) that you can get nearly anywhere. Instead, zero in on the standout soups.
The chef team of Valdivia, José Fernández and Ricardo Sahagun, craft a lovely albondigas, the hefty (not tiny, like at most restaurants) meatballs slow simmered in a thin but deeply seasoned tomato-based broth with big al dente chunks of carrots and potatoes ($11.50).
The tortilla soup is milder, but so soothing, stocked with shredded chicken in tomato-chicken broth under a crown of avocado, melted cheese, cilantro and crispy corn tortilla strips ($11.50).
If anything is ailing you during this flu season, you’ll be as good as new after just a few spoonfuls and powered up to conquer the world after finishing the entire bowl.
The priciest entrée here is the Mariscos Jarochos at $24.99, but it’s worth the extra pennies.
A bright red pottery plate is arranged with a decent amount of sautéed prawns, octopus, scallops, crab leg, white fish and green mussels in spicy red stew, alongside rice smothered in melted cheese and a pile of avocado-romaine-corn salad. Scoop it all up in flour tortillas, and eat with your hands.
The same eating system works with the Camarones Con Crema, an indulgence of prawns sautéed in lots of butter, married with mushrooms in a diet-be-damned creamy tomato sauce and served with rice and beans ($17.99). My server brought me extra tortillas so I could gobble every last bit of sauce.
While takeout seems to be a big part of the Grill’s business, it’s good to pay attention to your order. On a dine-in visit, I ordered one of my favorite Mexican meals, chili verde, the succulent pork shoulder chunks simmered in green sauce that’s delightfully metallic with tomatillos bolstered by semi-hot chiles ($15.99).
But on another day, after getting a take-out chile verde super burrito home, I was dismayed to find the bag held a foil-wrapped bundle instead of a box and that there was none of the promised sauce smothering the delicious beast stuffed with rice, beans, cheese, sour cream and guacamole ($11.50).
If you get the burrito in the restaurant, it arrives swimming in that soggy goodness, flecked with even more pork.
It also might be a deal breaker for some that the new Hacienda doesn’t serve margaritas like the original does, just imported ($4.99) and domestic ($3.99) beers and a Three Vine Alexander Valley red from Eco Terreno ($12) and a Robledo Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($10).
But consider this - the Grill is quick, in a convenient location, and has all the delectable dining that we love about the original Hacienda.
Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.