Picazo Kitchen brings back comfort food to Sonoma
The people of Sonoma spoke, and they wanted their burgers, fish tacos and chicken piccata back.
With the opening of the new Picazo Kitchen & Bar in Maxwell Village, that wish is granted, along with other more modern specialties such as an Impossible burger ($6 upgrade from a beef burger), crispy mahi mahi tacos ($16) and a rock cod piccata option ($24.95).
The uproar began when longtime Sonoma restaurateur Bob Rice sold his immensely popular Breakaway Café of 22 years to James Hahn and Mila Chanamé in January 2017.
No problem there, as the duo also owns Sonoma’s popular Sunflower Caffé. But then Hahn and Chanamé shuttered Breakaway, reopening it in early November 2018 as the dramatically redesigned Mint and Liberty Modern Diner. The place sported an ambitious but quite confusing mish-mash of regional American food spanning mini Chicago dogs, loaded baked potato pierogi, New Mexican enchiladas, shrimp gumbo and pork belly steamed buns. None of the multitude of dishes was done particularly well, either, and the eatery went dark just 13 weeks later.
Yet all is peaceful again. Hahn and Chanamé quickly sold the restaurant to Kina and Salvador Picazo Chavez, well-established restaurateurs who also own Picazo Café on Arnold Drive and a Picazo food truck. The Chavez team redecorated the space a bit, nixing the art accents that were more teal than mint but keeping the appealing layout of a large contemporary bar/lounge at the entry and a main dining room with comfortable booth seating broken into cozy clusters.
Most importantly, they introduced a similar but shorter menu of what’s worked well at their Arnold Drive location and added dinner hours. Taking advantage of the Picazo Kitchen’s full bar, they’ve also introduced events such as a recent mescal tasting and periodic Latin Nights complete with a DJ and tacos served until 1 a.m.
In fact, Mexican food plays a starring role here, amid the pulled pork sandwich that’s best with the full-flavored spicy sauce instead of the meek mild sauce ($14), chimichurri steak frites that bring a generous 9-ounce portion ($24.95) and a fried chicken-provolone burger that gets zing from its sweet-spicy red pepper sauce and jalapeños ($15.95).
So at daily brunch, focus on the pleasing chilaquiles: crispy tortilla chips smothered and softened in spicy salsa verde and capped with sour cream, queso fresco, cilantro, chorizo, avocado and a fried egg ($15.95).
Chicken-fried chicken ($15.95) isn’t Mexican, obviously, but the buttermilk fried Mary’s chicken breast is great, thanks to the excellent made-from-scratch salsa verde sausage gravy. My server explained the gravy is a combination of the owners’ favorite green salsa gravy recipe from Chicago’s Dove’s Luncheonette plus the green salsa I enjoyed on the chilaquiles. The rich, buttery stuff is spoon-worthy.
At dinner, one of my tablemates veered back to American cooking, lured by a New York steak special. Tender sliced meat was slathered in Jack Daniels glaze and arranged atop a mountain of creamy, almost soupy mac and cheese sprinkled with breadcrumbs ($24.95). It’s a heavy, indulgent dish that feels right at home in a diner setting.
The kitchen also offers a chicken breast coated in nice mole rojo that’s nutty, slightly spicy and fragrant with herbs. I pull the breast into thick shreds with my fork and tuck it into warm corn tortillas with fluffy rice and baby greens ($16).
No diner is complete without hamburgers, and Picazo offers four recipes, including the Mexi Burger ($13.95). A first-rate rendition, the Niman Ranch beef is topped with thin-sliced tomatoes, grilled red onions, jalapeños, tangy queso fresco and homemade spicy Picazo sauce that’s creamy-thick, smoky and amped with sneak-up-on-you-heat. The fries, too, are some of the best I’ve had in a long time. These beauties are skinny, wickedly crispy and salty, and I would eat the entire mound, then think about ordering another round.
A Mint and Liberty highlight was the wine and cocktail selection, and Picazo keeps the theme going. How interesting that the wines include bottlings from Northern California, Spain, Italy and France. Plus, if you’re a Sonoma local, corkage is free.
The Mad Prickly, meanwhile, is a boozy, neon pink delight of tequila, prickly pear puree, lime and simple syrup with a chile salt rim ($9.95), while I’ve found another favorite in the Seasonal Mule of vodka, lime, cranberry, fiery ginger cayenne bitters and ginger beer served in a mason jar ($10).
Perhaps longtime regulars may still miss Breakaway, but this new spot has all the makings of another neighborhood gem. With solid, tasty food, ultra-quick and friendly service and a pretty setting, Picazo is a darn nice diner.
Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at email@example.com