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Juanita Juanita in Sonoma features fresh Mexican food

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Juanita Juanita

Where: 19114 Arnold Drive, Sonoma

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (currently take-out only)

Contact: 707-935-3981, juanitajuanita.com

Cuisine: Mexican

Price: Inexpensive to moderate, entrées $7.95-$17.95

Corkage: no fee

Stars: ** ½

Summary: After 30 years, this funky neighborhood treasure shows its age, but the cooking remains fresh and delightful.

Editor’s Note: Following direction from state officials this past week urging all restaurants to close their in-restaurant seated dining, Juanita Juanita is offering only curbside food delivery for takeout orders and will accept credit card payments over the phone. You also can order at the restaurant’s takeout window.

The Juanita Juanita Facebook page “More Info” section sums up the Sonoma restaurant’s quirky personality well. Under “Attire,” it reads “Dressy.” Which is silly, for anyone who has ever visited the mural-painted shack on Arnold Drive and its cluttered interior of aging piñatas, eclectic posters, metal diner style chairs and bare tables and coffee shop counter seating.

Under “Culinary Team,” the page reads “Specialty Super Unexplainable Irritating.” True, service can be perfunctory, even snippy. But what else would you expect from a joint that proudly serves Jerk in a Blanket, a snarky name for a half chicken that’s been rubbed in Jamaican herbs and spices, smoked, then wrapped in a giant tortilla with beans and rice ($15.95)?

And note that the busy spot does gangbusters with takeout, so who really cares if that burrito-to-go comes with a smile?

Ah, but despite its divey character, Juanita Juanita is beloved by the locals, as it has been since owner Kathryn Bruno introduced it to us in 1989. The freshly made chips are thick and crisp in their tin bucket, the homemade green salsa packs appropriate heat and on a warm day, a cold Mexican cerveza ($3.50-$6) or margarita on the rocks ($6.95) is your best friend. You’ll see plenty of regulars here. The place welcomes with a blaring TV above the bar, a dog-friendly patio and the promise of plenty of neighborhood gossip all around.

Then, there’s the food, of course. Flavors are brilliant with generous seasoning, an armada of bottled hot sauces awaits for those who like to play with fire and portions are huge.

I’ve never been able to finish an entire burrito in one sitting. The savory bombs are nearly the size of footballs and stuffed fat with braised pork, pinto beans, cheese, rice, sour cream and sharply tangy tomatillo salsa ($10.25). There is also the rotisserie carved al pastor with beans and salsa ($7.95) or the beautiful belly bomb Big Ranch in a monster flour tortilla that bursts with our choice of meat (chewy Angus carne asada is great), avocado, beans, rice, cheese, salsa and sour cream, all grilled and smothered in melted cheese and bold ranchero sauce ($12.50).

And definitely go for the dramatic Garlic Garlic burrito. Start with your choice of meat or mushrooms, then tackle the layers of goodness: avocado, black beans, cheese, fresh spinach, garlic-imbued walnut paste, more garlic, sour cream, spinach, peas, corn, tomatoes and peppers ($11.75). Chicken is a favorite meat for this one, though it’s also well worth the splurge to upgrade to the firm, sweet prawns ($13.75).

While all the tasty staples are offered — corn tortilla tacos ($3.50-$7.50), a carne asada platter of seared meat with grilled jalapenos ($16.95) and spicy chorizo nachos ($11.95) — it’s interesting to branch out to the inventive dishes. A crispy flour tostada surprises with a drizzle of musky cumin vinaigrette atop the meat, avocado, beans, cheese, lettuce, cotija crumbles, salsa and sour cream ($10.25), while enchilada recipes change nightly, alternating between a pork or chicken base and robust red or tart tomatillo sauces ($15.95).

Plenty of Mexican restaurants serve chicken in cream sauce, but this chipotle plate ($16.95) is the best version I’ve found. Take heed of the three bright red chile peppers printed next to the menu listing. The fiery hot chiles are folded into the silky sauce for a deliriously fierce burn and ladled over grilled chicken set on a bed of sautéed spinach, alongside tender white beans mixed with melted jack cheese, herbed rice, avocado and sour cream. You bundle bites in warm flour tortillas and make sure to have a tongue-cooling beer at the ready.

It’s true Juanita Juanita looks worn and weathered these days, though I’m not sure the space even looked new when it was born 31 years ago. Yet that roughness is part of the old lady’s charm, and as long as she keeps her cooking so delicious, she can be as rumpled as she wants.

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com.

Juanita Juanita

Where: 19114 Arnold Drive, Sonoma

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (currently take-out only)

Contact: 707-935-3981, juanitajuanita.com

Cuisine: Mexican

Price: Inexpensive to moderate, entrées $7.95-$17.95

Corkage: no fee

Stars: ** ½

Summary: After 30 years, this funky neighborhood treasure shows its age, but the cooking remains fresh and delightful.

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