California has more than a few good Mexican restaurants; also it has an abundance of mediocre ones. El Molino Central in Sonoma, California is one of the best of the best. Seating is al fresco and the staff is patient, although understandably hurried. For good reason, it often is jam-packed.
The menu isn’t just another list of tacos and burritos, but rather, a set of creative, composed Mexican dishes with authentic components like fresh masa and complex mole. Red chicken mole tamales would be excellent even without the complex, flavorful, dark sauce ladled atop them. The tamales are steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks, a flavorful touch that makes them moister than usual. The chicken inside has been stewed in the mole, getting reintroduced to the sauce on top as you dig into the double-wide tamales.
Fish tacos are outstanding, even compared with counterparts in closer-to-Baja Southern California. Large pieces of fish are beer battered and fried until crisp on the outside and custard-soft in the middle. Thick guacamole-like avocado mayonnaise and fiery chili arbol sauce add more depth than stereotypical crema and cabbage dressing.
Swiss chard enchiladas are an unexpected delight — rolled with freshly made corn tortillas then baked until the flavors meld and the plate is scorching. Stewed greens are richer and more complex than typical meat stew. The sharp and earthy filling harmonizes with the piquant sauce and gooey cheese that tops the enchiladas.
Instead of scoops of starchy rice and beans to fill you up, plates come with big portions of the main dish and fresh slaw on the side for a cooling counter point. The slaw is vinegary and tastes of jalapeños, giving it the mouthwatering flavors of carrots in escabeche.
Whatever you get at El Molina Central, you won’t be disappointed, although you likely will leave regretting that you couldn’t taste everything on the menu. For self-caterers, there is a fridge in the store full of salsas, guacamole, and other snacks. Chips are made from fresh, house-made tortillas. This being wine country, the wine list here is significantly better than an average taqueria, especially considering that you eat on picnic tables in the parking lot.