Juanita, Juanita

When talking about a restaurant as well-worn as Juanita, Juanita I tend to gird my loins a bit. Folks who’ve been eating there for years either come out in rousing support or, uh, start hurling rotten eggs at me for daring to mention it. (Don’t believe me? Check out my riff on Hank’s Creekside).

All of which is fine because I don’t smell that great to begin with. But after hearing locals go on and on and on about this funky little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, BiteClub felt compelled to at least dip a toe in the guacomole. (Not literally of course, that would be unsanitary).

Located well off the main square, it’s everything a divey little spot should be: Ramshackle, weird, a little dusty around the edges, un-air conditioned and with politely detached wait staff. The Modern Tijanuana decor equals vibrant paint, faded pinatas, neon beer signs and hand-drawn pictures covering the walls. It’s charming to the extreme–the kind of place visitors are thrilled to stumble upon for the “real” Sonoma experience. Whether locals appreciate that discovery is a whole other thing.

And though the spot is anything but upscale, don’t expect gloopy refried beans and leathery meat here. Don’t expect $3 burritos either. Supers start at $8.50 and quickly hit double-digits. Worth it? From the heft alone (my arm was aching just to hold it up), you may be able to feed a whole family with just one of these edible missiles.

Don’t miss the Garlic Garlic Burrito ($11 with meat, $13.50 with prawns) filled with avocado, black beans, cheese, fresh spinach, garlic walnut paste, sour cream and veggies. And by veggies, we mean fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers and peas (!?). No rice. It’s easily the tastiest burrito I’ve ever tackled — and I’ve tackled quite a few.

Also on the a la carte menu are tostadas, nachos, quesadillas and tacos, as well as heartier entrees like the Chanchamito (a fried burrito), enchiladas (only after 5pm), tamales, half roasted Jamaican chicken and the popular Chipotle Plate ($14.85) — a grilled chicken in chipotle cream sauce that’s muy picante.

Purists may decry some of Juanita’s creative interpretations, but the
marriage of authentic ingredients and solid cooking make for good
eating in my book.

Head to the outdoor patio to find locals digging into chips and salsa on summer nights. I’ll leave it to them to fill you in on all the ins-and-outs of Juanita, Juanita over a cerveza or two. But please, keep your rotten eggs to yourself.

Keep in mind: Juanita, Juanita doesn’t take plastic, so plan accordingly. 19114 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707.935.3981. Open 11am to 8p Sunday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.