Standing in line to pick up dinner at Los Molcajetes Bar and Grill in Rincon Valley, I couldn’t help but ask a woman nearby if she’d ever tried this brand-new restaurant.
“No, but I wanted to support them so they’ll still be here,” she said, grabbing two large takeout bags.
A sweet sentiment, no doubt. But it’s also a gut punch. This family-owned Mexican grill was open for only a week before it shuttered for the next six due to shelter-in-place mandates.
Los Molcajetes was the next restaurant I was planning to write about. I couldn’t wait to take some beautifully lit pictures of pale yellow margaritas with lovely salted rims, steaming molcajetes, enchiladas draped with savory mole sauce, spicy carne asada street tacos, maybe even a flan or two.
It was the same story for the Cozy Plum in the JC neighborhood of Santa Rosa. The former Gaia’s Garden — one of the only vegan restaurants in the county — has transformed into a softer “plant-forward” eatery with a creative menu and a broad appeal, though it remains dedicatedly vegan.
Cozy Plum also was a newcomer at the top of my list to try before going into my house-cave. For both restaurants, you’re seeing the takeout version of their food, which I shot in my living room with a phone camera.
Perfectly-plated, flattering photos of food won’t reflect what you’ll see in the to-go boxes and bags you pick up. Like everything right now, it’s not quite the same as it was. And that’s OK. Let’s just embrace it and be thankful for a night without dirty dishes.
Yes, this is a sibling to the popular Molcajetes restaurant in Santa Rosa which rose to fame after Guy Fieri featured it on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” As the names suggest, molcajetes is the signature dish.
Though you won’t see its namesake for takeout (sizzling in a stone bowl), you’ll still get a steaming stew of meats or seafood, a cactus paddle, fresh cheese, peppers and scallions dipping into a savory broth of dried chiles and tomatoes. It’s easily enough food for several people to share. There is a vegetarian version, but we especially like the “mix” molcajete with chicken, shrimp, chorizo and steak.
Try these dishes, too.
Enchiladas de Mole: Shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas and smothered with a dark, enchanting sauce made with dried chiles, chocolate and about a thousand other secret ingredients.
Carne Asada Tacos: There’s some nice heat on these super-meaty street tacos that will run you $3 each.
There’s plenty more to choose from here, and you’ll be able to please the whole family (and your pocketbook). The menu runs a full six pages, with simpler fare like burritos, quesadillas, mixed grill plates, soup, seafood, enchiladas and fajitas. They even have chicken nuggets for your picky little peanuts and heavy-duty margaritas for mom and dad.
Phone orders only, 707-791-7571. Open 6599 Montecito Blvd., No. 130, Santa Rosa. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, facebook.com/losmolcajetesbarandgrill
It wasn’t the vegan burger that had me headed to this tiny spot on Mendocino Avenue. It was a touching Facebook post by the owner. The rainy-day photo shows a staff member running across the street to help an older woman struggling in a nearby crosswalk. That tiny moment of kindness made me cry. So I figured I needed to try their vegan burger at the very least.
It’s a really good not-a-burger. Though I’ve decided I like the Impossible Burger better than the Beyond Burger ($18), it wasn’t the faux patty that sold me. It was the combination of race car-red tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, pickles and a sturdy (but not overly-bready) sourdough bun that won me over. The added smoked Gouda cheese left me a little underwhelmed, but I’m a cheese snob.
Stuffed Jalapeños ($20): There’s a lot going on here. It’s a heaping helping of jalapeños stuffed with plant-based taco “meat,” black beans, white beans, Spanish rice, avocados, pico de gallo, “crema” and cashew cheese sauce. I found myself making comparisons to what it would taste like with beef and cow’s-milk cheese and found it slightly lacking. Then I reframed it, taking it for what it what was, a rainbow of beautiful vegetables with nicely restrained Mexican seasoning and mouth-watering presentation.
What I’m most taken with at Cozy Plum is their light-hearted approach to comfort food with a vegan twist and their passion for making beautiful, inclusive food. I’m looking forward to another visit to try the vegan baked goods from Muir’s Tea Room, the Far East Philly, mac and cheese and maybe even a vegan prawn or two.
Online ordering and payments are super easy, and you can request curbside delivery. 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-3333, cozyplum.com