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Why Everyone Is Freaking out About Thomas Keller’s Napa Taqueria

La Calenda is a casual trip to Oaxaca via tiny Yountville.

What happens when Thomas Keller opens a taqueria within spitting distance of the venerated French Laundry? Anyone with a fork, cellphone and blog goes nuts–and for good reason.

La Calenda opened Jan. 3 in Yountville serving an Oaxacan-inspired menu with pretty much the same stuff you might find at a neighborhood taqueria. Except it’s from the Keller Team, so they grow their own chiles, make their own tortillas (from corn, not masa), serve Rancho Gordo beans, and have a handcrafted Mexican lager specially made with California corn. So there’s that, along with the restaurant’s chef, Kaelin Ulrich Trilling who hails from Oaxaca, is the son of Mexican cookbook author and TV personality Susana Trilling, and most recently led the kitchen of Jonathan Waxman’s Bajo Sexto in Nashville. Mui cred.

But more than all that, the food just sounds amazing. The opening menu includes four of the seven legendary moles of Oaxaca, complicated, slow-cooked sauces that here include Mole Verde, Mole Chichilo, Mole Amarillo and Mole Negro. Tamales are wrapped in avocado leaves and include chicken or charred butternut squash ($6); there’s the simple queso fundito (cheese sauce, bro, $11); tacos de pollo pibili, grilled chicken in an orange-scented sauce ($11); pork jowl in Mole Verde ($22); or churros with dulce de leche ($9). For the kids, $10 gets you a chicken tostada or cheese quesadilla with rice pudding or ice cream.

La Calena has a full bar specializing in tequilia, mezcal, beer and wine.

There are no reservations taken, and the word is out, so expect a wait if you stop by the former Hurley’s in the heart of Yountville. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 5p.m. to 11p.m., 6518 Washington St., Yountville, details online at lacalendamex.com.

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