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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

El Palmar: Restaurant Review

I just finished writing an article about chocolate. Having a house filled with chocolate to sample can really improve your disposition. But there is another cuisine that has this effect on me and I don't know of any science to explain the phenomenon. It's Mexican food.

I long for, savor, and even dream about Mexican food. I can't tell you why. I just do. Finding a place that serves great Mexican food is like finding a slice of heaven. I just want to go back again and again and again. That's why I head to the opposite end of town to Pastores. And that's why, when I find myself in Marin, I go to El Palmar.

El Palmar is nothing exciting to look at, it's all about the food. As the take out menu from the restaurant proclaims "The real Mexican food in Marin County". There is also a sister restaurant of the same name in Novato. The patrons are almost all Latino and so are the staff. Blink and you might feel like you are somewhere across the border. The prices are cheap and the menu is fairly large, much larger than the average taqueria. There are Mexican breakfast specialties like machaca, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, then there are tacos and burritos, platters with grilled chicken, fajitas and steak, no fewer than six different kinds of soups which seem popular on a Sunday afternoon and there are antojitos and even a selection of seafood.

On Sunday when I was there last, someone had ordered the whole fried snapper and it looked great. It is about the most expensive thing on the menu and costs $9.99. Many of the seafood preparations like mojo de ajo (cooked with garlic) and the Campechana (shrimp and oysters) remind me of my last trip to the Yucatan. While I'd love to try them, I don't know if I will ever be able order anything other than the antojitos.They taste like Mexico to me. I love the sopes, a chewy tender and yet crispy thick masa cake topped with creamy refried pinto beans, tomatoes, lettuce, crumbly cheese, and chunks of chicken, or any other topping you want. Gordito comes from the word gordo which means "fat". Like a fat stuffed sope, it has a roof on top of another layer of crisp crunchy masa like a fried tortilla. Anyone who has been to Mexico knows, huarache means sandal, and this whopping footprint sized antojitos is more than enough for a meal and costs only $6.

Order at the window and take a number. You'll get a peak at what's going on in the kitchen at the same time. A big basket of freshly made tortilla chips and a bar with fresh homemade salsas will keep your occupied until your order arrives and then, dig in! Mexican food nirvana awaits you.

El Palmar
757 Lincoln Ave Suite 29
San Rafael CA 94901