Longtime fans of Primavera — Karen Waikiki’s mystically-delicious tamales — have been among the first to beat a path to her new Boyes Hot Springs restaurant, El Molino Central. Housed in the old Barking Dog roastery, it’s a chic-yet-totally-approachable taqueria/tortillaria serving up incredible regional Mexican classics including potato tacos (astounding!) enchiladas suizas, chilaquiles and daily tamales with authentic 18-ingredient Oaxacan red mole that’s the best I’ve had in Sonoma. In the morning, the cafe serves coveted Blue Bottle coffee and chilaquiles.
The key to everything, however, are her stone-ground tortillas.
A friend of Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy (who will be staying with her in October when she comes to promote her new book) and Alice Waters, Karen is renowned for revitalizing traditional methods of stone-grinding corn into masa, an art all but lost in Mexico. Each morning, around 11am, staff feed soaked corn — grown by a single farmer in Nebraska — into the specially made machine for the day’s tortillas and tamales. “No one is grinding corn anymore. People just stopped grinding corn and use instant ‘Maseca’ instead. But (grinding) is just the way it shouuld be,” Karen said, hustling through her kitchen.
Wind around back to sit on the patio and watch Karen and her staff hand-press tortillas and throw them on the grill. Fanatics can buy fresh masa for torillas for $1.25 or prepared tortillas for $3.50 a dozen.
Realizing that her demographic is both the tony spa-set of the nearby Sonoma Mission Inn as well as the heavily Latino working-class population, she aims to entice both. “We want the local community to buy and like these,” Karen says, pointing to the irregular edges on her tortillas — a sign that they’re handmade rather than machine-made. “Otherwise, all this is just pointless,” she added.
El Molino Central, 11 Central Ave (along Hwy 12), Boyes Hot Springs. Open Mon-Sun 7 am – 7 pm
While you’re there, don’t miss la Michoacano, an amazing new(ish) ice cream/bionicos/paletas spot. Exotic flavors are made onsite, and are amazingly creamy and rich, often with fruit or other tidbits (nuts, candy) mixed in. Flavors are usually on the board, but its worth asking for a few samples just to, you know, make sure you’re making the right choice. Top bet: Pinenut and Mexican caramel. Don’t miss the paletas, frozen bars made with fresh fruit. 18495 Highway 12, Sonoma