Number 42 on my ongoing must-eat list: birria, a Mexican meat stew usually made with lamb or goat. Along with pozole and menudo, it’s one-dish comfort food that attracts the same kind of dedicated followers you find face-first in a bowl of pho or homemade chicken noodle soup.
One of a handful of restaurants that reliably serve up this homey standard, along with an impressive list of cantina classics, is the unfortunately-located El Puente Cantina on Santa Rosa Ave. Backed by a freeway off-ramp and wedged next to Denny’s and a gas station, it takes a bit of muster to walk in off the street.
But for the hungry souls who venture in (and it seems to be quite a few of you, judging from recent comments), El Puente’s cocina-style cooking (and full bar) is a welcome antidote to grubby tacquerias and fast-food nachos.
With an eye toward regional home-cooking, most of El Puente’s dishes are simple — homey chilaquiles for breakfast, tostadas, carnitas, tamales and burritos along with heartier entrees like Chicken Mole, Camarones A La Diabla and weekend menudo.
Slightly more upscale are house favorites Chile Colorado, thin strips of pork in a rich red chili sauce (and also mine), along with meaty fajitas that come steaming to the table in a cloud of smoke and garlic. If you’re guilding the lily, try the Mojarra Entera Frita, a whole fried fish with tortillas.
Most dishes are solid renditions, served efficiently by friendly staff. Chiles Rellenos, sadly, don’t stand up to nearby Las Palmas’, but El Puente steals the show with their creamy, rich refried beans — a usually dismal side.
As an admitted newbie to the Mexican table, I’ll leave final judgments to more experienced tortilla-eaters. But now, at least you know where to get a solid margarita and that bowl of elusive birria — which by the way, is still on my list.
El Puente Cantina, 1709 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.569.0988. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.