Chef Mateo Granados has always had the credentials, having worked at some of Northern California’s finest restaurants. He has always had the world-class cooking, in a signature style called “modern Yucatán.” He has always had the customers, who throng to his catered events, his sit-down meals served from farmers’ markets booths, and more recently, his mobile operation called Tendejon de la Calle (“taste of the street”) that pops up at farms and wineries across Sonoma County each week.
And now, he finally has the restaurant.
His Mateo’s Cocina Latina officially opened Friday night in Healdsburg, across the street from Spoonbar and h2hotel, in a Wine Country chic setting sparked with high energy Mexican music, flickering candles, and elaborate displays of boutique tequilas and mescals.
If you’ve had his food at any of his other incarnations, you’ve got an idea of the uncommon goodness you’re in for. The brief but deep menu centers around small plates and street snacks, rounded out with a handful of entrees, side dishes, and of course, Granados’ famous tamales, made with Sonoma olive oil instead of lard, and steamed in banana leaves. One of his popular signatures is offered here in an intriguing variety of flavors: tacones (tortilla cones) filled with olive oil guacamole, or black bean puree studded with homemade chorizo, or carne asada, or rock cod moistened in tomato-habanero sauce. The idea is to pop one in your mouth, crunch, take a sip of michelada spiced beer, then pop another tacone.
Yet there are plenty of new dishes, too, and as the kitchen gets settled in, Granados promises plenty of specials, too. One of the best starters is panucho, a crispy thin handmade tortilla stuffed with black bean puree and griddled, topped in local greens, annatto seed-marinated Rocky chicken, crisp cinnamon-cured red onions, tomato and avocado. Another delicious crispy bite is the tostada, topped in ground beef picadillo decorated with Preston olives, avocado and White Crane Springs Ranch greens.
Tacos are addictive nibbles, plump with pork or lamb carne asada, or a beautifully flavorful crispy rock cod taco crusted in Tierra Farm Hopi blue corn and drizzled in pumpkin seed-bell pepper sauce. And because this is an upscale tequila bar, and cult-celeb cocktail Scott Beattie is a consulting partner, the cocktails are as creative as the food, such as the caliente Margarita spiked with radish, cilantro and Serrano (for even more heat, add a splash of Granados’ homemade habanero sauces).
In fact, servers will recommend drinks to pair with food, since many of the recipes from both the kitchen and the bar use the same ingredients. Try the pollo adobado of achiote Rocky chicken roasted in banana leaves with tomatoes and onions alongside jasmine rice and creamy black beans, along with a tomato fresca con fuma mixing Tres Agaves Blanco tequila, fresh pressed tomato juice, pickled onion, lime juice, sea salt, black pepper and smoked chile powder. This is another favorite combo: crispy sand dabs over Mexican corn-mayo salad and cherry tomatoes slathered in smoked chipotle aioli with White Crane Springs Ranch greens, sipped with a Sandia Linda combining fresh watermelon and lime juices with Arette Blanco tequila, pickled watermelon rind, chile powder, black pepper, Sonoma Coast sea salt and cilantro.
While the heart of the small, three-dozen seat eatery is around the bar, where bartenders play a bit of cocktail theater and the regulars gather, here’s another secret: the garden courtyard patio is flanked by windows, so grab a table at the front for a dramatic view directly into the bustling kitchen.
214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1520, mateoscocinalatina.com.
Tip: To fully enjoy all the tasty cocktails and tequilas, a designated driver is an excellent idea. So make a night of it with a private chauffeured car from Pure Luxury Transportation.