A Taste of Oaxaca at El Farolito
Press Democrat -
"There's a popular saying in Oaxaca, Mexico, that anyone who tastes the traditional /chapulines colorados/ there will someday return. Perhaps that's why customers keep coming back to El Farolito, the southeast Windsor and Healdsburg restaurants where Pedro Diaz serves the Oaxacan favorites.
Business has grown so steadily that Diaz recently expanded, celebrating his good fortune by inviting the entire town to a grand opening party in November. "We had a big party with music and food," said Diaz. "Our county supervisor came as well as members of the Town Council." El Farolito, which means The Lighthouse, now has a full bar and an outdoor patio, room to hold 150 guests and a revamped menu that includes more specialty dishes.
Not every dish includes the tasty chapulines (fried grasshoppers), of course, but the menu pulls heavily in other ways from Diaz's Oaxacan heritage.
Diaz grew up in Oaxaca, and came to the United States when he was 16. After spending six months in San Diego with family, he joined his older brother in Rohnert Park and at 18 went to work for Hot Tomato's, a Mexican restaurant in Windsor. That's where Diaz learned the ropes of the restaurant business, working five years as a greeter and server. In 2003 he bought El Farolito in Healdsburg, a restaurant that had been in business since 1979. Last year, Diaz got a call from the property managers at the Windsor Palms Shopping Center, where Hot Tomato's operated until it was replaced by Angela's Taqueria. They told me that Angela's was closing, and wanted to know if I would open a new restaurant in that location. " They remembered me from when I used to work there," said Diaz. Since he was already thinking about expanding, Diaz took advantage of the offer and opened his second restaurant in the summer of 2010. Although Diaz never had formal training as a chef, his knack for cooking comes from within, from his family. "Growing up, my dad was always cooking," he said. "I was always right behind him, watching him. Now, all four of my brothers are cooks and even help me out in the restaurant sometimes. It's in our blood somehow." His mother contributed the Oaxacan recipes, most notably the mole, a sauce made from chili peppers and chocolate that typically is served over meat. " Oaxaca is famous for its moles," said Diaz." If you want to try it, you're not going to get better than my mom's home recipe."
Other popular dishes on the new menu include ahituna fish tacos, chile colorado with lamb and molcajete, which features grilled steak, chicken and prawns in a roasted tomato and chipotle sauce. "I have a good idea of what will be popular among our guests because I've owned El Farolito in Healdsburg for many years. Those dishes were favorites in Healdsburg, so we've decided to include them at the Windsor restaurant as well," said Diaz.
Last month he expanded into the adjacent space vacated when Donut Hut moved to a different location in the shopping center. So far the new changes have gone over well. "The full bar has been really popular," said Diaz. "There are a lot of people in Windsor who want to go out in groups for dinner, and this is now the perfect place for that. They can have a couple drinks and a good meal."
When he's at work, Diaz does any job that needs doing. His two favorite tasks, though, are training the cooks and talking with guests, who are mostly locals. "I feel like I know half the town of Windsor. I know the place from way back." "I like to chat with the customers and make sure everything comes out okay. In Oaxaca, whatever you do you have to believe in. That's how it is with El Farolito."
Diaz's approach seems to be working. Despite lean economic times, business has been good. "We've been doing really well. Business is steady throughout the day. Basically we feel happy to have a nice restaurant that people enjoy." And if you're looking for that special Oaxacan flavor, you can season your El Farolito dish with chile salt, a unique seasoning blend with one special ingredient: ground grasshoppers. " They add a very distinctive flavor to the salt," said Diaz. "People who've tasted chapulines will recognize it immediately. It's very good. Just ask for a taste."
El Farolito Enterprise, dedicated to a quality dining experience.