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Melanie Wong | Sep 16, 200212:35 AM     16

Finding myself on the Peninsula last weekend after dim sum trials with the South Team, I finally had a chance to check out Redwood City’s “Little Michoacan”. With my brother in tow, I met my friend Julie at her favorite, Gonzalez Taqueria (3194 Middlefield Rd., 650-365-6405, closed Tuesdays) for dinner. The station in the front window where the handmade tortillas are griddled had first drawn her in a couple years ago.

This was one of the cleanest dining rooms I’ve seen anywhere. The walls were freshly painted and you could eat off the immaculate tile floors. But more important the food aromas were all enticing, especially from the bubbling cauldron in the window.

Our first tip off that something special was happening here was the basket of warm chips. Fried in-house and made from their own handmade corn tortillas, these puffed up into a layered crisp and had concentrated corn flavor with little greasy taste. The accompanying salsa was relatively mild but very fresh.

The specialty of the house is birria de chivo (braised kid), which is served every day, as is menudo. One of my brother’s complaints since moving here is that menudo is only served on weekends – this was a happy discovery for him. We ordered several things to share.

The birria was very tender, greaseless, mildly seasoned, and there were hardly any bones in the bowl. A few spoonfuls of the dark and dusky housemade red chili sauce and some freshly chopped white onion and cilantro gave it the right punch. While a nice version, the flavor in the young kid meat had been leached out through too long of cooking. It was still very enjoyable wrapped up in the thick and chewy handmade tortillas.

The menudo was also quite mild, and needed some of the very complex, smoky and flavorful red chili sauce to raise the heat. This was straight tripe, with no pigs feet or hominy, and not of prime honeycomb. We gave them high marks for the quality of the condiments, and can’t say enough about the red chili sauce which reminded me of Sichuan seasonings.

We also had a campechana seafood cocktail. Looking at the menu, $13 seemed pricey, but it turns out this is a HUGE serving of squid and prawns with cubes of avocado, cucumber and tomatoes in a tomatoe-y chili sauce with overtones of orange zest. It was accompanied by lime wedges and saltines. I liked it more with the crispy tortilla chips.

Our fourth dish was a plate of six sopitos – half chicken and half with beef ($9). These were tiny sopes, less than 3” wide medallions of fresh masa griddled to a delicate crisp on the outside and creamy in the interior. These were brushed with the thin slightly bitter red chili sauce so typical of Michoacan, then topped with stewed and shredded beef or chicken, queso fresco, shredded cabbage, and cilantro. Each was about three bites worth. The chicken ones were even tastier with a shot of salsa verde from the squeeze bottle.

Tamarindo and horchata were the aguas frescas of the day. The horchata I ordered was standard and nothing special. But they also have fresh orange and carrot juices. The orange juice ($2) was squeezed to order with all the aromatics and extra taste that provides.

Our two servers, who may be the owners, were gracious and speak good English. We noticed a picture of a church on the wall and learned that this was the town of Aguililla in Michoacan, where this neighborhood’s Mexican residents come from.

With two Bohemias, tax and tip, our bill came to $20 each. We had heaps of leftovers to take home. Julie mentioned that the place is packed on weekend mornings. I’ll be interested in trying out the breakfast items another time. We had only a small selection from the extensive menu, but I have a good feeling about this place. Be sure to order something that comes with those wonderful tortillas, and don’t be afraid to try the fantastic homemade red chili sauce in the big bowl.

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