This was such a festive, colorful and lovely restaurant to have dinner for the Day of the Dead.
Pink, purple and white papel picado skeletons criss-crossed the ceiling. There was a table with many types of sugar skulls. Another table was a Dia de los Muertos altar with fresh marigolds, various decorations and photos of departed loved ones.
This family restaurant is known for their rotating regional dishes (Chiapas and Oaxaca).
Next to the entrance is a table with plates displaying the specials and cards with descriptions. Sometimes there are bowls of chips and sauces where you can sample the special sauces (not today though).
There were five types of tamales for Dia de los Muertos: black bean, pork verde, sweet corn, Swiss chard with cheese and pepper (rajas) and cheese.
There was also “bewitched pork" (puerco embrujado) and another dish I’m not remembering.
This wasn’t an inexpensive restaurant ($12 for two tamales), so I decided on a tamal I never had (black bean) and another I was familiar with (pork verde).
The chips that came to the table in a brightly colored basket were excellent – warm and thin. Presentation is very nice. Wooden ladles are in the two bowls of salsa, a mild, pleasantly sour green tomatillo and a spicy red. Both were very tasty.
One poster wrote a few years ago “Their red salsa that comes with the free chips is intoxicating. Somewhat sweet, I think it's based entirely of peppers, no tomatoes. It's also very garlicky, and quite hot. If you want some ever hotter, just ask as they keep the really hot stuff in the back.’
A small green salad with tomato salsa-like vinaigrette is served first. It is simple but quite nice.
The black bean tamal had the beans mixed in the masa and a squiggle of crema on top. It was fine but except for visually, not too exciting. The pork was a bit skimpy on the filling but the masa was exceptional.
That was the thing with this restaurant. It may not have wowed (at least this dinner), but there were touches, like the masa, that caught your attention because, while simple, they were just so well done … like the rice and refried beans … they were actually good … and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before … and I can’t tell you why … not wow good … but just so satisfying. The rice not dried like most and made better with some of the salsa mixed into it. The beans obviously made from scratch.
The sangria had nice bits of orange and lime but was just ok.
Get on the mailing list to be notified about the current specials. Some of the more interesting specials are the Chile En Nogado which is served, I think, for Mexican Independence day in September and the chocolate mole with rose petals for Valentine’s Day. IMO, with its low lighting and colorful décor, this is a very romantic-looking restaurant.
I’ve read good things about the fresh hot churros, Oaxaca chicken, mole, abondigas, house margarita, and a breakfast burrito that is not on the menu but they will serve at lunch if requested. Don’t know if this is true but I read if you pay with cash they give you a free dessert.
A Chowhound post from a few years ago mentioned the family also owns Casa Bonampak, a Mexican party and supply store in SF.
There’s a nice link about other Day of the Dead events around the Bay in addition to the Fruitvale festival such as
- the SF Mission's Day of the Dead Procession (Over 30,000 people attend this Community Procession that ends in Garfield Park with Altar Exhibitions)
- SF Symphony Day of the Dead Family Concert Nov 2.
- Redwood City's Dia de los Muertos
- St. Helena Dia de lod Muertos Festival
Lots more. Maybe late for this year, but something to keep in mind.
There was this good article about Estrellita from a few years back
“The Corlay family hails from the Chiapas area of southern Mexico, and their cuisine reflects the tropical influences of Central America, more than the firey northern Tex-Mex style that many Americans assume defines Mexican food. Most of Estrellita's food won't put sweat on your brow. Complex sauces reign supreme, like the handmade mole poblano, or green sauces made with tomatillos and pumkin seeds.”
don't know if it's the best Mexican I've ever had, but it's one of the better places I've tried in the Bay Area
Be warned that service can be slooooooow. Prepare to wait … and wait … and wait. The food was served quickly but I couldn’t get my check … after asking the third time (with the waiter evading my eye quite a few more times), I finally got up and paid at the registers. I also did something I rarely do. I didn’t leave a tip. It is the one thing that drives me nuts at restaurants. Usually I ask for the check with dessert, but I didn’t get dessert so after 15 – 20 minutes I was … annoyed. Karma did get me. I forgot my glasses and had to go back. Big points for them cheerfully returning the glasses after I stiffed them on the tip. I’ll just be prepared for this next time.
Previous Chowhound mentions
971 N San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA 94022
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