Amigos Grill and Cantina

Yes, I too was once naïve enough to think that “Amigos” was simply Spanish for “friends.” Just off the elbow of Highway 12, I learned that the word is a local idiom for “mass quantities of amazing Mexican food awaiting your leisurely consumption – eat now!”

Family-owned and operated Amigos Grill and Cantina has been a Sonoma favorite since opening nearly nine years ago. It’s seemingly endless menu is the result of dozens of traditional recipes hailing from the Sonoran region of Mexico, which have been refined through generations of family cooking until arriving, happily, in the capable hands of Chef Rudy Guiterrez.

The flavorful, emerald-colored guacamole proved a fitting start to the evening as did the battered and fried jalapenos, black bean taquitos, chalupas, jalitos (jalapeño peppers breaded and stuffed with cream cheese and lightly fried) and cheese quesadillas. Please note, this is only a brisk survey of Amigos copious menu – listing every dish would drain the newspaper’s supply of ink.

My companion particularly enjoyed the ceviche which came brimming with fresh cod, bay shrimp, calamari and pico de gallo, marinated in lime juice and served atop a crisp tortilla made for a hearty starter. If variety is the spice of life, Amigos’ firey, spicy arbol sauce is attempting to be immortal. Served with the ceviche, the sauce is named for the chili that is its base and completed with a variety of spices from the secret family recipe book, though it’s safe to say there are notes of onion and cilantro stoking the sauce’s inferno (an inquiry made to the chef was met with no small order of circumspection).

The chili relleno, one of the many house specialties, is a revelation of grande proportions. Contrary to popular treatments of the traditional dish wherein the chili is battered and fried, Amigos’ instead grills the battered and roasted pasilla chili and then drenches it in a creamy sauce.
Likewise the tri-tip steak fajitas, one of several variations on the theme that could include anything from prawns, chicken, pork and a vegetarian option, are served sizzling bedecked by both whole pinto and black beans, a raft of other Mexican accouterments (from jalapenos to pico de gallo) and one’s choice of warm corn or flour tortillas. Low-carb tortillas are also available for those mindful of such things, though I think the thought should be repressed – indulgence should be the rule while at Amigos.

Meanwhile, the chicken mole is a study in subtlety. The signature sauce had a smooth, velvety quality that was simultaneously piquant and understated. I’ve been doing reconnaissance on mole sauces for the past several months and have found many to be too aggressive, rather like, as a friend recently put it “a stiletto heel to the tongue.” Amigos’ mole sauce, however, is quite like being kissed by a former lover – it’s familiar, spices things up and you immediately want to tell your best friend about it.

That said, if you’re inclined to gossip, I highly recommend doing it over one of Amigos’ lauded margaritas. The Cadillac Margarita, a decadent mix of Cuervo 1800 tequila, Cointreau, Grand Mariner and sweet and sour mix, will give you an instant air of south of the border-style sophistication, though upon finishing it, you may not be able to say the word. I certainly couldn’t, but then an evening at Amigos isn’t about talking so much as eating and thanks to their generous servings you will be doing a lot of that.

The waitstaff and servers, leave one wanting for nothing. They are quick, attentive and extremely friendly. On the occasion of our visit, there was an impromptu birthday party occurring a few tables away. Tipped off, the staff assembled into a chorus and sang “Happy Birthday” which met the flash of a Polaroid camera at the crescendo. A lot of restaurants will sing “Happy Birthday” to you, but taking your picture? Now, that’s just cool.

The dessert menu teems with delectable notions, in fact, too many to be comprehended in a single thought. Rather than tax my enfeeble mind, which was still cruising from the Cadillac Margarita, I went the traditional route and enjoyed a light and airy flan splashed with Grand Mariner. It had a wonderfully smooth consistency was the perfect finish to a night of gustatory debauchery.

Amigos Grill and Cantina
19315 Hyw 12, Sonoma, CA
707/939-0743