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The Sonoma List: 5 lunches on Highway 12

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El Huerto

One of the newest entries for fast, healthy lunch options in Sonoma is El Huerto. The new “superfood bar” is easy to overlook, tucked in a corner of Maxwell Village, but it is a standout in terms of what it offers. My top pick for lunch is their acai bowl which, while not cheap at $9.75, is a good-size portion of real, frozen acai topped with fresh fruit, granola, coconut shavings and dark chocolate chips. If a soft, frozen midday meal isn’t your thing, their avocado toast is delicious, as is their deliciously sticky Nutella and banana toast. Other choices include smoothies and juices, and the young owners expect to soon offer a variety of crepes. If your lunch partner isn’t looking for healthy, you can divide and conquer: Little Caesar’s is right next door. 19213 Sonoma Highway. 934-8791.

Lorna Sheridan

Happy Dog

Every town needs a Happy Dog. Retro to the point of defiance, the little red-and-white shack with the cartoon hound by the door is everything good about small-town burger joints rolled into one: wood-laminate table tops, the requisite little-used arcade game in the corner (“Prehistoric Isle 2,” for those with a few extra quarters), everything’s under $8.15 and, of course, great burgers and fries. We always fall back on the double-cheese burger, but you can’t go wrong with the hot dogs (chili, cheese or both), the deep-fried chicken burger or the bemusedly named salmon-fish burger (just in case there was any doubt). Fries and onion rings, shakes and malts? Natch. And a corn dog just to cover all bases. 18962 Sonoma Highway. 935-6211.

Jason Walsh

La Hacienda

Longtime Valley residents remember when La Hacienda was much smaller and you ordered combo plates by number after studying the choices listed on a wall sign.

It was delicious then and continues to please today with a fancy and expanded menu and a new indoor-outdoor patio that doubled its size. They have a liquor license now, too, so you can indulge in a margarita with a wide choice of tequilas – for many a must when enjoying Mexican food.

The tortilla soup is the most tempting and very traditional, homemade with real tortillas, not chips, and fresh avocado. The burritos look big enough to feed a family, and the cooks will happily serve black beans rather than refried if requested. The tables and booth backs have colorful scenes of Mexico and create a party atmosphere. Everyday is like Cinco de Mayo at La Hacienda. 17960 Sonoma Highway. 939-8226.

Carole Kelleher

El Molino Central

El Molino Central produces some of the most interesting Mexican food around. Many of the chefs have worked for owner Karen Taylor Waikiki for 20 years and started with her Primavera tamale company, also in the Springs.

Waikiki was just a semi-finalist for this year’s James Beard Best Chef – West Award.

A white stucco building with colorful signs painted on the walls houses the kitchen and a couple of tables and chairs, but the action is outside in back.

Read the big wall menu, place your order and pay at the cash register, go outside to several green picnic tables shaded by bright red umbrellas and your food will find you.

Specials change often but you might find Bohemia-battered fish tacos with two large filets, lamb tacos, Zoraida’s Mother’s chicken mole enchiladas, Mary’s chicken enchiladas Suizas with loads of cheese and sour cream, various chile rellenos, veggie tamales with potato, kale and two cheeses, Rufina’s pork tamales or Zoraida’s Mother’s mole chicken tamales in banana leaf, guacamole made fresh to order, and house made stone ground corn tortillas. ($4 to $13.50) 11 Central Ave. 939-1010.

Kathleen Hill

Cochon Volant

As you drive, walk or bike along Highway 12, you can tell whether or not Cochon Volant BBQ Smoke House is open.

If it’s open, which it is on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the smokehouse aroma will lure you in. And if you sit on the patio, it wafts over you throughout your meal.

Cochon Volant does barbecue. And the food is as good and interesting as it smells.

It’s not an extensive menu but it does feature sandwiches including brisket, pulled pork and even Carolina style pork, if that’s what you’re looking for. There’s the burgers, and where else can you find an achiote catfish sandwich with spicy remoulade?

And they’ve got barbecue meats by the pound.

We tried the catfish and the pulled pork – and decided the burgers are next. 18350 Sonoma Highway. 509-5480.

Bill Hoban