A cactus marks the spot at Sonora Mia steakhouse.
The trip’s first meal drew from the sea, as we feasted on an array of creatures with fins and shells. That was all well and good, but if you’re going to hang with a horde of food writers for a full day, the subject matter inevitably turns to meat. Given that, we arrived at Sonora Mia, a very good Sonora-style steakhouse with meat from Mexico’s beef capital.
We passed under the pixilated cactus sign to find a homey wooden restaurant. La Familia Munoz hails from Hermosillo, the state capital of Sonora, and has represented their state in style for a decade. Every steak comes from Ranch 17, a ranch used by many of Tijuana’s leading restaurants, including Villa Saverios. Cows are grass-fed through and through.
An intoxicating aroma emanates from sizzling mesquite-grilled steaks.
The best way for a Mexican restaurant to make a good first impression is to deliver premium salsas. Sonora Mia loaded our table with a powerful trio: creamy avocado, orange chile de arbol and fiery jalapeño, seeds and all.
Our carnivorous feast began in earnest with a Burro Machaca (50 pesos ~ $3.50), a streamlined burrito loaded with dried beef with a consistency akin to pork floss, plus a liberal amount of roasted onions and peppers.
Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA) insisted on ordering two different regional soups, and his decision paid dividends.
Herbaceous Gallina Pinta (60 pesos) was loaded with tender beef tail and rib meat, plus beans and hominy. This was a hearty but satisfying soup.
Cazuela (60 pesos) was another winner, strewn with shredded carne seca, peppery vegetables and potato chunks.
We garnished each soup with a sprinkling of fresh-ground chiltepin peppers, a fiery red peppercorn that’s widely unavailable in Los Angeles. A couple grinds was plenty.
Believe it or not, but our meal was still just beginning, so I limited my exposure to the Queso Fundido Natural (55 pesos), a molten mass of Monterey Jack cheese topped with rajas (roasted green pepper strips). Somehow, we managed to show restraint by choosing a vegetable over chorizo.
Esparza haggled with our server to schedule a custom Parrillada Villa de Seris (275 pesos), a mesquite-lavished mixed grill loaded with tripa (tripe), pollo asado (grilled chicken), Costilla (beef rib) and two prized cuts of beef – cabreria (akin to rib-eye) and arrachera (loosely translates as flank steak). Ribs were crusty from the grill, well-seasoned chicken was near succulent and the small intestines were blistered, sweet and funky in all the right ways. Still, the prized cuts were steak, with a great outer char infused with wood smoke.
On the side, we received a single devastating dish of frijoles maneados, refried beans blended with chorizo and lard, topped with Monterey Jack cheese. With that much fat, it was no surprise that these beans packed a heap of flavor.
We wrapped meat and queso with steaming tortillas de agua, ethereal see-through flour tortillas.
Since this was Tijuana, the whole meal cost less than $15 per person, making Sonora Mia an astounding bargain. Since there isn’t a viable Sonora-style steakhouse in Los Angeles, Sonora Mia may warrant a trip to Tijuana on its own. Then again, you should also keep in mind that Sonora Mia wasn’t even our best meal of the weekend.