Rocklin hasn’t been known much for its destination restaurants, but for fans of fresh, beautifully presented Mexican dishes, that could change with the arrival of Mezcalito Oaxacan Cuisine.
Tiny but mighty, the new spot – opened in late 2017 by Ruben Regalado and co-owner Blanca Garcia, with her brother Francisco Garcia as chef – highlights the cooking of the south-central region of Oaxaca, known as a culinary hotspot for its specialties such as chocolate, tlayudas (large, handmade toasted tortillas) and, above all, complex moles.
Oaxaca’s markets also feature crunchy chapulines (grasshoppers), but you won’t find those at Mezcalito. Whether you’re glad or sorry about that omission, consolation awaits in the menu’s other offerings: beautifully composed salads; such rich appetizers as queso fundido; a healthy (in both senses) array of both seafood and vegetarian dishes; and a strong lineup of what the menu calls Oaxacan specialties. There’s also breakfast or brunch served daily.
The setting for Mezcalito’s bounty is modest – a smallish space, announced with a hand-painted orange sign, on Rocklin’s sprawling main drag. Originally, the ownership team looked to open a Oaxacan restaurant in Oakland, but were unable to find a suitable place. They looked instead to outlying areas where no similar regional restaurants existed, and, says Regalado, brought with them a Bay Area-driven sensibility, emphasizing vegetarian dishes and a healthier, lighter approach to Mexican food.
The results have been popular, drawing enthusiastic diners, including regulars from as far away as Tahoe. Tables are few, but a large patio (supplied with heaters now) adds seating, which was needed on a recent Saturday night, when every table was full and happy looking.
My party was among the pleased throngs who have found this place through word of mouth over the three months it has been open. On my first visit, for brunch, I was delighted to see the substantial number of morning options, with such familiar choices as chilaquiles and huevos rancheros supplemented with less frequently seen ones like a Oaxacan-style “benedict” (served on sopes with mole).
I tried the tlayuda breakfast: savory bacon spread and black bean paste on a big, toasty, thick homemade tortilla, just like those at the central market in Oaxaca, with guajillo sauce, two kinds of meat (tasajo, or thin-sliced steak, and cecina, pork loin in adobo), quesillo, and two eggs – in my case sunny side up. The whites were left a touch too runny, but otherwise the dish was great, satisfying without leaving me overstuffed as brunch dishes often can, and with a great mix of complementary flavors.
Both the tasajo and the cecina show up on the dinner menu as standalone plates, as does a tlayuda.
On the same visit, my husband tried the mezcalito salad, a bright mix of butter lettuce, roasted corn, grilled nopales, golden beets and a scattering of quinoa, with a tart pomegranate dressing. It was not only light and vibrant in flavor, but also beautifully presented.
There’s a short kids’ menu, and the items on that are composed of the same elements as the grown-up menu, but with less complexity. The simple taco plate or the black bean burrito were made in kid-size portions but with the same integrity as the adult meals, which is always nice to see.
Other touches bolster the impression that the owners are taking extra care. Water is served in cobalt-rimmed traditional glasses, sides of flavorful rice are formed into precise pyramids, and every mod-looking, rectangular plate comes with a fringed, whisper-thin flower made of carrot.