Let’s Go to Papas

Sebastopol restaurant is a West County classic

I‘m hungry. The kids need to eat. The fridge is empty. It’s too hot. I’m tired. I don’t feel like cooking and I need a beer. And I want to watch the Giants game.

When I utter any of these phrases of privation, my family and I typically head over to Sebastopol’s Papas and Pollo. But lethargy and hunger aren’t the only reasons I go. The “Sebastopol-style Mexican food” is good and the prices are great. Their new, open-air patio—complete with lounge chairs set between raised vegetable beds, a walk-up beer and food window, and grilled oysters on the barbecue—is all the more reason to head over for some cool vibes and tasty grub.

The restaurant’s red-tiled roof, archways, Mexican-style floral tablecloths and spiny foliage makes it look like a beachside restaurant you’d find somewhere in Baja. And that’s the look Papas is going for. Surfboards hang from the ceiling. Old copies of the Surfer’s Journal lay scattered about. And Steel Pulse plays in heavy rotation from the speakers. The food is locally sourced, organic and GMO-free when possible. It’s pretty much the Sebastopol-iest place you’ll find.

Papas has been around for 25 years, and changed ownership four years ago. The first time I tried it must have been during the transition. It wasn’t great. But the friendly new owners have got it down now. What’s Sebastopol-style Mexican food? How about the Funky Chicken, a mesquite-grilled, Lagunitas-marinated chicken and artichoke-heart burrito ($9.75).

For me, the best things on the menu are the tacos (yes, I like tacos; see page 14). Most taco plates go for $10. It’s a full meal with a side of black beans, rice, a salad and two loaded tacos. I like the chunky, smoked pork and grilled chicken best. This being Sebastopol, there are tofu options: one is encrusted with brewer’s yeast to give it a satisfying, crusty texture and yeasty tang; the other is a spicy tofu verde, as in chile verde—chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and cilantro. The shrimp and fish tacos are $12, and they’re great too, especially the shrimp.

The namesake papas take the form of stuffed sweet potatoes or yams ($7.25–$11.95) and come loaded with black beans, cheese, pico de gallo and various forms of animal and vegetable protein.

I haven’t tried it, but the restaurant recently added a breakfast menu that features Nicaragua’s national dish, gallo pinto ($8.95): rice and beans scrambled up with onions and spices, and served with a side of eggs.

Thursday nights Papas features an all–North Bay burger ($13): Victorian Farmstead grassfed beef and Petaluma Creamery cheddar cheese on a Village Bakery bun.

The beers include a good sampling of Lagunitas drafts, Pacifico and usually a few guest brews ($5). Naturally, there’s also Revive kombucha on tap ($5).

When it’s late in the season for the Giants or Warriors, it’s fun to see all the people who also don’t own TVs turn out to watch the game. It’s Sebastopol’s version of a sports bar.

Add it all up and you’ve got a restaurant that checks just about every box. Now, if they’d only switch up the Steel Pulse now and then, it would be perfect.

Papas and Pollo, 915 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. 707.829.9037.