Find the best Mexican food in Napa Valley at Retro Lane 33 Cafe

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The majority of Napa Valley tourists walk past the city’s indescribable bowling alley without warning. Painted beige, it’s sandwiched between two car dealerships – Honda and Nissan – on Napa’s famous Hwy 29 before reaching the idyllic downtown area or passing through a single vineyard. It’s been there since 1947, a time when prunes were the commodity, not grapes.

Even if a passer-by noticed it, there’s almost no way he’s guessing the Napa Bowl Rue 33 Cafe, subtly marked with faded red letters, serves arguably the best Mexican cuisine in wine country. Confusingly, another sign on the building, which you can only see once you get close to it, reads “classic food”.

Since opening the new taqueria in the longtime bowling alley cafe in March 2020, chef and owner Alex Soto hasn’t had time to worry about signage – and he describes himself as ‘a dinosaur’ when it comes to social media. Nonetheless, word of the new Lane 33 menu spread quickly throughout the wine country, in part thanks to a loyal clientele that has been brewing for several years.

Jess lander

This isn’t Soto’s first culinary adventure in Napa. Just before accepting the opportunity to take over the lackluster cafe, he decided to close his cafeteria-style Mexican street food restaurant Calaveras at the Napa Premium Outlets; the place felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic earlier than most, as it was frequented by international tourists. He also operated Pico, a taco truck, along with two other friends, which closed just months before the pandemic hit.

Soto made his debut in the early ’90s as a dishwasher in Meadowood Napa Valley – long before the restaurant achieved its three Michelin stars, when he was a teenager living with his uncle. In less than a year, he moved to the banquet side of the restaurant, where he worked for several years before finally returning home to Southern California. Ten years later, Soto returned to Napa with his wife, who attended Sonoma State University. Unfortunately, that was also in 2008. “I came back to Napa just as the economy slowed,” he recalls. While back at Meadowood part-time, he took on many other jobs, including deli at Safeway (he “only survived a month,” he says) and a harvest gig in Far Niente Winery.

Chef Alex Soto leans on a stove in a kitchen

Alex soto

Eventually, he was offered a full-time job at Meadowood, but the years he spent jostling and pivoting during the economic downturn undoubtedly helped him prepare for the roller coaster of 2020. About a months after Lane 33 reopened as a new restaurant, it was closed due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and Soto hasn’t even been able to offer take-out. The bowling alley was classified as an entertainment center, so it was not allowed to operate, and although the cafe had its own entrance, Soto said it was “complicated”. Bathrooms that staff and guests would need, for example, were located inside the main building.

“It was a little heartbreaking,” he says. “This place has been closed twice. This is the third time that I open.

Things have finally gotten better over the past few months, with track 33 becoming a local’s best secret, a classic ‘if you know you know’ storyline that looks set to draw hordes of travelers from the area. bay area no matter how stuck in time outside.

Inside, Soto reinvigorated the 1950s dinner theme that the cafe had clung to for decades. There are checkerboard floors, a single bar with stools and a jukebox; Soto added bright mint green paint and vintage classic cartoon posters including The Jetsons and Tom and Jerry. Another features Kalimán, a superhero transmitted by radio from his childhood in Mexico.

The retro restaurant-style interior of Lane 33 Cafe with gray Formica counters and black bar stools.

Jess lander

Even from the inside, there are just a few clues that this is a taqueria: Spanish music playing over the speakers and a pair of Dia de los Muertos figures tucked away in a corner. But there’s really nothing in Napa Valley either – no mid-century modern glamor, no rustic-chic farmhouse antiques – which is precisely what locals love about it. That, and the tacos, although Soto kept some of the traditional dinner food for bowling regulars.

“The bowlers community is a little different. It’s a very interesting place, ”says Soto. “If you come in the morning, you have people who have been coming here for about three or four decades, so they own the place. It’s like, ‘This is my place, don’t mess with my food.’ So we decided to leave some things alone and try to get a little bit crazy on the other side.

Accordingly, Lane 33 has two separate menus. On the left, you’ll find salads, pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches, including a bacon hot dog. On the right, there are tacos, tortas, and quesadillas, as well as burritos, flautas, and other specialties, like huevos rancheros, made-to-order chicharrones, and pozole. Soto recruited local chef Mercedes Stahlberger to make original pastries and desserts. Any day, you can find tres leches Fruity Pebbles, Mexican hot chocolate cake or savory chocolate pretzel cookies.

Soto makes almost everything else, including tortillas, from scratch, but tacos are where he really exerts his creativity, working with unique flavor and ingredient combinations. Take, for example, the vegetarian calabacitas taco made with yellow squash, zucchini, poblano, corn and onion, then topped with sour cream, corn emulsion, cotija cheese, and micro cilantro. Fish tacos are served with chipotle aioli, serrano-avocado aioli and crudo tomatillo salsa, while Soto’s al pastor tacos are garnished with pickled red onions and pickled pineapple.

Lane 33 Calabacitas Taco with yellow squash, zucchini, poblano, corn and onion, topped with sour cream, corn emulsion, cotija cheese and micro cilantro.

Jess lander

There are even crispy potato tacos made with mashed fried potatoes, tomatillo sauce, cabbage, aioli, cotija, and queso fundito. “When I was a kid it was very popular with me,” Soto says. “It’s one of the dumbest, easiest things we didn’t think we could do well, but it sells for a lot.”

Tacos are relatively affordable at $ 3-4, for locals and the bowling community, not Napa tourists. But the real proof of Soto’s talent is that he has started to attract a new group of regulars: the local chefs. “It has become the home of the Napa chefs. This is where they eat, ”he says. “I called a guy from French Laundry the other day. You can say; they have uniforms or something that will betray them. It has become the chef’s place and I love it.

On Track 33’s momentum, Soto opened another taqueria this month in outlets across Napa. Lencho specializes in traditionally cooked meats such as adobada, asada and carnitas.

Lane 33 Cafe is open 11 am-9pm Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.


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