The menu is small and tight, most items built around great fresh tortillas and produce, which means there's no miss on the menu, but there's also not tremendous range (one caveat: Chef Garnica worked in an Italian restaurant for some time, and will occasionally put pastas on the menu). The highlight is probably the gringas with molé ($12), which come with the option of pork filling or veggies (almost everything in the restaurant is gluten free, and most vegetarian items are also vegan friendly). If you've never had gringas, they're like soft, rolled tacos. Verde Cocina uses a fantastic handmade corn tortilla spread with a mash made of garbanzo and white bean. The molé doesn't have the boldest of flavors, but its subtleties allow the fresh ingredients—the true stars here—to shine. The dish is served with a mountain of grilled vegetables and legumes, but not the standard onions and peppers you might be used to in Mexican restaurants: kale, chard, carrots, and garbanzo beans. And unlike a lot of Mexican places in the States, the vegetables aren't grilled to a mush. The carrots still have some bite; the greens have a little texture.
There's a special quesadilla every night ($9 to $14, depending on the filling), and a standard cheese quesadilla with veggies ($10). Both are served on the same great handmade tortillas with a whole bean salad and the aforementioned mound of veggies.
Another interesting dish is the El Infierno "Chicharrones" ($10). While the warnings of spice are hyperbolic (both my date and I were hoping it'd be hotter), the tofu-based version of this typically pork-centric dish was still plenty satisfying. The tofu is baked to the point that it's just a bit crispy on the outside, then tossed in the hotter of their salsas and—yet again—served with grilled veggies.
My only complaint, across the board, is the lack of heat. A couple more chilies would go a long way. While it's refreshing to eat a meal wherein you can really taste every ingredient, these aren't the most complex flavor profiles. I know it's a matter of personal preference, but an option for more spice might lure me down I-5 and out to Capitol Highway a bit more often.
Still, Hillsdale is lucky to have Verde Cocina in the neighborhood, and on those Saturday mornings when I get nostalgic for farmers' market food, I'll gladly head that way. -TONY PEREZ
Verde Cocina takes its farmers' market favorites to Hillsdale.
- by Tony Perez
Nov 17, 2011