Chef Iradh Herrera is very particular about the ingredients that enter his kitchen. He bans canned vegetables or dried herbs from passing through the door, working only with organic local produce and fresh herbs. When discussing his reasoning with reporters from Lodi News-Sentinel, Herrera explained, "fresh herbs brings out more essence in the dish. Dried [herbs] you have to use more, and [they don't] have the same taste. You can tell." The skilled chef peppers free-range beef and natural meats with fresh basil, thyme, and mint to whip up a variety of seasonal American dishes, such as a decadent bacon-wrapped meatloaf and a succulent roasted lamb rack. He favors eco-friendly seafood as well, preferring to cook with fish that were sustainably caught on fishing lines rather than deceitfully coaxed onto boats with "free algae" signs.
While Herrera bustles about the kitchen, bartenders squeeze fresh juices into specialty cocktails and uncork bottles of fine wine. Diners chatter animatedly at white-clothed tables, while others bask in the sun on the outdoor patio. On weekends, the elegant eatery often plays host to live music performances.
Fusing classic European–cooking techniques with California flavors, Califas Café & Bistro blends eclectic flavors in a dinner menu stocked with fresh, local ingredients. Pan seared halibut ($22) mingles with mango curry sauce atop a pasture of hibiscus rice, and the all-natural beef of a rib eye steak ($25) catches a buzz in with dry rub seasonings before teaming up with roasted potatoes. Moonlighting as culinary fashionistas, adobo marinated pork chops ($17) accessorize with a flair of whipped potatoes and a micro-green salad. Feasts can be complemented by a selection of tap beers and Italian sodas or sips from the extensive wine menu, which features red, white, and wish-granting nectar by the bottle ($18+) and glass ($6+).
The Las Islitas menu blends the flavors of Mexico with the sea’s most delicious inhabitants. Behind the kitchen door—which is decorated like a ship’s porthole—chefs whip up house specialties such as giant shrimp wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese, as well as oysters on the half shell, and seafood medleys that include delicacies such as crab leg, abalone, and octopus.
The inspiration behind Alebrijes Mexican Bistro is the stuff of nightmares—Pedro Linares’ nightmares, to be specific. At the age of 30, the Mexican artist fell deathly ill. As he lay in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange world filled with brightly colored monsters—a donkey with butterfly wings and a rooster with the head of an eagle among others—all shouting “alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes!” When he awoke, he wanted to show his family and friends all that he had seen, so he replicated his first alebrije from brightly painted papier-mâché. To this day, his family still crafts these strange creatures to serve as unusual home accents.
Pedro Linares' monsters inspired Alebrijes Mexican Bistro's name, as well as its decor, which showcases brightly colored paintings of his nightmarish beasts. In 2012, the bistro also won the Lodi News Reader’s Choice award for Best Mexican Restaurant, thanks to its gourmet burritos and regionally inspired dishes such as oaxaca mole, guanajuato bacon-wrapped prawns, and guacamole prepared in the style of Mexico City. The restaurant also infuses their own tequilas.