“Mendocino Farms: Delicious Clean Eats” -nomtasticfoods.com
As the pandemic went on, my partner and I got tired of cooking.
Just as we had settled on a handful of go-to meals to whip-up in a pinch, we soon found a few restaurants for which takeout and delivery seemed like decent value propositions.
Chief among these was a restaurant called “Mendocino Farms: Sandwich Market.” It’s an order-at-the-counter joint serving up California cuisine (fresh, locally sourced ingredients, yadda yadda) that started in Los Angeles and now has locations across the Golden State (and some in Texas too!).
Their menu features “Not So Fried” chicken sandwich ($12.25):
Shaved, roasted chicken breast topped with Mendo’s krispies, herb aioli, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, pickled red onions (640 cal) on toasted ciabatta (260 cal) with a side of barbeque sauce (80 cal) or mustard pickle remoulade (120 cal)
The Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Ensalada ($12.25):
Chopped romaine, curly kale, quinoa & millet, housemade superfood krunchies, succotash with roasted corn, black beans & jicama, red onions, cilantro, cotija cheese, grape tomatoes, avocado (400 cal) with chipotle vinaigrette (250 cal)
The Peruvian steak sandwich ($13.45):
Spicy aji amarillo marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes, shredded romaine (520 cal) on a toasted potato roll (240 cal)
Add avocado (80 cal) +$1.25
and the Saved Drake’s Farm salad ($13.75)
shaved, roasted chicken breast, Herbes de Provence marinated Drake Family Farm’s goat cheese, pink lady beets, green apples, dried cranberries, crushed honey roasted almonds, red onions, mixed greens, chopped romaine (620 cal) with citrus vinaigrette (240 cal)
It was bougie. It was cliché. It was not remotely affordable. But we were absolutely hooked. In the past four months, we’ve probably ordered from “Mendo” 12-15 times. And it’s not like we were exploring the menu. 90% of our orders were exactly the same thing: Vegan Banh Mi and the Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Salad. We only recently discovered that the Impossibly Good IMPOSSIBLE Burger lives up to its name; otherwise that number would be 100%.
So what was it about this establishment that helped it rise above the rest?
The answer, oddly enough, is that this kind of mega-healthy, vegan-pandering fare was my version of comfort food. It was characterized by not by its “high caloric nature” but by its high fiber level and prevalence of buzz-word ingredients. But this was the food that made me feel good. I didn’t have to think about striking the right balance of macronutrients or incorporating as many fresh veggies as possible; the part of my brain that was constantly optimizing could take a break. I just trusted the blue cow to show me the way.
There was an emotional component too: a sense that, somehow, this was the food I was supposed to be eating. It’s not like I grew up eating quinoa, and kale with every meal. Still, Mendocino Farms was capitalizing on something that must have been (still be?) true about me. Which means there must be a grain of truth in the cliché.
Whether I like it or not, I am a young, white, progressive from California, who graduated from Stanford to boot. I eat (mostly) vegetarian food because I morally oppose the meat industry, I treat my body the way Robert Pirsig (presumably) treats his motorcycle, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I am more likely to buy something if it heavily features quinoa and kale.
I don’t mean to paint Mendocino Farms in a negative light here. Sure, the restaurant was intentionally filling its menu with with things they knew people like me would like, but this behavior wasn’t malicious or conniving. The real observation here is that we should be no less surprised by the success of Mendo in Palo Alto than we are by that of La Taqueria in The Mission (the latter’s recent demographic changes aside).
If this analogy holds up, then “California cuisine” is something of a misnomer; the ‘Californian’ for whom such cuisine is tailored sits in very narrow intersection of a handful of highly privileged identities. Now — obviously, I hope — I’m not saying that Black, Indigenous, or Latinx folks can’t find comfort in a Vegan Banh Mi. Nor am I saying you need an elite education to breathe a sigh of relief when you dig into a Superfood Salad. I’m only articulating what I’m sure is apparent to everyone else already: that Mendo and I are engaged in a game of identity economics that we are both happy to play.