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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Finding Your Way to Simple Mexican Food : Meaty and moist tamales as well as green enchiladas are standouts at Somis Market and Cafe.

August 17, 1995|DAVID GOLDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I've got to admit it, I'm a sucker for a place like this.

It's out of the way, in the sense that the tiny farming town of Somis itself is out of the way. The place looks closed even as you drive up. On the first visit, I had to look for the "open" sign in the window to make sure it was really open.

The cafe is actually part of and in the same building as a small food market, so you can enter either through the cafe's own front door or, as most do, through the market. The sick green color on the exterior does stand out against the earth shades of the post office two doors down and the fire station across the road.

Thus, the Somis Market and Cafe is an excellent spot in which to sit around the Formica tables on brightly colored plastic chairs, watching the flow of farm workers, Sunday churchgoers, Somis regulars and a Highway Patrol officer or two--and eat some pretty fair Mexican food.

But breakfast, a strong portion of the cafe's business (it opens at 6 in the morning) is the weakest link. The $5 huevos rancheros, with tortillas and beans and rice, are just a couple of eggs, sitting in a nondescript, thin ranchero sauce. The machaca ($5), shredded beef scrambled with eggs, onions and bell peppers, comes across much better.

At Somis Cafe, it's the traditional, simple foods (the antojitos ) that are the best. Excellent tamales (meaty and moist and full of chile spicing) are made at the cafe. In fact, if these dishes can be faulted, it might be because they're usually not very spicy, and you must depend on the bottles of hot sauce on the tables to jazz things up.

And don't forget to grab a cold bottle of Bohemia beer ($1.35) from the adjoining cooler in the market.

An occasional special is the green enchiladas ($2.15), stuffed with shredded chicken and bits of potatoes, layered with a heavy green chile sauce and laced with cilantro. The enchiladas are the best dish in the house.

The soft tacos ($1.35) with carnitas or pollo or carne asada are meaty, but they do need a little of the chunky salsa on the tables.

But carnitas sopes ($2) are covered with cheese and lettuce and tomatoes and plenty of chunks of moist pork. The deep-fried hard tacos (taco dorados , $1.05) are good enough so that I wonder, as I frequently do in situations such as this, why on earth anyone with a choice would ever willingly set foot inside a Taco Bell.

The relleno burrito ($2.25) is luscious, juicy, cheesy, the roasted peppers melting on your tongue. The machaca burrito ($2.24) could use some salsa or hot sauce.

With the smiling, cordial young women bustling behind the counter, and with Casildo Quinones, who's owned the place for the last 15 years, keeping an eye on things, Somis Cafe and Market is a nice place to stop.

Details

* WHAT: Somis Market and Cafe.

* WHEN: Open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

* WHERE: 3319 Somis Road, Somis.

* HOW MUCH: Breakfast, lunch or dinner for two, food only, $6-$11.

* FYI: No credit cards, no reservations; beer and wine.

* CALL: 482-1744.

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