6 Winning Dining Options If You’re Headed to the Mill Valley Film Festival
A fresh look at Marin's dining scene, curated by a MVFF devotee.
A NIGHT OUT AT the movies is never complete without a delicious meal, and luckily for Mill Valley Film Festival attendees, Marin’s food scene is as colorful and diverse as the festival’s film lineup. Here are a few local dishes that pair well with what you’re seeing at the festival, all minutes away from MVFF’s main theater venues.
Dramas have always been a staple at MVFF. Whether rousing historical dramas like The King’s Speech (2010), coming-of-age epics like Boyhood (2014) or deeply felt character studies like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), they’ve been emotionally moving viewers since the festival’s inception. If you find yourself with leaky tear ducts and craving a little TLC after a film, head over to Mill Valley Beerworks to try the soul-soothing Westy Braised Duck Leg. A rich, glistening duck leg that’s been braised in Fort Point Westfalia Ale is nestled into a king-size bed of chickpea spätzle, with seasonal fruit and tiny bites of duck heart that reinforce the leg’s earthiness. All the ingredients are locally sourced, and you can taste the quality in every bite. The dish is extraordinary as is but approaches perfection when paired with a pint of Westfalia.
Looking for other dining options in Mill Valley? Check out our listings here.
For musicians and music-lovers, the humble burrito is the undisputed king of jam session foods. So whether you’re just coming out of one of MVFF’s many music films or getting ready to head over to the Sweetwater for one of the festival’s live music events, do yourself a favor and stop by Puentez Taqueria in San Rafael for their game-changing carnitas burrito. The pork is so flavorful and fatty that it coats your lips as you eat, the bean/veg/meat/rice ratio is spot-on, and the burritos are rolled perfectly taut (a woefully under-appreciated culinary skill). As the gigantic sign over the outdoor seating proudly proclaims, this is the best burrito in town.
Looking for other dining options in San Rafael? Check out our listings here.
VIVA EL CINE
Viva el Cine is one of MVFF’s most popular ongoing initiatives, showcasing new films and filmmakers from Spanish and Latin American countries. In the same vein, Mill Valley’s Playa aims to transport you to Mexico, via authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern accent. Go see one of the festival’s Vive el Cine selections next door at the Sequoia, then pop into Playa for the Enchiladas de Mole Rojo, a simple, irresistibly pretty plate of two glorious beef cheek enchiladas doused in the elegantly complex house mole. The garnishes of pepitas, citrus segments, cilantro and crema drizzle counterbalance the rich main components perfectly, and the bar’s prime selection of mezcals and margaritas is guaranteed to make it a night to remember (or not).
Unlike a lot of big film festivals, Mill Valley’s is great for date nights thanks to Marin’s picturesque landscapes and the wide local selection of top-notch restaurants. If you and a special someone plan to catch one of the several excellent romantic films on the lineup, end the night right at Guesthouse with its show-stopping Green Eggs & Ham Bucatini. Chef Jared Rogers enrobes house-made bucatini (a true rarity) in a luscious, herbaceous pesto with pieces of bacon and prosciutto folded in to give every bite a salty, meaty pop of flavor. Peas and pine nuts add dimension and texture, and it’s all topped off with a perfectly seasoned poached egg to complete the Seussian theme.
MVFF’s family film program is perhaps the festival’s most underrated, offering a small but diverse selection of kid-friendly features and shorts that are as carefully curated as the main programs and great for an afternoon outing. Johnny Doughnuts is an absolute fail-safe destination for post-movie munchies when the little ones inevitably beg for sweets, and it’s super easy to find: the main location on Fourth Street is just blocks away from the Smith Rafael Film Center, the new location at Marin Country Mart is a few minutes’ drive from all MVFF venues, and you may even get lucky and catch one of the food trucks parked at one of the festival’s big events. With its wide variety of old-school and new-school doughnuts made with fresh local ingredients and a vibe that screams nostalgia within a modern, sleek aesthetic, Johnny Doughnuts is a haven for sugar-cravers young and old. It’s impossible to pick just one flavor to recommend, especially since the menu is so seasonal, but the Bismarcks (the Rolls-Royce of filled doughnuts) are nearly unbeatable.
ART HOUSE AND EXPERIMENTAL
Art and avant-garde films are always well represented at MVFF and draw crowds of adventurous cinephiles ready for something outside the box. For those with a thirst for the wild and weird, the Doc Holliday at The Tavern on Fourth in San Rafael is a strangely delicious craft cocktail that’ll challenge the taste buds in the best way possible. Created by bar manager Brandon Manning, the spaghetti western–inspired drink is a concoction of Rittenhouse Rye, sorghum syrup, house-made amaro, house-made epazote, valerian root, and tobacco bitters, stirred over ice, poured into a chilled glass and finished by flaming a mixture of black walnut bitters and orange oil over the top. It’s something of an “unpretty” drink, served murky, brown and unadorned, with strange, almost nebulous flavors that hit you in waves. Just like the best art-house flicks, the Doc Holliday is hard to pin down, an experience that may not be for everyone but rewards those willing to try something that’s distinctly “other.”
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Meal Tickets”.