A memorable experience at a young age can lead to inspiration later in life. Mario Del Pero grew up in Yuba City, and his family vacationed along California’s North Coast as a child, and the small-town ethos and culture really stuck with him. Years later, when he and his wife, fellow NorCal ex-pat Ellen Chen, opened their first restaurant in SoCal, they decided to name it after the area where Del Pero vacationed as a child. Thus, Mendocino Farms was born.

After opening 16 locations in the L.A., Orange County and San Diego areas, they’ve finally made the leap and brought their brand home in December with their first store opening at the Pruneyard, and another recent opening at Santana Row.

“For years, we have wanted to bring Mendo back to Northern California. Last year, we finally built a large enough big kitchen—we produce almost everything from scratch—that allowed us to begin to bring Mendo home,” Del Pero explains.

Mendocino Farms has a simple goal: bring farm-fresh locally sourced food to the table and provide a space to be the community hangout. To achieve the latter, the entire restaurant was redesigned, making way for a 3,000-square-foot communal dining space that includes a covered patio, foosball table and children’s area. They even plan to provide a space to play cornhole.

As for achieving the first part of their mission, Del Pero and Chen turned to a few familiar faces for help. “Whole Foods Market invested in our company two years ago, which gave us even more insight into a thoughtful supply chain,” Del Pero says.

Before I even entered the restaurant, decisions had to be made; Mendo’s menu is seemingly very simple—as it’s mainly salads and sandwiches—but after a quick glance, it became clear that choosing a dish wouldn’t be easy. Their seasonal Real Old-School Pastrami ($13) seemed like a no-brainer and, of course, I upgraded to the larger 10-ounce version ($19). We also grabbed the classic “Not-So Fried” Chicken sandwich ($11.50) and the Impossible Taco Salad ($12) to help round things out.

Once the entrées are selected, diners are guided to the deli area where they can sample all the restaurant’s sides—and even beer and wine, which are aptly named “bamples.” After partaking of a few, I decided on the Marinated Red Beets and Quinoa ($4.50) as its combination of zesty, sweet and earthy was delightful; the crunch from the honey-roasted almonds was a pleasant surprise, as well. My cohort went simple and chose the classic dill potato salad ($4.50) for its well-balanced herby and creamy flavor with the fluffy, soft red potato chunks.

First up was the chicken sandwich, and it was a real treat; the moist chicken breast is rolled in fried “krispies” that give it the texture of a fried chicken sandwich, without all the heaviness. The chewy ciabatta, pickle slaw and mustard remoulade made for one tasty sandwich.

To cleanse our palates we dived into the salad, which features the plant-based Impossible Burger “meat” with some chorizo spices infused into it. The “meat” itself was incredibly flavored and textured and had us second-guessing if it was really vegan. When combined with the kale, tomatoes, avocado, black beans and vegan chipotle ranch dressing it made for one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time.

We were feeling stuffed at this point, but with one look at the beast of a pastrami sandwich before us, we both caught our second wind. The mountain-high pile of red meat, slaw and rye bread is the stuff of carnivores’ dreams. We each stole a few slices out of the middle to get a taste and were in awe. The meat imparted a fine smoky flavor, beefy and not overly salted like some pastramis can be—and I also appreciated that they left a few strips of the exterior fat cap on the slices. The sandwich as a whole was almost perfect; my only minor gripe was a few pieces of the pastrami were a touch dry.

After just one Mendo experience, it’s plain to see why they’ve been successful: Friendly service, a clean comfortable space and terrific food that’s good for you—and the earth—will keep patrons coming back time and again. This is an important mission for Del Pero and Ellen to be a vital part of the community, and they’re achieving it one store at a time.