The last thing you’d expect to find at a Mexican restaurant is Chinese forbidden rice. And yet, there it was on Sun of Wolf’s menu—paired with a Thai-style pan-seared cod ($29). Only the jicama, tomatillo and mango side slaw seemed to affirm their self-described approach to cuisine as “Old World Mexican roots and modern Bay Area flavors.” But as the dishes began to arrive at the table, the Mexican roots were clearly enhanced, not muddled by fusion ingredients.

If you only wanted a glass of wine or one of their specialty cocktails at the bar, there are almost a dozen starters to accompany drinks before dinner. A queso fundido with chorizo and oyster mushrooms ($14) went to another table with a splendid golden brown crust. And lighter fare also sounded refreshing, like a beet tartare ($15) and a summer squash salad ($14). Instead of the aguachile, a shrimp ceviche ($16), we opted for the sauteed camarón ($16) and a hearty bowl of pozole verde ($14). Served in a small cast iron skillet, addictive morsels of pancetta had been rendered down in a chile negro butter that also bubbled over the shrimp. That sauce was irresistible and we mopped up every drop of it with slices of bread after polishing off the plump crustaceans.

With just the right amount of subtle spicy heat, the green pozole was spot on, too. A white bowl was filled with hominy, oyster mushrooms, tortilla strips and a fried queso panela that was so tender it ate like a piece of poached trout. If you happen to be in the neighborhood on a rainy day this fall, order a container of it to take home with you. It might even cure a cold. Sun of Wolf is a family venture run by cousins Alexa and Paulina Sol and Viari Lopez. Their parents own several restaurants in the area, including Palo Alto Sol right next door on California Avenue. Paulina, who is running the kitchen, also checked in on us from time to time when a waiter couldn’t answer a question. She was knowledgeable, patient and more than willing to explain Sun of Wolf’s culinary approach. The entrées, tasting of thoughtfully improvised flavors, never abandoned the familiar elements of Mexican food at its most comforting.

Duck confit tacos ($22) are at the top of that list of comfort foods. Serving duck that’s tender—and not greasy or fatty—is a major accomplishment. Imparting flavor into the cooked bird is another matter, but this confit did the trick. The tortillas looked like they were the blue corn variety but were actually homemade with huitlacoche, the corn fungus that makes chefs fumble on certain episodes of Chopped. An avocado puree and a scarlet flor de jamaica gastrique complemented, rather than overwhelmed, the duckiness. The server also suggested that adding in the pretty slices of watermelon radish would make for a perfect bite, and it was. Or they were. One savored after another.

Between the aforementioned Thai cod and the gorgeous roasted garlic chicken thighs ($26), we once again chose to eat the pig. La pierna de cien años ($28) is otherwise known as slow-cooked carnitas braised in Negra Modelo (beer), fresh-squeezed mandarins and sun-dried chiles. If there was only one thing to quibble about with this dish, it wouldn’t be the way it tastes. Sun of Wolf serves it with two outstanding sides, a salad made of gigante beans, pine nuts and crunchy fennel, and a stack of lightly salted, purple potato chips. What’s missing are tortillas. You can order them for an additional $5, but they’re a necessary component to wrap up the pork. The chips, while welcome and tasty, simply aren’t essential.

Regardless of that tiny travesty, the profiteroles ($12) worked their usual magic to dull the anxieties of any troubled mind. As originally conceived on the dessert menu, they’re meant to show up confettied in coconut. That was a no go for our table. Thankfully, Paulina genuflected to our desires and those cream puffs materialized, to our delight, filled with ice cream and adorned only with ribbons of chocolate and a lone purple pansy for show. When profiteroles are this good, you can forgive a restaurant anything, even an $8(!) bottle of ordinary Pellegrino.

Sun of Wolf
$$, Mexican
406 California Ave, Palo Alto