San Franciscans are passionate about their favorite Mexican eateries, and everyone is quick to claim their chosen burrito joint as the best in the city. But by and large the famous San Francisco burrito is not an authentic Mexican food at all, but rather one that evolved in the city’s own vibrant Mission District. But the Mission is a rich and diverse tapestry of Latino culture, and if you look a little deeper, you can find some real regional Mexican cuisine.
Perhaps the most authentic Mexican fare is the taco, and taquerias pepper the neighborhood on numerous corners. The fittingly named La Taqueria trips off the tongues of many locals, but for our money we head over to El Tonayense. The Santana family hails from Tonaya, Jalisco (hence the name), and sizzles up a mean Jalisco-style taco; carne asada and carnitas are especially good. And if you want to kick up the authenticity up a notch, track down one of their taco trucks, like the one up at Harrison and Duboce. After all, tacos are street food in Mexico.
Food from the southern state of Oaxaca is markedly different. At La Oaxaqueña, you’ll find tamales wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks, as well as pupusas, a delicacy of nearby El Salvador. And if you want to get really authentic, why not try a grasshopper taco? Yes, you read that right.
Down on 24th Street, La Torta Gorda serves up Puebla-style dishes including, not surprisingly, sandwiches. Fat ones! Be sure to check out the classic Cubana, a meatfest with ham, turkey, pulled pork and … hot dog. But La Torta Gorda also features a number of Poblano specialties, such as huaraches, corn “sandals” topped with meats and cactus.
Yucatecan/Mayan food has been on the rise in the city lately. If you’ve got a hankering for salbutos (fried tortillas stuffed with black beans and topped with shredded turkey), salbut’ (fried tortilla puff with shredded turkey, cabbage and onion) or the classic cochinita pibil (annatto-rubbed pork roasted in a banana leaf), hit up El Maya Yucatan, Poc-Chuc or newcomer Haltun.
And if you want the best of all worlds, head over to Chilango. The name is slang for a person from Mexico City, and Chilango serves up a smattering of dishes from the country’s greatest melting pot: Tortas, huaraches, enchiladas, tamales and more. And it’s served with a side of feel-good; Chilango uses local and sustainable ingredients in all its dishes.
[Photo by Gary Soup]