I got off BART at the 24th Street station in the Mission and walked east. My goal was to visit several places on 24th Street that had been mentioned here in the distant past. My notes are a little hazy (being as they're in my head), so apologies for any wrong details.
My first intended destination was Panchita's (2990 24th St) for pupusas. When I got there, though, I found that it was a construction site. It had been completely gutted and wet paint smells were coming out. I couldn't tell if it was being renovated or if the storefront is turning into something else.
My back-up plan was La Palma Mexicatessen (2884 24th St), also reputed for pupusas. I found, though, that it did not have any seating. It's kind of an interesting place, a combination of a few different sorts of shops: food shop, taco stand, and a couple other things that I didn't study closely. I needed to sit down at that point, though, so I kept moving.
Next stop was the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor (2817 24th St). They were open and had seats, so that was enough for me to walk in and sit down. But what an odd place! It's small and dark inside, so spare and minimal that it's almost in fashion. Gruff signs are posted on the walls, such as "don't sit at tables that haven't been cleaned!". The place was being run by a lady with a personality to match the signs, one of those people who you intuit is actually okay even though she's acting like sharp glass on the pavement. Not much smalltalk ensued. The menu indicates that the place doesn't have beer because it has just changed ownership and its liquor license isn't through yet, so I'm wondering if the reputation of the place still holds. Alas I never ate there under the old management, so I can't compare.
In any case, I ended up with a pork tamale the size of a baseball, smothered in red sauce. (I ordered from the a la carte section at the back of the menu, which was a much better deal than the meals with a few pennies' worth of rice and beans for three bucks more.) I am not an authority on tamales, so I cannot tell you whether baseball-sized tamales are common. This one was certainly pleasant to eat. The sauce was creamy, and appealing more for its comfort qualities, texture and warmth, than for any distinct flavors that you could pick out in it. The tamale included quite a bit of shredded pork, also comforting when covered with sauce. It was hardly gourmet Mexican food, but for a few bucks it was hard to complain.
I also walked into several Mexican bakeries along 24th St. The most interesting was roughly across the street from Roosevelt Tamale Parlor and maybe a little to the east. It may have been called La Mexicana. I had a pastry in the shape of a swan that was filled with some sort of lemon cream. The big problem of most Mexican bakeries in my opinion is a strong emphasis on shelf life that makes everything rather dry. The sugary jam instead of real fruit fillings doesn't help either. But this swan escaped those problems. It was moist and tasted fresh.
Runner-up in the bakery category was La Victoria (2937 24th St), which is an interesting place with some groceries as well as pastries, definitely not designed for tourist consumption. Their big draw, though, is not the pastries (which are in the ordinary-to-good range) but their orange cat, who seems rather mournful but sure likes a good ear-scratching.