Breakfast in the Mission
A few weeks ago I asked if anyone had recommendations for a place to find good pan dulce in San Francisco. Since I didn't receive any tips, we decided to hit the streets in search of a good Mexican bakery. Here is a review of what we found this past Saturday on 24th street between South Van Ness and Potrero.
A note on procedure: my girlfriend's (Erika's) favorite pan dulce are empanadas de calabaza, or pumpkin turnovers. My personal favorite are churros, which need no introduction. Erika's hometown panaderia (see link) makes stellar versions of each of these. Our plan was to try each of these items at each bakery. Unfortunately none of the bakeries we visited sold churros, so we substituted empanadas de manzana (apple turnovers) instead.
24th at Alabama
Our first stop was La Victoria, the only SF panaderia for which I have ever heard a recommendation. I no longer remember who it was that first told me about this place, which is good for them as they deserve a good thumping: the empanadas here were terrible. The pumpkin was overly sweet and had a tinny, stewed taste. The apple filling was tasty enough, but there was hardly any of it in the dry, bitter dough. This was the most expensive bakery, at $2 for the two items (I don't remember the exact prices at the rest, but they were generally about $0.50 to $0.60 per empanada).
24th between Shotwell and Folsom
The empanadas de calabaza were stale; they must have been at least a day old. The piña (pineapple) was incredibly sweet and unpleasantly candy-like.
24th between Potrero and Hampshire
We didn't try anything from this bakery. They did not make calabaza and were out of manzana. This place had the smallest selection of all the bakeries.
Panaderia La Mexicana
24th between Bryant and York
Definitely our favorite of the morning. The apples were firm, mildly sweet and tart, and encased in an egg washed dough. The calabaza was sweet and very orange in color, and was encased in the same dough but was not egg washed. The portion of fillings were generous and the dough thin and fresh. Neither was as good as Esperanza "back home," but good enough to hold us over between trips to Sacramento. This place also had the widest selection of other items, including an entire display case of just cookies. Another case was filled with beautiful knots, braids, and bows of made from yellow bread dough. They were shiny with egg wash and smooth, it was obvious they had been kneaded for a very long time; imagine bread with an elastic grain that resembles saltwater taffy. I plan to return and try some of these beautiful items. This was also the busiest bakery; we waited behind four people to pay here, whereas we were the only customers in the other bakeries.
After all the pan dulce, we were inexplicably hungry for a meal. Having read the favorable report of Mission Villa on this board, I decided to sit down and give it a try. They were serving their normal menu (minus ceviche) and a small breakfast menu. Unfortunately our experience was not pleasant, in fact Erika has no interest in returning (though I am willing to try dinner sometime). There were only 1 1/2 people working there at the time: one hosting and waiting, the other showed up well after we had ordered to make our food. Both were young men, under 20 I think, and were friendly but didn't seem to care about the food.
We were served chips and salsa. The chips were great, hot and fresh right out of the fryer. The salsa I didn't care for: it had a strong taste of an herb that I could not identify (anybody know?). We had to ask twice for water, and three times for my coffee.
I ordered huevos rancheros a la mexicana. The eggs were cooked exactly to my liking: the yolks a little runny, a little hard. But they were overly and unevenly salted. The refried black beans, also over salted, were pasty and dry. I suspect they were left over from the previous night's dinner. The salad was watery, so much so that my beans and eggs were surrounded by water. Coffee was thin and bitter.
Erika's sopes con pollo were marred by the same old, salty beans. The other components were good though: well seasoned though mild chicken, crumbled queso, thick and fresh crema, and crispy sopes. Well, crispy in those spots not ruined by the same watery salad. A requested side of beans never arrived, which was fine anyway since they would have gone uneaten due to the salt.
Total bill came to $13.
La Palma Mexicatessen
This was my first visit to the market famous for its hand made masa and all it's subsequent preparations, and for their potato chips. I bought a small bag of chips, which came with a packet of Tapatio. These are really, really good, though I must say that they were a little heavy for one not used to eating much pork fat anymore. Definitely to be savored in small quantities.
I took a tamale Salvadoreño con pollo home with me, which we warmed and ate the following evening. Awful. The banana leave imparted a funky taste and odor to the masa. The masa itself was too wet and undercooked. The chicken filling included bones. After a couple bites each we tossed the rest.