Day 3 (Saturday):
8:15 Saturday am and we head for the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on our favourite streetcar (Milan). We made a beeline for the Primavera stand as the lineup was long in November but I had my chilaquiles in hand within 5 minutes this time. We sat in the sun munching and gazing at the Bay Bridge. Does it get better than this? Because the crowds are so much more manageable, we made it around the market in about an hour, even with stops to drool and sample (June Taylor! tempura asparagus!). Tried to get J to do a smoked salmon taste test for Morton the Mousse but it was too early in the a.m. :-(. Dithered about whether to buy beans at Rancho Gordo and decided against it (suitcase issues) but what a phenomenal selection. The fresh produce was also amazing – J commented on the ridiculously gorgeous piles of red onions and the artichokes were Jurassic. On the way out, we nabbed a bag of chips at Lulu Petite (somehow I only ended up getting one of these, but it was goodgood) and an HK milk tea from Out the Door (tasty but too sweet for me to finish the whole thing).
The eatfest continued after a scenic ride by Muni metro and bus to 24th in the Mission. It was Cesar Chavez day and the street was closed to cars for a parade. We decided to do an al pastor taco taste off and started at Taqueria Vallarta (3033 24th St) where the tacos are $1.50 each and are served from what used to be an outdoor cart -- see pic attached. Great to be able to add your own onions, cilantro, salsa and lime. Next we hit Taqueria San Jose (2830 Mission) where they do the al pastor gyros style on a spit. I didn’t catch the prices as we had been joined by the BIL and he paid. The al pastor was good here, a bit less greasy than others we’ve had in SF, and the chips and salsa were tasty, especially the cruda which I only get at home if I make it myself. Overall impression of the two places today and Taqueria Reina yesterday is that I haven’t yet found the elusive taco al pastor of memory and maybe never will outside of Mexico. But damn, the search is a good thing :-).
Our final taco tasteoff stop was the controversial La Taqueria (2889 Mission at 25th) where we had to switch to carnitas as they don’t have al pastor. We had heard about the crispy (dorado) tacos and had to give them a try. They are a different beasty entirely so it’s not really fair to compare them to the previous al pastores but I have to say we were instant converts. And I’m pretty sure we went here in 2003 but had the regular tacos and were not as impressed. So maybe it’s all about the dorados; they were stellar that day and worth every penny of the $3.50 price that I understand is part of the controversy. I could eat two and that would be lunch for me, so they seemed a relatively good value. The fact that they have lovely whole pinto beans inside is perhaps somewhat unorthodox but really worked for all of us, and we loved the salsa they put in too. We eschewed the proffered cheese and guac/avoc options and I think that was wise as you could taste each ingredient and yet they all went together. I would go back to all three places given the chance but I think I would seek out the tacos dorados at La Taqueria. So sue me.
In between taco-ing, we explored Mercado Casa Lucas (2934 24th St), admiring the chayote and tuna roja -- see pic attached -- as well as reminiscing about Chocomilk powder. We also managed to inhale a couple of fruity pastries from Panaderia La Victoria (2937 24th St) and ogle the corn tortillas being hand-patted out in La Palma Mexicatessen (2884 24th St). I would have bought some to munch on but the lineup was humongous and my companions only had so much patience!
We finally tore ourselves away from the 24th street hood and headed back towards the BIL’s nabe of 18th and Guerrero by way of Ritual Coffee (1026 Valencia near 21st) at the request of J. This funky hangout was just as good as last time in November 2007, complete with a very witty photography installation and beans being actively roasted and stirred in front of us. We continued on with renewed vigour, stopping at Casa Bonampak (3331 24th at near Osaga; www.casabonampak.com = online fair-trade folk art goodies from Chiapas and central Mexico). We had ice cream at BiRite Creamery (3692 18th) – mmm salted caramel! – and we had another drool fest at BiRite Grocery (3639 18th near Judah) which included a sample of the most excellent Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque region in the Pyrenees. Alas, I fear it is not available in Vancouver but if you are in SF and haven’t tried it, may I recommend you do. We managed to control ourselves but I couldn’t resist nabbing a BiRite carry bag. I know I’m going to get questions when I break it out on shopping expeditions in Vancouver :-). Since we were near BIL’s place we stopped there for proper English tea (they are actually English so tea making in my house can be a bit fraught for a mere Canadian). Then it was off to shop on Valencia, after which we hopped in the car and hit the nearby Trader Joe’s, with a pitstop to observe an SF taco truck in its natural habitat (one of the La Tonayense ones) although we did not indulge as we were trying to save room for…. dinner! What a great day, and it wasn’t over yet.
We had lamentably unnecessary resos at Poc Chuc fka Chichen Itza (2886 16th S btwn South Van Ness and Shotwell) for 7:30. When we arrived there was one other table of two and I think that was it for the night, except for some takeout orders. The server (who may also have been the owner) was incredibly gracious, offering us complimentary sangria or red wine. We chose sangria which was delicious. As no alcoholic beverages were listed I suspect this and the bottle of red wine on offer were provided expressly for us. We started with the Platillo Maya ($10) and an order of plantains with a delightful side of mixed greens ($6). The platillo (which by the way was beautifully plated) had an empanada, a tostado, a salbute, a panucho and a small flauta-type beasty called a kotzito. We shared these and I decided to order two more each of the salbute, panuchos and an empanada as a main, while the guys went for the eponymous Poc Chuc marinated pork ($14) and the pollo pibil ($12). Both were extremely generous in size and delicious from the tastes I had. The total bill came to $56 so I’m guessing they only charged me $10 for my customized main, and of course there were the gratis libations. Outrageously good value for well presented home-style cooking. So where are the customers? As J said, I fear this place will not be here the next time we visit, which is a real shame because the food, service, ambience and room were all winners. Perhaps it is the neighbourhood, which seemed out of the way (although easy to get to on BART) and a bit sketchy to a visitor…
Taqueria San Jose
2830 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
3033 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110