La Palma Mexicatessen
2884 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110, United States
The Mission. When you talk about Mexican food and The Mission, usually, the first thing that comes up is the Mission Burrito – a gargantuan flour tortilla, stuffed to the brim with meat, rice and beans. However, while Mission institutions like La Taqueria did spawn the fresh-mex movement that ended up becoming Chipotle and Baja Fresh, the Mission also has some great authentic Mexican hole in the wall places. Cheap, chock full of lard, tasty eateries serving the large Hispanic population that lives there.
In my never ending quest for fried potatoes, i caught wind from Almattone that there was a Mexican deli in the Mission that was serving up fresh papitas fritas. La Palma. We drove the streets without a firm address – just a name, and an idea. Thankfully, we lucked across La Palma, which happens to be on the main “Mexican” drag on 24th Street. Excited, we popped into the grocery store/deli combination, looking for these chips.
Well, unfortunately, they didn’t have any. Sold out in fact. A long long drive for nothing. Or so we thought. However, the deli at the back was lined up, and intriguing. With ladies making tortillas, fryers running, and heat lamps storing a variety of different foods, we noticed some good looking barbacoa, some carnitas, some not so great carne asada, and a variety of other Mexican treats. Fresh corn tortillas, pazole, classic meats both fried and stewed, and a variety of flautas, tortas, burritos, papusa’s, taco’s, tamales – all the good accouterments of a Mexican deli. Not a waste after all! Everyone only spoke Spanish, but I could struggle through with my rudimentary language skills.
We tried the carnitas, chicharrones, and the barbacoa. The barbacoa was good – heavy, pungent flavour, though not tender enough for me. The carnitas were pretty decent too – bursts of flavour, citrus and spice, mixed with heavy doses of lard made for a rich carnitas. The chicharrones were crispy goodness, though I can only personally handle a small quantity.
However, while the deli food was good quality and fairly inexpensive, I was still a bit disappointed. After all, I’d come looking for fresh potato chips. Nothing from the deli was going to satisfy that craving. La Palma got back burnered.
Fast forward a year, and Im back – this time, dragging a variety of innocent bystanders back down 24th street because we happen to be passing “somewhat” near by. Back in I go, filled with hope, excitement and energy. I look, and I look, and nothing. Once again, a huge let down. A friend suggests I go and ask. I look at the lineup and decline, I have no interest in waiting in line for 5 minutes only to have my hopes dashed again.
“Oh, this is ridiculous. You look like someone stole your lunch money. I’m going to ask”.
Bless the eight months pregnant and their ability to push their way to the front of the line without starting a war. “Papas fritas?” she asks. “Papitas Fritas?” is the reply. “Aya”. She points 2 feet to my left. They are buried between packages of Chicharrones and tortilla chips. Holy Guacamole! We’re in business. I buy 6 packages. I get a strange look from the cashier. “Lo siento – yo soy un poco extraño”. She laughs, shakes her head and rings up my purchase for 8 bucks.
Verdict? Not bad. The chips were well seasoned, and perfectly crispy. A nice potato flavour. A great snack for drinking some Negro Modelo. But there was a problem. Whatever form of fat they were cooked in left a bit of a rancid taste to the chips. It’s the bitterness i associate with old, dirty fryer oil. I could eat a third of a bag, and I was done. These were not the potato chips of my dreams.
What did I learn from all this? Not much really. Perseverance doesn’t pay off. It certainly didn’t teach me about happy endings. I guess the lesson for today is never be embarrassed to ask. You never know when what you are looking for is lying right beneath your nose. Not the worst lesson from a bag of papitas fritas – my Mexican fortune cookie for this day.