La Palma Mexicatessen – San Francisco, CA

La Palma Mexicatessen
2884 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110, United States
(415) 647-1500

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.

La Palma Mexicatessen on Urbanspoon

Longhouse Seafood Market – Vancouver, BC

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Longhouse Seafood Market
4288 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
Open seven days a week
Mon-Sat, 10am to 9pm
Sun, 11am to 7pm
Cash only

As a preface, let me begin by saying that I am not very familiar with the history of this business nor the neighborhood (Dunbar) where its found, so some of this background may need some confirmation.  But my understanding is that until recently, the Longhouse Seafood Market was a First Nations-owned and operated fishmonger, popular with those in the know, for its salmon (fresh, smoked, candy, jerky, etc.) along with seafood products (smoked oysters, canned sockeye, and live crab and lobster).  I randomly spotted a sign out front while driving by, and decided to stop in for a quick bite, not knowing at all it was formerly known more for its fresh market than as a place to sit down and eat.  The afore mentioned sign I saw stated in bold lettering, fresh oven baked halibut & chips, and for two pieces could be had for $14.99 (single piece offering was also available for $9.99).  The words “fresh” and “oven baked” got my attention, and at that price, I figured it was going to be a lot better than some joint that deep fries (in nasty old oil that hasn’t been changed in weeks) some frozen product coming out of some mass production plant.

Stepping inside, you immediately notice a few tables in the forefront of the space, which leads to a counter towards the back, with a display case at the far end.  When I walked inside, I noticed it was completely empty (both the display case and the seating area).  It was then that I had some doubts about what exactly this place was about, as the other fishmonger places I know of in the west side don’t have a cafe-like section for customer seating and are all about just selling fresh seafood to go.  Hesitantly, I asked for the halibut & chips offering, found that it was indeed on, paid for my order and sat down to wait.

And wait, and wait, and wait.  In the thirty minutes that passed, five other customers had come in.  Most were there to pick up some fresh halibut, salmon, etc.  One guy came in and got told it would take some time to prepare his order (same thing I asked for) and left instead.  Partway through my waiting time, the lone front of shop employee brought out a salad to my table, which was part of the meal.  A pleasant tasting, though not overly exciting mixed greens combination, with dried raisins, sunflower seeds, and a simple vinaigrette.

It seemed that my order was taking more time because the fishmonger in the back (incidently, seemed to have French accent, thus led me to believe the Native connection to this place is no longer) was in the process of breaking down some product they had just received.  At least that’s the sense I got from listening to the other customers’ conversations with him.  In fact, most of the customers that ordered something, stepped outside and said they’d come back later to pick it up, making me think that they were locals living nearby.  In one conversation, the man in the back said they had some lobster and offered it up to a customer, not sure if they still have the live tanks this place is said to have had back in the day.

Finally, when my plate was delivered, I was relieved to see that on first glance, it looked pretty good.  Nice light golden color, not that ugly dark burnt brown you see with deep fried variations, with an appetizing smokey scent coming from the chips.  Skin-on and still soft inside, the chips were very good, though a bit weak on the seasoning.  The halibut as soon as I cut into it with my fork, I knew was indeed fresh, flaky and a brilliant white in color, and the meat itself was very flavorful.  The outer crust, made with potato flakes, complimented nicely in terms of texture, as well as the side of chips.  A few squirts of fresh lemon gave the halibut a further upkick in taste.  The garnish of orange I thought was unnecessary though.

Despite the strange feeling of not knowing if this is indeed an eat-in place (on my way out, I briefly saw this simple computer printed sheet that had a name, something like “Sweetwater Cafe”, so perhaps that’s what they are trying to call that part of the business), the long wait time, and the virtually non-existant service for table seated guests, I’d recommend this place for the meal to be had.  Fresh, oven baked halibut & chips, doesn’t get much simpler than that, and that is indeed what this place offers, and delivers well.

Longhouse Seafood Market on Urbanspoon