Papalote – San Francisco, CA

Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 970-8815

In seeing Shokutsu’s review of venerable Mission Burrito institution Papalote, it got me thinking. It’s so interesting how two people with a similar philosophy and preferences can look at a similar place with a completely different view point when dining in isolation.  Especially when they come in with different expectations. From his perspective, it was a recommendation from a local guide. “Several good meals” had been had. A solid, yet unspectacular review.

On the other hand, in my never ending quest for great burrito’s, driven by my first experiences in Pasadena CA, I ran across super burrito fan website burritoeater several years ago, who consistently had the Mission location of Papalote rated in the top 3.  Of particular note was the consistently high scores for the Carne Asada and the Tofu. The carniverous side of me was intrigued that someone who was so diligent and structured in his passion for burritos could place tofu on the same pantheon as meat!! Truly shocking.

Just off the corner of Valencia and 24th, around the corner from my favorite San Francisco coffee house Ritual Coffee Roasters, Papalote can be difficult location to spot.
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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

Duarte’s Tavern – Pescadero, CA

Duarte’s Tavern
202 Stage Road
Pescadero, CA 94060
(650) 879-0464

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I have to admit, there is something uniquely satisfying about the small town find. When you find a hole in the wall in a large city, you’re ecstatic, but at the same point, not surprised. After all, in a city of any size, you expect there to be excellent food. For this city dweller, when you venture into a town of 2000 people and find excellent food, it recalls the expeditions of Columbus; Drake; Cook; Cabot; Marco Polo.

Duarte’s Tavern, just off of the scenic Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway, makes you feel like you’ve found one of those places. Of course, it isnt some hole in the wall location at all. But a very well known spot on a busy highway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz – a place was I told to stop in for pie.

Replete with tumbleweeds, Pescadero is a short drive south of San Francisco. When we pulled up, we passed some equally intriguing locations. A mexican restaurant in the gas station. A bakery. Next time, I’ll have more stomach room for adventure. For now, it was all about pie.

The building is split into two – a tavern side, and a restaurant side. There was a long wait to be seated on the restaurant side, but seeing as we were two adults, they mentioned we could be seated immediately in the bar. We took them up on that offer.

The bartender came over immediately, and grabbed our drink orders and provided some useful advice. Throughout our meal, he was friendly, jovial, and efficient. This was the practiced hand of a man who was used to serving an entire bar at once, and keeping everyone entertained at the same time. On his recommendation, we ordered some artichoke soup, and a serving of pie.

First thing plonked down in front of us was a fresh, warm loaf of sourdough bread. San Francisco is globally known as the sourdough capital, so I expected some great bread based on the proximity. Now, not everyone is a fan of sourdough (my dining companion was not), and while i’ll admit it does not go with everything, it does go great with butter, and creamy soups. This loaf of SD was no exception – it had great flavour, with crunchy, toothsome, sour bites. Did i mention it was warm? And with butter, tasty!

While I had heard about Duartes as a destination for excellent pie, the bartender insisted that they were famous for their cream of artichoke soup. What he delivered was a steaming bowl of creamy…artichoke. I guess I wasnt sure what to expect. The flavour was subtle. Very subtle. The cream did a good job of deliverying the woody, fresh flavour of the artichoke. And did an even better job of being soaked up by the bread. This was an excellent artichoke soup, but probably not my preferred kind of soup. A little too thick. And not enough flavour. But i’ll admit it’s a tough balance. Im not sure acidity, nor seasoning, would have fixed it. I probably would’ve crisped some pancetta and served it with some chive oil. Might balance it out a bit, but who knows. Im no expert by any means.

But what i came here for, was the pie. We ordered the Olallieberry pie – something i’d never heard of before. But i love berries, and i was told it was similar to a cross between a saskatoon and a blackberry. Thanks to the power of wikipedia, apparently, an Olallieberry is a cross between a logan berry and a youngberry – which is a blackberry/raspberry cross mixed with a blackberry/dewberry cross. It is grown primarily in a small patch (roughly 100 acres of producing land) in Northern California, and has a short growing season – roughly from mid-June to mid-July.

What an Olallieberry is to me is awesome. It was a great blend of tart and sweet. And a perfect filling for a pie.

Verdict? Great flaky crust. Wonderful combination of sweet and tart. The proffered vanilla ice cream should’ve been accepted, as it would’ve been a great accompaniment. But seeing as I had already eaten lunch, and this was strictly a snack, I was near the end of my rope in terms of prime belly real estate.

Overall, there isn’t much more to say. The pie at Duarte’s really is good. The famous artichoke soup, well, if you’re into very subtle flavours, might just be your style. The town of Pescadero looks like an interesting place to visit – sort of a yuppie tourist visits the country kind of town. And the drive to get there really is some spectacular coastline. So the next time you’re driving the #1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, take a left at the beach with the kite surfers, and head the few miles down the way to Pescadero, and Duarte’s. There’s a lot of different pies to try.