I strolled over to Mr.S’s office today to meet him for lunch, al fresco. It was one of those rare, hot days in SF, almost 80 under the sun. I’ve been craving Mexican food often lately, probably because of all the time I’ve spent in China this past month, eating, well, Chinese food. Mexican food is like the complete opposite- full of melty cheese, beans, avocado, and a whole different kind of spice. (Traditional Beijingese style food actually lacks heat, using very little chili peppers.) Mr.S suggested Tlaloc, a quick spot to grab some fresh Mexican fare in the Financial District.
If you’re dining in, you order at the counter, take a number, and sit either inside or outside in their dining area, and wait for your food to be delivered. The lines were long, but moved pretty quickly. The staff has this lunch crowd thing down. They had some interesting specials including a chicken burrito with pumpkin seed mole sauce, and a few options with nopales (cactus). I finally decided on the Tostada Costeña- grilled shrimp, tilapia, calamari and baby octopus, covered in adobo salsa over lettuce and a crispy tortilla ($9.95).
With a few trips to their self-serve salsa bar, we horded a small collection of mild to spicy salsas, all fresh and flavorful.
My tostada was more like a large seafood salad piled onto a small tortilla, but it was delicious; that adobo sauce gave it all a nice kick. I was surprised to see baby octopus, not that I minded, but it seemed out of place for the business lunch crowd that usually frequents this place.
The best part of my lunch was my watermelon agua fresca, with bits of watermelon all throughout, served over crushed ice. With the sun and spice that day, I gladly chugged it all down.
The food at Tlaloc is more Americanized Mexican food than what you’d find in the Mission, but it’s fresh and spicy, and still pretty tasty. Avoid weekday lunch hours when the lines are long, and almost impossible to find a table, unless you creepily lurk behind a seated group who’re almost finished. (We’ve all done that.) According to their menu, they’re now growing their own organic vegetables in Sonoma County, so you’ve got to feel good about that. The eggs that they use for their breakfast menu (available only at their Berkeley location) are all organic, from free-range chickens. Not a bad deal.
I ditched the boy for dinner to be with the girls all night long for a crazy bachelorette party. Thank goodness she is a fellow lover of Mexican food, as my lunchtime meal had not really satiated my cravings. Donned in our heels, beads, tiaras, and overcoats (the temp had dropped to unbearably chilly) we marched our champagne-filled selves over to the Marina, to Mamacita, a trendy Mexican tapas bar of sorts.
Like any reliable hotspot, the music was loud and the crowds were alive. Sit at the bar, that’s where the pretty people are. Well, at least that’s the usual case. But it’s worth cozying up to the bar to start off your evening with a couple of the margaritas…really damn good. I would stay with the classic; there was a pomegranate version that was too sweet, where we could hardly taste the Patrón. And snack on an order of the chips with salsa and guacamole.
Before ordering, just remember that the plates are not entrée sized; they’re meant for sharing. Hence, tapas. The tacos and enchiladas arrived, 3 small homemade tortillas to a plate. The carnitas were the real crowd pleaser of the evening- slow cooked pork with corn, avocado, salsa verde, crema latina and crumbly Mexican cotija cheese. The carne asada was similar, but not as tender as the pulled pork. The mahi mahi tacos looked more like a platter of Mexican fish-and-chips, as they were made with a cornmeal-beer batter.
My Ceviche Entomatado left much to be desired. Small bits of yellowtail were marinated with mango and pico de gallo, served up in a martini glass, surrounded by chips. Seemed kind of played out to me. I remember when something like this was the “it” dish, circa 2001. The flavors were alright, but there wasn’t enough fish for me to actually call this dish ceviche. The chips (for dipping in ceviche??) were a bit awkward too.
The chiles rellenos were an interesting take on the original- stuffed with black bean hummus and white pecan salsa. What are white pecans, anyway? Well, they ended up being pretty good; you can’t really go wrong with a fried, stuffed jalapeño pepper (or two), covered with cheese. Mmmm.
According to the bachelorette, the dessert looked like “pudding with peanuts and strawberries.” She was actually right on. It was a baked chocolate pudding with candied peanuts, caramel, dulce de leche gelato, and diced strawberries. Though not visually stunning, it was pretty tasty.
The real challenge of the evening for me was trying to remember everything I ate and take notes while taking shots of tequila, sipping one margarita after the next, and catching up with friends whom I’d not seen since college. Perhaps my judgment was slightly off, and definitely the quality of these pictures is somewhat lacking. However, I do remember raving about the food and margaritas to Mr.S the following morning, and promising to take him back for some delicious carnitas.
Most Mexican restaurants serve you up huge platters the size of sombreros filled with rice and beans, most of which is never really finished anyway. What I appreciate about Mamacita is the portion restraint, which allows all the dishes to be shared amongst friends. Definitely a trendy, modern take on Mexican fare. Most of the dishes tend to be a bit heavy, generous on the meat and sauce, so they’re quite filling. Next time, I’ll be sure to try the albondigas- Niman Ranch meatballs in a red mole, the jicama salad, and the churros con chocolate, those crispy fritters dipped in thick hot chocolate. Try to get there early, stake out a table or a niche at the bar, and plan on talking really really loudly over the music and fabulous crowds.