Carnitas (1/2 lb.).
Churros. (No snickering.)
Is it the dawn of Taqueria 2.0? With the growing number of places in San Francisco serving more than burritos and the same old taco line-up, and a commitment to using sustainable and quality ingredients, it’s a good thing to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my al pastor super burrito, hells no, but I do like adding a few more dishes to my Mexi mix.
Let’s survey Exhibit A: owner Victor Hugo Juarez opened ~CHILANGO~ in his former Azteca Taqueria space on Church (near Chow). The new menu from chef Roberto Aguiar-Cruz (Mexico DF, Fonda) features a number of Mexico City “antojitos” (which are basically snacks for when you are jonesing for a little something-something to eat), and his California spin on them is to use quality meats (Niman Ranch) and organic produce when possible. It’s a burrito-free zone, so stop looking for them right now.
If you’re with a group, start with a trio of sopes ($11), three thick little “tortilla tarts” of the bright green house masa that’s made with cactus. They come topped with your choice of beef picadillo (my table’s favorite), papa con chorizo (great flavor), Oaxaca cheese, poblano rajas, or mushrooms. They all come sprinkled with cotija cheese, shredded cabbage, and crema (Mexican-style sour cream).
The chile relleno ($10) was almost perfect—the plump roasted poblano pepper was masterfully battered, and had a pleasant tickle of heat. Unfortunately, the Oaxaca cheese inside was rubbery. The bright tomato sauce that covered the plate was a good foil to the fried and cheesy elements of the dish.
While I prefer the seasoning and presentation of the juicy carnitas at Nopalito, the chunks o’ carnitas you can get here are also delicious (1/2 lb. for $12, or 1 lb. for $22). They come with a side of fresh guacamole, four delicious salsas, and made-to-order tortillas, so you can assemble your own tacos as you eat your way through the plate. The handmade tortillas are thick and rather durable—be sure to eat them while they’re hot.
Really hungry? Is it Manwich time? Go for the torta ahogada ($10), a tender and spongy bun stuffed with carnitas, black beans, and avocado, plus delicious pickled red onions that really perk it all up. The whole thing is soaking under a blanket of chunky tomato and jalapeño chile sauce, so it’s a definite fork-and-knifer. Our table christened it the Mexican sloppy Joe.
My favorite dish, however, was the pozole ($10), a beautiful steaming bowl of such a flavorful broth, full of the rugged sexiness of guajillo chile, with shredded chicken, hominy, and topped with shredded cabbage and thin wisps of radish. You should add a squirt or two of fresh lime, and crunch in as many of the house-made chips as you like. It tastes hearty and homey—love the texture, balance, heat, and depth of this dish.
Dessert: it’s all about some of the best churros ($5) I’ve had in the city. They’re almost cake-like, and put those ridged and desiccated street numbers to shame. And yes, our table made plenty of jokes about what these plump donut sticks look like. Hey, we were in the Castro. (The Castro location also accounts for the somewhat sassy service I’ve encountered here.)
Décor is nothing really of note: it’s pretty nondescript (the bathroom doesn’t even have a mirror), but there are some cool pictures of street food scenes in Mexico City on the walls. The continuous hours between lunch and dinner make it an easy pitstop for parents with kids early in the evening. The really bright light in the open kitchen makes it bad for a date, so save this one for a midweek meal or “I don’t want to cook” night—it’s the casual kind of place that fits the bill.