Mosaic on the patio.
Quesadillas de calabaza.
Enchiladas con mole rojo.
Almost anyone who lives in San Francisco has an opinion on Café Gratitude, and when I heard their vegan-organic-Mexican offshoot, ~GRACIAS MADRE~, was opening on Mission Street, I think my brain had already selected flash cards that went something like this: grrrrls-faeries-vegan power-viva la raza and rajas-tofu tacos-Yo Tengo Hambre-I work at Rainbow-live nachos. But after a couple bites of my (cooked, not raw) quesadilla de calabaza, with our friendly server who kept checking in on us like an abuelita, and nary an Abounding River Game in sight, I promptly played 52-Card Pickup with that deck.
First of all, the place looks great. They really did it right. It has a cozy little patio in the front with a stunning piece of original mosaic art, while inside is quite spacious, with wood floors, sturdy wood chairs and stools, a long bar, and a big open kitchen with a predominantly female crew. (Although the gauzy muslin table napkins reminded me a little of bandages. No matter.)
The menu has completely abandoned all the “I am…” oppressiveness of Café Gratitude’s menu and service, and just gets down to the food. Appetizers include the rich and filling roasted cauliflower soup ($7) topped with pepitas, or the aforementioned quesadillas de calabaza ($8): two half moons of house-made tortillas filled with butternut squash and caramelized onion, topped with pepitas, creamy cashew cheese (subbing in for sour cream), and a pumpkin seed salsa (I added a hit of the habanero salsa [you gotta ask for it], which added some ooomph).
Entrees feel like quite the deal: in fact, they’re honking. The enchiladas with mole rojo ($13) were filled with firm mushrooms (you gotta like mushrooms if you order this dish), slathered in a rather spicy mole and more cashew cheese, with smooth black beans and bright green dino kale on the side (you know there had to be some kale on the menu). I only made my way through half the plate, which tasted like a harmonious showcase of good for you. (If only I always ate this healthy.)
But the chile relleno ($15) was less of a poster child for the joys of eating this way: the poblano is roasted instead of fried, stuffed with small pieces of squash that weren’t mushy but weren’t particularly flavorful either, with plain brown rice and black beans on the side. I really really love the black beans, but overall this dish didn’t quite come together for me. And I was bummed that the whole thing was topped with a pico de gallo made with almost-white and out-of-season tomatoes. But the feisty escabeche on the side (pickled cauliflower, carrot, and onion) brought some authentic punch to the plate, and it came with made-to-order corn tortillas as well.
All the vegetables were fresh and flavorful—and they come from the restaurant’s Be Love Farm, so they are organically and biodynamically grown. (Not sure where those tomatoes in February came from, however.) The tortillas also feature stone-ground masa made from non-GMO organic heirloom corn, some of which is grown on their farm as well. The tortillas were really delicious (I’m digging this “handmade with organic masa” tortilla trendlet happening in SF). Sides included the soft and sweet rajas with onions ($5), a better showing than the dry tamal ($5) with calabaza, onion, and tomato paste.
I don’t know how you’re going to have room for the coconut-lime cheesecake ($8), but you should really try. It tasted so bright and refreshing, and the date-coconut-nut crust was a marvel—but so was the flan ($8), made with roasted cashews and almond milk. The flan tasted like cookies and cream, so unexpectedly chocolatey. No, it didn’t have the smooth, decadent creaminess of traditional flan, but I loved this flan for what it was: a feat of non-dairy desserts.
Service was some of the nicest I’ve encountered in a while—really attentive. You can pick a variety of organic wines, beer, and non-alcoholic choices, like the super ginger-y house-made ginger ale ($5/$8) or aguas frescas.
It’s an energetic Mission scene inside, complete with mariachis stopping by, and tables full of groups of friends and families dining out (sit at the bar if you don’t want to be seated communally—one holdover from Café Gratitude). I know this restaurant is making a lot of local vegetarians and vegans happy, and whaddya know, I think some healthy-minded carnivores are in that mix as well.