Rollin' into a neighborhood bar that isn't yours can make even the most die-hard fish feel a little out of the water. You don't know whose spot at the bar is whose, the trick to locking the bathroom door, and most importantly, the bartender's rules. But then there are places like the ~JAY'N BEE CLUB~ that have been around for something like 70 years, and with its friendly bartenders, eclectic crowd and music (from old school hip-hop to jazz), and the smell of tortilla chips frying, you ease into your pint of beer right quick.
Chips frying? Yes, mi amigo, because there is a little kitchen in the back where Marta Bañuelos is doing her home cookin' magic She was originally at La Posta on 24th Street, a family-run business, for 25 years. But now she's the Marta in Marta's Kitchen at the Jay'n Bee, cooking up some Mexican classics, with many made from her Jaliscan grandma's recipes.
You can take a seat at the limited number of little tables in the front, at the bar, or shhhhh, there's a sweet and petite patio in the back--but it can get a bit smoky in the evening, so keep that in mind. And the other thing to remember is this is pretty much a dive bar: there's a pool table, old linoleum floors, loud music, and quite the cast of characters. Everyone was nice--but is this a place where I'd bring a pearl-wearing Wellesley graduate? No. (Who am I kidding, like I roll with those types to begin with.)
The freshly fried tortilla chips rocked--thick and super crispy. The chunky salsa is made fresh as well, and blended just a tiny bit--I tend to like things super spicy, but it still had enough jalapeno-fueled kick to satisfy my heat-seeking taste buds.
I hope you found a spot where you're going to be happy to chill out for a while and nurse that beer or margie, because you're going to wait a long time for your food. Probably 45 minutes, maybe an hour. It's just how it is--Marta is in the back, making everything from scratch and to-order, so no taqueria timing here. Just relax, and don't show up too hangry. Maybe order some of her chunky guac (with a secret ingredient I'm not allowed to disclose) to hold you over. Marta may even be the one bringing you your order--workin' hard, this woman.
The menu is like what you'll get at Puerto Allegre, with a bunch of combo plates, but instead of standing outside with a bunch of 20-somethings on Valencia hoping to hear your name called, you're waiting comfortably for your food while seated. There are also some specialties, like Marta's mole, or camarones. Not much is more than $10.95. And it's the kind of food that will fill you for hours. I went for the #1, with an enchilada, chile relleno, and crispy beef taco, which came with the de rigueur sides of beans and rice and iceberg lettuce salad. It's the kind of food that takes you back to being a kid, with the big oval plates--well, at least this native Californian.
Now, is this "oh my God, I've never tasted enchiladas like this" food? Not really. But is this "I'm so happy to be kicking it with a margarita or two and my good friend, and getting out of here for $25?" Yes it is. In fact, everything came nice and hot, the seasoning was on point, and the chile relleno was really delicate and delish. No, the ingredients are not the primo ones you'd find at Nopa--my monster plate o' vittles was only $12.95. It's simple, honest, and cheese-laden food. Perfect for a Tuesday night when you don't want to cook. And thank god I had a nice long bike ride home to burn off at least two bites of my enchilada.
I saw some nachos at a few tables--they really looked like the perfect bar munchie. And think about it--there aren't many cheap Mexican restaurants where you can get a fully-loaded margarita with your food. Marta also told me people swear by the burrito deluxe, a fork-and-knife affair that comes with sauce and cheese on the outside. And if you can't make up your mind, there's the tampiquena for $15--the most expensive plate on the menu--a sampler with steak, a chile relleno, an enchilada, taco, beans, rice, and salad.
A few more nice touches: the woman's bathroom is completely and utterly spotless (always a nice sign), and I dug the pink sink and vintage photos. I'm also a big sucker for their business sign outside, a cute neon affair from the 1930s. If you're like me, you've probably noticed it for a long time and wondered what went on there. I hope I've given you enough of a reason to swing by for an easygoing lunch or dinner.
Marta's Kitchen at The Jay'n Bee Club
2736 20th St.
Cross: Hampshire St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Most plates max at $12.95