The family business, there’s nothing that feels like it. And ~EL BUEN COMER~ is definitely a family affair, with chef Isabel Caudillo cooking and her husband expediting, and their sons and daughters-in-law working alongside them. Caudillo is a La Cocina graduate, and this is her first brick-and-mortar location, a total neighborhood restaurant. It opened after years of planning and hooking people on her delicious food at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market (since 2008—and still going on Saturdays). Prior to that, she was cooking lunch for homesick customers out of her Tenderloin and then Mission home. She’s a Mexico City native, and her dishes are all about the city’s guisados (stews) and comida corrida (home-style cooking you get for lunch). Taqueria, this is not. There’s really no place like it in SF, unless your DF abuelita is cooking for you on the reg (call me?).
I recommend you get a posse together and splash out for the El Buen Comer—for $40/head, Isabel will cook for you, and a variety of dishes will hit the table, a total bounty. But if you want to come and just check out a few dishes, you can get tacos, or tostadas, or hearty sopes (1 for $4, 3 for $10, 6 for $18). If you’re wistful for Mexico City, get tacos of the spicy chicharrón en salsa verde (pork rinds in a bright tomatillo salsa), while the tinga (pulled chicken in a smoky tomato sauce with onion and chipotle) is best in class. And then if you’re really lucky, the crisp-edged carnitas are on special. Mexican chorizo and potato, perfect for Sunday brunch. I was particularly taken with her ensalada de nopal, a cool cactus salad that is the least slimy one you’ll ever encounter, truth. (How did she do that?)
The homey guisados—which come in rustic cazuelas—are supposed to be shared (no hoarding!) and include her trademark albóndigas de res/beef meatballs ($17 or $32), and the soulful dish that haunts me: mole verde de puerco ($16 or $30), a savory pork stew (cooked just so) in a thick and creamy sauce of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, cilantro, and epazote. Damn. This dish!
Specials are always written on the menu—one night was the juiciest pollo en crema, with a chipotle-spiked sauce. It’s the kind of food that takes all day to make—you feel so lucky to have a bowl of it in front of you. Get a side of the creamy and complex black beans, the superfluffy rice, and the thick and moist handmade tortillas made from organic masa are good enough to gobble on their own.
Sunday brunch includes their chilaquiles ($12), which, obviously, feature their beauteous tortillas. I found the rojos, made with chile de arbol and tomato sauce, are the move; the verdes were too acidic for me. Or perhaps some pozole rojo ($12) is what you need to perk up—pray to the Lady of Guadalupe it’s on the menu. There are also plenty of beers, micheladas, wine, aguas frescas (mmmm, strawberry), and claro, Mexican sodas.
For lunch, the comida corrida ($20) special includes a soup of the day, guisado of the day, rice, beans, handmade tortillas, and an agua fresca. You can order the guisados as a single portion for dinner as well (a plato fuerte)—and there’s a bar where you can plunk down by yourself, no problem. See, she just wants to feed you.
Things aren’t perfect: some dishes can taste a bit underseasoned, which is a nice change from most food in this town, but sometimes I want things to be a bit punchier. Service can have slipups too, like my half-and-half/Christmas order of chilaquiles didn’t happen, and over-easy eggs were over-hard, but everyone is so well intentioned it’s kind of like your mom is cooking. You wouldn’t complain. You’d just say, “Muchisimas gracias, mama, para el buen comer.”
This review was based on two visits.