I want this to be clear from the very beginning. I LOVE Mexican food. I love the bold flavors and bright colors that seem to be prevalent in every dish. I mean, how could you not like a cuisine that says it’s alright to put chocolate on meat? For those of us not versed in Mexican cuisine I am referring to the glorious gift that is Mole. I may not have tried everything Mexican cuisine has to offer, but let me tell you, I have never encountered a Mexican meal that I didn’t love.
Now that I hopefully have enlightened everyone on my deep admiration for the food south of the border, let’s move on.
I having been living in the Western Addition/NOPA neighborhood in S.F. for about 10 months now. Conveniently located just two blocks away from me rests El Rancho Grande, the restaurant that graciously looks out for the party-goers of the Western Addition by staying open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Their prices are relatively cheap, food prep is quick, and the employees are always friendly. While, on occasion, their food is delicious and just what I am craving, I knew it could never become my regular neighborhood Mex food fix – in general it is just a tad too greasy.
When my friends and roommates alike told me they had discovered another Mexican place equidistant from my house (just in the opposite direction) I knew I had to pounce. This brings me to…Papalote, a little slice of fresh Mex cuisine. They boast quite the reputation, being voted “Best Burrito in San Francisco” by SF Weekly four years in a row; voted “Best Burrito and Best Mexican Restaurant” by the SF Bay Guardian; not to mention their burrito was featured on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay (who might I add loved it).
So when I was out today with Julio, my roommate, and in need of my Mex fix we decided to pop into Papalote. Located right across the street from Luckys Market on Fulton St. at Masonic Ave. It was my smartest decision today.
It took me quite a while to determine what to order, so in the interest of trying as much as possible, Julio ordered the Grilled Veggie Quesadilla and I got the Pollo Tacos and we got two Agua Frescas – watermelon. We took a seat and waited for our feast to arrive. In the meantime however, one the the chefs brought over a bowl of chips and two dishes of salsa. After the first chip and I was sold. Oh my wow. The salsa is perfection blended. The most wonderful shade of red-orange and with a strong bite at the end. The way salsa should be. Thank God our drinks came just a moment later, because my mouth was en fuego (on fire).
*I planned to take a picture when the glass was full, but alas, once I had the first sip I couldn’t stop.
I have had my fair share of Aguas Frescas and this is by far the best I have ever had. Literally it tasted like they had just crushed the watermelon up and served it like that. Actually I think that is exactly what they did since I found a few little chunks of melon floating in the cup. Completely thirst-quenching and undeniably addictive.
The food came a few minutes later, and let me tell you it took a lot of self control to take the pictures before I indulged.
These two gorgeous pollo tacos were in fact as amazing as they look. The meat was cooked fabulously, it tasted like chicken right off a grill at a summer barbecue. The fresh tomato salsas flavors had just the right amount of time to blend before the tomatoes lost their integrity and the lettuce looked as though it had been cut just moments before. The pickled jicama on the side was a great addition to this tortilla wrapped succulent dish. The only minor issue I had was that halfway through my taco, the tortilla ripped spilling the contents back onto my plate. But hey I guess that’s what you get when the meat and salsa is as juicy as this is. I’ll take the good with the bad gladly on this one.
After I finished one taco, Julio and I switched plates and I quickly set my sights on this glorious bundle of grilled veggies and cheese. I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t find the usual green bell pepper and onion combo that predominates most veggie plates. Inside this quesadilla rested bite sized pieces of carrot, potato, and mushroom. To me it was like a piece of Fall smothered in melted cheese. Grilled, not greasy. A smear of that hellishly hot salsa and I devoured a slice of this quesadilla in about three bites.
In my book, Papalote got it right. They let the flavors speak for themselves without overcrowding the dish by adding (the wonderful when appropriate) condiments such as cheese, sour cream, or the beloved guacamole. After finishing, we cleared our table and placed the dirty dishes in the bin and left without feeling even a hint of food coma coming right around the corner.
Oh and that salsa I mentioned, it has created such a buzz for Papalote the owners Miguel, Victor, and Jodi started the Papalote Salsa Trading Company and as of November 2010, their salsa can be bought inside grocery stores. I am hoping to interview the owners about the salsas success and their plans for the future and expansion. Keep your fingers crossed that they get back to me! In the meantime, if you would like to follow the salsa on Twitter, like I am, you can stay up to date on specials and salsa demos.