Mestiza Brings Colorful Tacos and a Patio Oasis to SoMa

Mestiza tacos: (from L to R) Filipino Pork Adobo, Khmer Lemongrass Chicken, and Pescado Al Pastor.

Mestiza tacos: (from L to R) Filipino Pork Adobo, Khmer Lemongrass Chicken, and Pescado Al Pastor. (Wendy Goodfriend)

There is a new entry for two of San Francisco’s most competitive dining categories: outdoor patios and tacos. You’ll find it in SoMa at the corner of 4th and Bryant in the former Chavo’s — if you can dodge the backhoes and digging of the never-ending subway tunnel project.

Mestiza is still in its soft opening phase until April 11th. Yet, judging by the lunch rush surge of area start-up workers escaping the office, Mestiza is already hosting a regular audience of hungry, discerning diners. So much for practice time.

Lunch rush at Mestiza
Lunch rush at Mestiza (Wendy Goodfriend)

Dress rehearsal or not, the tacos are clearly already noteworthy at this early stage as the fast casual restaurant has hit the ground running with gusto.

Take the Filipino pork adobo as a perfect example of taking a beloved taco filling staple (carnitas), opening it to an abnormal group of partners (ginger salsa cruda and green papaya) and…watch out. The fork tender meat bursts with moisture, escaping from the tortilla shelter, dripping down your arm after one bite as if someone pushed a “go” button. It’s an electric taco moment. And, it wouldn’t be crazy for Mestiza to serve the pork adobo taco with a bib à la New England lobster feast.

Filipino Pork Adobo (L) and Khmer Lemongrass Chicken tacos.
Filipino Pork Adobo (L) and Khmer Lemongrass Chicken tacos. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The same can be said for a riveting Thai red curry beef filling brightened by a pineapple arbol chile salsa and coconut flakes. Upon impact, boom, it’s a deliriously messy beef and curry-drenched delight that somehow manages to channel the most robust Thai beef curry into a compact taco package. At the end of the day, this is the next level of tacos well beyond the basic carne asada, carnitas, al pastor trio. We’re game to hop on this taco train that is indeed a little more expensive than most versions but exponentially more elaborate.

Thai Red Curry Beef taco
Thai Red Curry Beef taco (Wendy Goodfriend)

Speaking of al pastor, possibly the most impressive taco filling is cumin and guajillo dusted rock cod that has nothing to do with al pastor flavor-wise other than the pineapple salsa, but, alas, what’s in a name? It’s the rare moist, flaky fish taco that isn’t fried nor slathered in crema. For $1 extra, it’s a very wise investment.

Pescado Al Pastor (R) and Khmer Lemongrass Chicken tacos.
Pescado Al Pastor (R) and Khmer Lemongrass Chicken tacos. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Khmer lemongrass chicken bathed in fish sauce sounds like an automatic winner, yet proves to be the one full-on miss. The diced poultry is tough and bland. This is chicken that reminds diners of chicken and why boneless, skinless chicken breast elicits so many eye rolls compared to carnitas or beef. It’s boring. The lemongrass doesn’t come through. That being said, the preparation is saved in taco form because of the abundant red chiles and peanuts garnish that cover up the chicken. Note to chefs: nuts and tacos are a strong tandem.

Mestiza Bowl with Khmer Lemongrass Chicken.
Mestiza Bowl with Khmer Lemongrass Chicken. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The menu is customizable like is so fashionable these days. Diners opt between six proteins (mushrooms and eggplants for the vegetarians) in four forms (taco, burrito, taco shell salad and rice and beans bowl. A pair of salads and a pair of raw seafood cocktails make up cold plate starters, while small plates include pork skewers, soy-saturated Filipino pork belly and sweet plantains. The small plates are called “Palutan,” Filipino for drinking food. Right now alcohol isn’t a main player but hopefully margaritas are in the future cards because the venue screams happy hour loudly. A few beers and wines are offered, along with a hibiscus agua fresca and a mandarin orange agua fresca. Both succeeded in being tart and balanced; not cloyingly sugary. Should you need sugar, dessert awaits with ice cream sandwiches with Mitchell’s Ice Cream or homemade horchata cookies.

Hibiscus Agua Fresca.
Hibiscus Agua Fresca. (Wendy Goodfriend)

What stands out so early in the game for Mestiza are the details on the plate, like a beautifully spice-nuanced julienned vegetable escabeche with the must-order empanadas with more of that pork adobo in a slick masa wrap that’s like a hybrid tamale-croissant dough. Or, evident in the full-throttle bursts of mint and cilantro that accompany a tangy lime and fish sauce vinaigrette for an under-the-radar shrimp and crispy noodle salad arriving the size of a small car tire. Maybe the greatest details are how the corn tortillas are freshly pressed and made with masa from Oakland’s renowned La Finca Tortilleria (if you’re curious about perfect dense and slightly griddled tortillas with real corn flavor, look no further).

Making fresh tortillas in the open kitchen at Mestiza
Making fresh tortillas in the open kitchen at Mestiza (Wendy Goodfriend)
Adobo Empanadas julienned vegetable escabeche.
Adobo Empanadas with julienned vegetable escabeche. (Wendy Goodfriend)
The crispy Filipino pork inside the Adobo Empanadas.
The crispy Filipino pork inside the Adobo Empanadas. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Crispy Noodle Shrimp Salad.
Crispy Noodle Shrimp Salad. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The fresh tortilla chips arriving as you sit with your order number boast just the right crispiness and aren’t distractingly greasy or salty. The partnering tomatillo-based salsa verde and robust guajillo salsa have that right kick and depth they can be universally enjoyed by spice-seekers and the heat-averse. There is clearly a talented chef leading the kitchen. Details aren’t skipped even when the line is ten-deep.

Fresh tortilla chips with tomatillo-based salsa verde and robust guajillo salsa.
Fresh tortilla chips with tomatillo-based salsa verde and robust guajillo salsa. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Indeed, there is a mighty team running Mestiza. Deanna Sison Foster (Little Skillet, Farmerbrown) is the owner. The Cambodian-born former Chopped Grill Masters winner from TV and chef at Oakland’s Calavera, Sophina Uong, is the chef. Clearly, she’s a talent in real kitchens and reality TV kitchens.

So, we mentioned the tacos. Now to that patio.

Outdoor patio at Mestiza during lunchtime.
Outdoor patio at Mestiza during lunchtime. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The overall atmosphere evokes the Palm Springs-Austin, Texas desert garden vibe with a slight tropical edge that has become so hip, partly from the recent drought and partly because we all need a Caribbean vacation. Plants dangle from above contrasting with the exposed concrete ceiling, Mission-style arched walls separate the bar and kitchen from the dining area. Seating ranges from beer garden style benches to a pillow-decked banquette with oversize leaves as the design motif. Outside is a striking new floral mural by the artist Jet Martinez, a soon-to-be Instagram magnet. It’s the background for SF’s new go-to patio, complete with a cactus and reclaimed wood tables (speaking of obligatory trends). Inside or outside, everything is breezy and casual, not unlike how all the nearby SoMa start-ups like to operate their offices. The party is rounded out by a soundtrack ranging from blaring Iggy Azalea and CeeLo Green to the deafening jackhammers of the intersection’s construction. Mestiza will no doubt give LA’s perennially hip Salazar a run for its money in this desert good life design genre.

Mestiza interior with bar area.
Mestiza interior with bar area. (Wendy Goodfriend)

It’s all surreal. And fun. Some diners are buried in their phones but most are festive and the servers equally upbeat, yet efficient. They’re quick to notice your table is low on salsa or napkins (a piece of advice: use larger napkins because the small-sized ones mean the table gets littered with them after each bite of taco).

One of the social media hashtags for the restaurant, #eatwithoutborders, along with the name’s meaning (mixed cultures or heritage) represent the time and place for Mestiza perfectly. There are obvious political meanings, too, but it really stands for the cuisine of this diverse restaurant, Mexico meets Southeast Asian street food with a little European and South American tossed around, completed within a California context. In brief: world-minded great food.

Tacos are clearly on the rise in SF thanks to creative newcomers like Glena’s and Tacorea. Now top-tier globe-spanning tacos have an ideal SoMa desert hideaway patio to be enjoyed in, a world away from the surrounding Bay Bridge traffic and industrial warehouses.

Mestiza open kitchen.
Mestiza open kitchen. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Mestiza Taqueria
595 Bryant St.
San Francisco, CA 94107 [MAP]
Ph: (415) 655-9187
Hours: Currently 11am-2pm but starting April 11, 11am-10pm Mon-Fri. Brunch Sat-Sun 10am-4pm.
Facebook: Mestiza Taqueria
Twitter: @mestizasf
Instagram: mestizasf
Price Range: $$ (Starters begin at $6 and single tacos are $4. Most dishes between $10-$13)

Mestiza Brings Colorful Tacos and a Patio Oasis to SoMa 7 April,2017Trevor Felch

Author

Trevor Felch

I’m the SF Bay Area editor for Zagat. Before this post, I was a restaurants writer for Thrillist and SF Weekly, along with covering the wine industry for Vino 24/7. I’ve also dabbled in tech start-ups (of course) and TV journalism (most recently with NBC on their Rio Olympics research team). You’ll find me at taquerias, bakeries, bars, pizzerias, corner bistros and tasting menu destinations throughout the Bay Area. Cheers!

Author

Wendy Goodfriend

I am the Senior Interactive Producer for KQED Food. I have designed and produced food-related websites and blogs for KQED including Bay Area Bites; Check, Please! Bay Area;  Taste This; Jacques Pepin’s websites; Weir Cooking in the City and KQED Food. When I am not creating and managing food websites I am taking photos and video of Bay Area Life and designing online navigation systems. My professional education and training includes: clinical psychology, photography, commercial cooking, web design, information architecture and UX. You can find me engaged in social media on Twitter @bayareabites and on Facebook at Bay Area Bites. I can also be found photoblogging at look2remember.

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