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New Mexican - SF


eje
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While we have a plethora of hole in the wall burrito joints, taco stands, and pupusa restaurants, San Francisco has always been a bit short on well prepared regional Mexican and Latin American cuisine.

Last year saw the closing of Mom is Cooking and Cafe Marimba.

Two new, fairly upscale Mexican restaurants, Tres Agaves (SOMA) and Mamacita (Marina), have opened in the last few months.

Have you been?

I've been to and enjoyed Panchitas No. 3 (Mission), Platanos (Mission), and Charanga (Mission).

What are your favorite places for decent "Pan Latin" or Mexican food?

edit - Oh hey! They even use Rancho Gordo heirloom beans at Mamacita. Getting very hungry looking at that menu.

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I ate at Tres Agaves a couple of months ago, and despised it. Here's a review I posted elsewhere:

From the music to the bathrooms to "Hi, my name is Thomas and I'll be your server tonight", the whole thing reeks of chain theme restaurant.

Now, at least in the dining room, it's a nice-looking place. But they're cramming way too many seats in the dining room, making it impossible to move around or even get to the bathroom. And the music -- puhleeze! -- is straight out of El Torito.

Similarly, the menu looks and sounds promising, but the execution is so pitiful... somewhere, someone's abuelita is crying. The food was a real shame. Some things were good -- the salsas in particular -- but most things were just fancy, bad mexican food. My favorite item of the evening was a jicama salad, which is a sad, sad thing to report when you've ordered Sopes con Chorizo y Papas, Gorditas de Res con Salsa de Aguacate, and Camarones al Mojo de Ajo, too.

I can't even really give them much credit for the drinks, which is sad 'cause I watched the bartenders squeezing limes. Their house margarita was utterly mediocre; I upgraded to the Hacienda (with Herradura Reposado) for the second round, and it was better... but not really good.

I'm not even going to go into the service, but it alternated between surly -- the food runner literally snarled at us and threw our plates down -- and stupid... I hate it when it's obvious that they're hiring servers for their good looks, not their talent.

So sad... we need good "plate food" in this city, and I really thought that this might be it.

We're going to Mamacita for my birthday in a couple of weeks... I have heard good things.

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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I actually enjoy Maya quite a bit - I just wish they'd improve the margaritas some. Maya is nuevo latino for sure, not traditional. I think Maya has been forgotten a bit as many new places have opened.

Initial feedback I've heard on Tres Agaves is that it's good for drinking but bad for eating.

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What are your favorite places for decent "Pan Latin" or Mexican food?

Oh - I guess I'll stick to the hole in the wall/basic spots. They cover me just fine, especially the lesser known Salvadorean places (Pupusas anyone?). It's kinda like going to New York City and eating pizza at an upscale place when there are great pizza places everywhere you look. Why pay more, when you can get just as good food for less?

Now I will say this: the now closed Alma that used to be at 22nd & Valnecia was my exception to that rule. They had a brined, grilled pork chop (yes, a pork chop) that was one of my favorite entrees in the city. Johnny Almilla (the chef/owner) is now snowboarding up in Tahoe (he checked out) and he did open a place called Sol y Lago up there, but I haven't tried it.

________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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I ate at Tres Agaves a couple of months ago, and despised it.

Well, that one is going right off the list.

I really didn't have a great deal of hope for this ballpark venture. Given their location, I'm sure they will have to go straight for the cash or be cashed out.

I'm with you, stu-i-moto, however, sometimes I wish I could get food like that in Diana Kennedy's books without having to make it myself.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I can't even really give them much credit for the drinks, which is sad 'cause I watched the bartenders squeezing limes. Their house margarita was utterly mediocre; I upgraded to the Hacienda (with Herradura Reposado) for the second round, and it was better... but not really good.

Huh, that is interesting.

I would think that between the guys from Tommy's and Jacques Bezuidenhout, (last seen concocting incredibly expensive libations for Harry Denton's Starlight Room and recently featured in Cocktailian,) they would at least manage to get the bar right.

edit - bah, stupid grammar.

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I can't even really give them much credit for the drinks, which is sad 'cause I watched the bartenders squeezing limes. Their house margarita was utterly mediocre; I upgraded to the Hacienda (with Herradura Reposado) for the second round, and it was better... but not really good.

Huh, that is interesting.

I would think that between the guys from Tommy's and Jacques Bezuidenhout, (last seen concocting incredibly expensive libations for Harry Denton's Starlight Room and recently featured in Cocktailian,) they would at least manage to at least get the bar right.

they also have the chef from globe desigining the menu...

and they were reviewed on the 16th http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...1.DTL&type=food

Edited by dvs (log)
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Another new Pan Latin/Mexican place was reviewed by Paul Reidinger in this week's Bay Guardian:

Velvet Fog

Review doesn't exactly make me want to rush right over. They don't mention cocktails; but, in the newsprint version there is a picture of a "Cilantro Gimlet". Hmmm...

Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Charanga was one of our favorite restaurants for years and years, but the last time we went I felt it had gone a little flat. Not bad, mind you, just not as wow as it was before. But I'd gladly go back. Platanos, as well, I like a great deal, tho I have not been since they retooled.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Colibri -- which my other half and I were turned on to by Scorched Palate in December. I thought it was very good indeed, and I really look forward to returning, if only to sit at the bar and have a margarita with those heavenly tortillas and salsa.

Hedonia

Eating, drinking and living the good life in San Francisco

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I had a very good dinner at Tres Agaves a couple of weeks ago, the Carne Asada was particularly memorable. I'd definitely recommend it. The other modern Mexican restaurant I like a lot is Tamarindo in downtown Oakland. I would recommend avoiding Tamal in SF though, we ordered seven different dishes there and every single one was disappointing.

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Tres Agaves is absolutely terrible. The line about "go for the drinks but skip the food" is on target.

(Even then, they couldn't come up with a wine list for us so the bar manager showed us his computer order form, but the first three wines I picked out were unavailable. He suggested his favorite wine, which was plonk. You'd better like the margaritas.)

The tortillas were embarassingly bad, the rice had a rotten flavor, the beans were undistinguished--and just a few blocks away in the Mission you can get great house-made tortillas and great rice/beans in lots of small places. The much-touted carnitas had no long-cooked-pork flavor, just a gimmicky crispy outside.

One waiter told us that he didn't like the food, either. But a manager, when we complained, told us that the place was geared to churning out the margaritas and that it was pointless to focus on the food.

Service was horrid. The hostess wanted to seat everyone at the worst tables, there was no organization about which waiters and bussers had which tables, so it was endless waving for attention.

Tres Agaves is no place to go to eat.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Mamacita received a positive review from Michael Bauer in today's Chronicle Magazine.

Lively, Complex Flavors and High Decibels at Mamacita

All indications are that Mamacita, as good as it is now, will get better with time. That leaves the noise as its major negative factor. Diners are adapting -- perhaps that's why an older crowd seems to fill the seats earlier in the evening, and the younger crowd filters in a little later. While patrons may not be as adept at lip reading as the staff, the soulful food will make them experts at lip smacking.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Tia Margarita on Clement and 19th has been an SF stalwart since the 1930s...I particularly like their "Tia Special Enchiladas" (onion and cheese)...the plates are HUGE and the maragaritas muy satisfying!

- fanelli

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We had a lovely dinner at Mamacita last month. The food was great, the table service was competent and helpful... I think the only downsides were the snotty hostess, the clueless clientele (very "this isn't like El Torito!"), the parking, and the lckluster margaritas.

We had an order of very good guacamole and some chilaquiles to start -- they were very spicy and a little odd -- creamy chipotle sauce -- but tasty. I wouldn't order them again, though. Good carnitas tacos, perfectly prepared beans, and a surprisingly good bistek. We didn't have room for dessert, not that they looked terrible interesting. The server told us off the bat we'd probably only want 3 items for the 2 of us, so we weren't surprised that we'd ordered too much food. Still, with 2 margaritas and 2 cervesas, the bill was really reasonable... somewhere in the $60-70 range. Considering the location and the level they're playing at, we were very, very happy with the value.

We'll definitely go back...

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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  • 2 months later...
I can't even really give them much credit for the drinks, which is sad 'cause I watched the bartenders squeezing limes. Their house margarita was utterly mediocre; I upgraded to the Hacienda (with Herradura Reposado) for the second round, and it was better... but not really good.

Huh, that is interesting.

I would think that between the guys from Tommy's and Jacques Bezuidenhout, (last seen concocting incredibly expensive libations for Harry Denton's Starlight Room and recently featured in Cocktailian,) they would at least manage to get the bar right.

I was at Tres Agaves in March for a tequila tasting/class sponsored by the Museum of the American cocktail and had a great time. I hadn't been there since, but a friend of mine has been wanting to try it so we went for drinks last week. I can't really speak to the food issue, because we only got a couple of appetizers (which I thought were good) or the service, since we were sitting at the bar, but I thought the drinks ranged from above average to really good.

We started out with a house margarita (it was swamped when we got there and it seemed like the easiest way to start) -- I had mine up and my friend had hers on the rocks. They use Arette Blanco tequila in their house margaritas; I'm more used to reposado tequila in margaritas, but I'm trying to branch out to blancos, because it seems they're a more traditional choice. Anyway, it was good -- a bit sweeter than I prefer, but I like my margaritas on the sour side.

Then when it calmed down, one of the bartenders, whom I know, made us a tall drink with Don Julio blanco, lime, agave nectar (I think) and a new pineapple agua fresca they'd just gotten in. Since we'd just gotten our chips and salsa, these drinks were great for putting out the fire (the runner misidentified the hot and medium salsas, or we misunderstood him -- in any case, the hot salsa is very hot.) With our food, we had a cocktail created by Jacques, which contained Grand Centenario anejo, agave nectar and a very nice sherry, the name of which totally escapes me. I never would have thought that sherry and tequila would be a good match but this is an exquisite and intriguing drink. Jacques already won a cocktail competition with it, and is due to travel to Spain soon to try it in an international competition.

All this being said, we were sitting at the bar, and I do know both Jacques, who manages the bar, and another of the bartenders there. Except for the first drink (the house margarita) we simply asked them to make us "something interesting." It could be an entirely different situation ordering drinks at a table. I'd say that regardless of the food, it's worth going for the drinks. At least if you like tequila.

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