mestiza in soma....another "upscale" taqueria?
SOMA, that wide ranging neighborhood encompassing pretty much everywhere below Market St, can sometimes be a wasteland of dining options. Not that there aren't any, just many are only open for lunch, super high end or in parts of SOMA you might not want to dawdle, let alone eat in.
One section of it that has seen some changes in food and bar options is right around Bryant and 4th St., conveniently located several blocks from CalTrain and just at the base of the freeway exit. Super classy! Hotel Utah has pretty much staked out that spot for eons now and has survived the ever changing neighborhood, unlike a number of other spots around it. Recently some spots within a block are making a go at the area like the Coin-Op Game Room and Cockscomb, which I've covered.
Into this fray comes Mestiza, a sort of upgraded version of a taqueria with notes of Mexico, Philippines, Asian and more influenced food. It comes from the lovely folks who also do Little Skillet, a spot I do quite enjoy for their version of chicken and waffles and giant breakfast sandwich. Interesting.
Located directly across the street from Hotel Utah, funny thing is, Mestiza took over a spot that was what I'll call a classic version of a taqueria, one like you might find in the Mission. A place where they serve up the basic cheaply to with varying degrees of taste success to masses of mostly drunk people on weekends. Chavo's was like that and more as the rundown aspect of the place was oddly appealing in a "I'm gonna take a chance I won't get sick and eat here" kind of way. Yeah, it was scary, but when you are drunk, hungry and only got $5, it worked. They always seemed to have weird hours, regardless of what was posted and eventually, they just stopped opening. The spot sat vacant for some time before suddenly seeing life and reopening earlier this year as Mestiza.
Being as it is "relatively" near where I live, I had the unique opportunity to try them out on more than one occasion. Something that was very helpful as I didn't have to try four or five different dishes in one sitting for a change but got to spread them out like a normal person eating. Shocking, I know, but sometimes you just gotta go with it.
Oddly enough, each time I found myself there was in the middle of the afternoon, a good time I felt as it wasn't busy, things could get made to order and bonus, I could enjoy myself in their enclosed outdoor seating area alone and subtly take photos of the food--score! My first time I went with the basics and got tacos and beer.
It was a choice of 3 for $11, which seems kind of pricey, but in the scheme of local, organic and leveled up taquerias--it is pretty par for the course. Going from the left to right it was carne asada with achiote paste, guacamole, Spanish onion, cilantro and lime. Thai red curry beef with roasted shrimp powder, coconut flakes, basil and pineapple arbol chile salsa. Filipino pork adobo with ginger salsa crude, green papaya acharya, pickled onions, carrots and jalapeños. All served on house made soft yellow corn tortillas.
While they were okay, I can't say I was overwhelmed with the flavor on any of these. the carne was a tad overdone and tasted like meat, but not much flavor or aroma from the achiote. Most of what I got came from the lime I squeezed over it. The curry beef lacked spice or curry and it was the sweet pineapple and coconut you taste, though the meat was tender. The adobo just tasted like cooked pork with onions and at least the jalapeños gave it some kick, but not much else.
I think I was expecting some spice on these but had to add it myself from the pepper sauces they had as condiments. Also, I figured since it wasn't busy, they might have to make these as ordered, but seems the meat may have been around since the morning as temperature wise, it kind of luke warm at best. In essence, they were like any regular old taco I could get in the Mission for $2 a taco. They at least heat the meat up on the grill before putting it in the shell for you. They had a nice presentation but the tastes didn't quite live up to appearance.
I also ordered a beer and asked if I could get a cold one from the fridge instead of one of the ones they had in a bin of ice by the register and she said sure. However, my food came before they brought me the beer and when I said I also ordered one, the food runner (a different person) then went inside and pulled one from the ice bin, which was much like the tacos and luke warm at best.
Warm beer and cold tacos, ugh, you'd think after all that I wouldn't go back, but did anyway. This time I decided to be totally different and try one of their more unusual menu options, the crispy noodle shrimp salad.
At $12 I was a little dubious what is would be like and honestly, I didn't expect the above. Poached shrimp, cabbage, lime, cucumber, cilantro, coconut, lentils, peanuts and a tamarind dressing on a bed of crispy noodles. It was definitely different and not something I might necessarily call taqueria food. It is a large plate of a very Asian influenced salad. Surprisingly there are ample pieces of butterflied shrimp that is butter poached and sweet and tender. It goes well with the crunchier aspects of the other ingredients. The tamarind adds a nice tangy sweet flavor without overwhelming things. And while I was full after eating, it was very light and refreshing salad that would go down well on a hot summer day with bright flavors and nicely crisp noodles. A tasty change of pace to standard taqueria offerings for sure.
I'm still not done! I found myself down that way again one weekday afternoon and pretty much still had the place to myself. I decided to go traditional this time and went with the chips and queso and the adobo empanadas.
For $7.50 you get this giant bowl of arbol chili cheese sauce that is rich, thick, creamy and the best thing I had there by far. The dip is served piping hot with a sprinkle of red peppers and pickled red onion. It had a nice like spice to it that wasn't too much and the sauce was like cheese meets cream cheese meets ricotta. It had a lovely velvetiness to the texture which went down smoothly. I just wanted to dive in and bath in all the cheesy goodness. I could just as easily eaten this with a spoon but it comes with a generous sided of assorted chips to dip.
Totopos (corn chips), duros and shrimp chips. I honestly couldn't really taste any "shrimp" in those particular chips and they were more like wispy crunch chip. I'm a little old school in this regard and much prefer their house made corn tortilla chips. Melted gooey cheese and chips, what more could I ask for?
Why adobo empanadas of course! Crispy Filipino pork and masa dumplings topped with a crema and served with a side of tomatillo sauce for $7. These were actually served hot and crispy from the fryer. The pork inside was plentiful and tender and while the meat itself didn't have much seasoning to me, the crema was nice and smooth and the green tomatillo had a spicy little bite to enhance the flavor of it. A small but still satisfying plate of a classic Mexican appetizer.
While my first time out didn't exactly excite or inspire confidence, visit two and three seemingly brought out some of the better options on the menu at Mestiza. And outside of the tacos, the pricing for what you get is decent, something I don't normally say about upscale taquerias. While they aren't in an area of town particular easy to get to, I'd say they are worth a specific visit if you like to venture to different hoods around town and try new food options. While they do have a number of other things on the menu I haven't tried yet, I would go back for the chips and queso alone. Yes, the bowl is more than big enough to share, don't be surprised if you get mesmerized by the creamy goodness and want it all to yourself. If so, be sure to make a solo visit midday, then the cheese and patio will be all yours to enjoy without judgement.
**Two things I would like to note: They don't seem to be open on Sat/Sun--odd--for whatever reason but are open till 10pm during the week so you have time to get to it after work for a nosh. On two of the visits they had some hardcore rap music playing on the patio which wasn't all that conducive to food enjoyment. I know the place was empty but for me, still, it was way too loud and unpleasant.**