Chilango in The Castro
Sprouting up from the verdant landscape of the S.F culinary scene in recent years have been establishments whose mission statements can be summarized by two words: “Mexican” and “authentic”. To the discerning (read “snobbish”) culinite, burritos plumped up like ticks with guacamole and sour cream aren’t cutting the mustard anymore. This has given S.F cooks hailing from various parts of Mexico the mandate to venture beyond the items that most gringos think of as birthrights, which is to say back from whence they came.
However, authenticity can be problematic because it isn’t any guarantee of quality; a cook can do great things utilizing the techniques and ingredients handed down to him from a given culture by dint of birth and/or training, or he can royally fuck it up on a regular basis and very few will be the wiser, blinded as they may be by the idea that authentic equals delectable. And, for a patron who was neither born in or has ever visited the country represented by the menu, you are trusting in the kitchen to produce that which is presented as authentic (unless you’ve got a native son or daughter with you to offer verification).
Chilango (a slang term for a resident of Mexico City), by all accounts, is a highly accurate representation of Mexico City food, influenced particularly by that which can be found on the street; AND it’s really, really good. I’ve been there several times, trying different things each time, and have never been disappointed. I sat down yesterday for lunch and started with the Tacos de Borrego (leg of lamb stewed with ancho chile). Bomb. After that I had a plate piled with goat braised with Chile Guajillio and sides of chopped cilantro and onions; a cup of chicken consommé; a ramekin of the house salsa; and a stack of hot and very fresh corn tortillas. That prodigiously omnivorous Bovidae is famously tricky to get right and they did well by its gamey flavor. On other trips I’ve had the Duck Flautas, Ceviche de Pescado, Pozole and the Arrachera con Nopal (grilled skirt steak with cactus, black beans, and pico de gallo).
All told, Chilango rates just as high or higher in my estimation as better publicized and pedigreed joints such as Nopalito. You can fuss over and argue its purported adherence to Mexico City street food, or just shut the fuck up and enjoy.
235 Church St.,
[Castro/ Upper Market]