La Comida, in Mexico, is generally eaten between 2 and 4 pm, and is the main meal of the day (the term “comida” as a midday meal is the same as the word “comida” when it is used to mean “food”, context is what differentiates). Often translated to mean “lunch”, this is misleading. Comida is served later, is more substantial than most American lunches, and is more like the “old-fashioned mid-day dinners that people ate in the United States back when a larger percentage of the population were living in small towns or on farms and the three daily meals were called breakfast, dinner and supper”, according to Mexican food blogger, Karen Hursh Gruber. It may consist of several courses, including soup (sopa) or sopa seco (these include rice, pasta dishes and casseroles with hominy or potatoes) or salad and a main dish (plato fuerte), dessert (postre) and agua fresca. Since comida is still a midday meal, albiet later than our traditonal lunch hour, here are some spots to hit when you are looking for a late lunch in the Mission:
- Torta Mexicana– If you’ve never tasted an authentic Torta Mexicana, here’s how to order: con todo (with everything) and you’ll usually get a schmear of well-fried beans, (although not all torteriilas include these with the “regular” sandwich), pickled jalapeños, queso fresco (although you can usually choose between swiss and jack, or American cheeses, this is the most authentic way to serve up a torta, con queso fresco), lettuce, tomato, onions and avocado. Sometimes, there is an extra charge for the avocado, but its defintely an integral part of any torta. Here’s where to order a Torta de Milanese de Pollo ( A Mexican breaded chicken cutlet made using thin-sliced chicken breast- you can usually choose Milanese de Res, beef, as well). For a closer look at Tortas Mexicanas in the Mission, here’s the link).
Tortas Los Picudas– 24th & Harrison. The Torta de Milanese de Pollo $6.95 but con todo which really just means they add the requisite avocado, its $7.65. Really good chicken cutlet, and generous; great bread, if not as gorda (fat, which in this case means “generous”) as La Torta Gorda and overall an excellent sandwich. By the way, their Aguas Frescas are not as wonderful as their tortas. Since for some, this is an introduction to these delicious and refreshing Mexican fruit-based drinks, take a look at Too Hot? Think Mexican: Aguas frescas... for tips on the difference between what they serve here and the real thing.
- Tacos (not burritos)- When looking for ethnic food, the buzzword is “authentic.” And while San Francisco has many excellent Mexican eateries which serve us big, fat, delicious burritos stuffed with carnitas, rice, beans, secret salsas, this is definitely not something my Mexican friends ever ate or even heard of before they arrived in El Pancho (endearing Mexican nickname for San Francisco)! In fact, when I go to visit, there is one fellow I know who asks me to bring him a burrito, so we might even say it’s an American export!. While you will find burritos throughout California, and several other western states, in Mexico they are almost strictly available in border towns.
No doubt a clever culinary invention, the burrito has the advantage of being an all-in-one meal (you have your protein, your veggies, your carbs), it’s hand-held for that all-American habit- eating on the run- and it’s fairly affordable, in fact, it has the dubious honor of making it onto the MacDonald’s menu. Fusion burritos have emerged, with tortillas made of spinach-flavored (green) or tomato-flavored (red) flour…. Well, at least the colors are still Mexican, red, white and green!
Now, onto the taco. At Tres Señoritas Gourmet, where we pride ourselves on authenticity, the taco is a menu staple. While the original meaning of taco is “light snack”, ordering several tacos at $1.50 a pop not only will provide a filling lunch, it provides an opportunity to taste several different fillings. According to MexConnect, a website dedicated to Mexican culture, travel, and business Mexican street tacos…[are the very] the heart and soul of the country’s diverse cuisine, while varying from one region to another, [the taco] bridge[s] social and economic differences by the mere fact that everyone eats them. From fashionably dressed couples munching on grilled beef tacos at sidewalk tables to day laborers standing hunched over a plastic plate of tacos de carnitas, everyone enjoys what has been called “the most democratic of Mexican foods.”
Made with de riguer corn tortillas, (to a Mexican table, corn tortillas are like bread in America, potatoes in Ireland and rice in China and Japan, an indispensable part of the meal). So when did the tortilla wrap itself around just about anything to become the taco? Like its imposter cousin, the burrito, the taco began as a way to wrap food and bring it to the campesinos as their mid-day meal while in the fields.
As for authentic Mexican Taquerias that are truly like those one finds throughout Mexico, I recommend that innocuous side door to La Gallinita on the corner of 24th and Harrison, which is only open Thursdays-Sundays. It’s the real deal, but they do have a more limited menu than some (you’ll choose from carne asada, pollo, chorizo and carnitas). If you are feeling more adventuresome, Tacos Vallarta at offers a wider selection of fillings, including suadero, lengua, and buche, favorites among Mexicans (no, I am not going to share what these actually mean, this way, you will be more tempted to try them. Suffice to say they all from the cow). For the more faint of heart, there are a multitude of familiar items and for you late night diners, note that they are open until the wee hours (12:30 am Mon-Thurs. and 3:30 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the after-club crowd and be prepared for a line!).
For a change of pace and a good sit-down comida, try La Nueva Fruitlandia at 3077 24th St (between Folsom St & Lucky St). The Cuban/Puerto Rican specilaites are authentic and estilo casera (home made…having lived in Puerto Rico, I should know)! I recommend the Chuletas (pork chop), con Plantanos Madures (sweet plantain) or Mofongo ( also know as fufu in Cuba, this traditional island dish is made of fried green plantain in a rich tomato-garlic broth so the contrasting textures really work beautifully together), the Habichuelas Rosadas (pink beans), and white rice which truly tastes of the island . The pries are reasonable, on the downside, the service is more than a little slow. But for a leisurely and substantial weekend late afternoon meal, the authentic tastes of these tropical Latino islands make the wait worthwhile. Hours are a little sporadic, take note:
Tue-Thu 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Wed 11:30 am – 3:30 pm
Fri 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Sat 12 pm – 9:30 pm
Sun 12 pm – 8:30 pm
Eat the way they do in Mexico, its healthier anyway, to make your main meal late in the day, so that all you have for your cena– the final meal of the day (typically served between 8-9 pm) are a few tacos filled with whatever was eaten at the comida, or soup, or even just a hot drink and some bread.