Californios, Mission

I had an interesting dinner at Californios last week. It’s a small restaurant, intimate and dark with black walls. We received an envelope with the menu at the end of the meal, but it doesn’t go into more detail than single word descriptions, so sorry if some of my descriptions are a bit off.

Escabeche - pickled okra.
Chicharron with trout roe and a white yogurt sauce - neat use of a chicharron, beats bread as a canapé base.
Tiger prawn ceviche - excellent, almost raw shrimp with a delicious ceviche liquid.
Head of presumably the prawn in the ceviche, fried Japanese style and served with a yogurt based sauce that I think had some paprika in it.
Mushrooms with a garlic sauce.

Described as a palette cleanser - a refreshing prickly pear sorbet sitting on a nopales flavored liquid. Pretty presentation, Kind of like a deconstructed prickly pear.

Kampachi, (cured?) salmon, squid strips, aguachile jelly. Don’t think I’ve ever had aguachile so I can’t compare to the real thing, but the spicy jelly complemented the raw seafood well.

Three types of beans, mashed and whole, in a bean broth. Broth had a bit of acidity, nice contrast to the starchy mash.

A really good bread with vegetables (don’t remember what) embedded within, tasted a lot like Tartine’s. They served this with a soup of piping hot tomato flavored broth poured tableside into a soup bowl containing various vegetables and a few crispy strips of something I don’t remember, which I guess was the “fideo".

Spanish rice topped with slices of avocado, with a “surprise” which turned out to be a runny egg yolk inside.

Salsa verde with grapes and a piece of fried rockfish. Salsa was a little tart with some sweetness from the grapes, rockfish was nice and crispy. Also had a bit of caviar that kind of got lost in the salsa verde.

Tortilla - this tasted more like a good roll than a tortilla, was described as leavened with a sourdough starter.
A block of wagyu short ribs topped with a dark garlic mole made up the “barbacoa", I think accompanied with a potato? Very flavorful and tender, good garlicky hit from the mole.

A cheese made with three types of milk, goat, cow, and sheep.

Pineapple cake, a bit sour with sweet crunchy pineapple things within.

Ice cream with foie gras. Tasty, but I could not really taste the foie here.

This resembled a fancy mallomar. Chocolate covered marshmallow. Don’t remember where the “yerba buena” came in. It may have been in the chocolate.

This was a fun meal, pretty expensive ($97pp + drinks + 18% service charge) but not super expensive compared to other tasting menu type places, and for the amount/quality of food and number of courses. Service was excellent.


Thank you for your post and photos. We enjoyed many of the same dishes and I appreciate your pix. Each plating is artful and offers a moment of reflection to savor the bursts of flavor. I was delighted with each successive course with smiles and bright eyes for its components. Dinner is gently paced and has its rhythm - we were at the table for 2-1/2 hours to celebrate a birthday evening.

DH is now suggesting we serve Thanksgiving Dinner in the same manner - now, that’s a challenge! I’ll be sending huge leftover boxes home with the neighbors. Perhaps, we’ll do the tasting plates…and end with a full table of all the food - for second helpings. It is Thanksgiving, after all - the Ode to Overeating.


Looks like its up to $177 pp now for 16 courses after the award of the second star. I looked into Californios a few months ago and it was I think $155 pp then. The increase doesn’t look as steep as I would have thought…

Californios is moving to Bar Agricole’s former location. I can see how the giant patio space is helpful now, but I’m curious as to what the long term plans are - I think the indoor space is quite a lot larger than most restaurants in this price range.

Hello all,

I thought I’d post a new topic, but maybe I’m restricted since I’m a new user… anyway I couldn’t find where to post a new topic, so here I am.

If you’d told me 10 years ago after reading yet another post on Chowhound about an American coming to Paris and not knowing how much to tip, if you’d told then that I would one day post a similar question, I wouldn’t have believed you…

I will come to the USA this summer after a long hiatus (I wonder what happened these past few years… oh yes…)… and will be coming to San Francisco for a few days.
And I decided to make a reservation at Californios as my own 40th birthday gift.
When the bill went from the $554 for 2, to $724 after I clicked “Submit”, I gasped, as I’ve never spent that much on a restaurant (including my birthday 10 years ago at 3* Pierre Gagnaire in Paris…)…
But I’m lucky enough that these past few months have worked out alright work-wise for a struggling artist like myself, so I pulled the trigger. And I also noticed that there was already 20% “Service charge”… feeew… so I won’t have to tip… or will I?

I tried searching the internet, and have come upon contradicting information… In France, the Service charge is included, and you tip a few euros if you feel like it… in a starred restaurant you can easily go up to 10 or 20 euros, or more if you’re a high roller, but it is really not needed nor expected… But in the USA the whole culture around tipping is different. So I was ready to tip 20% at every restaurant… but then what is the Service charge?
Should I tip 20% more at Californios?
Would you?
Did you?
Help. :slight_smile:

Thank you.
T. Tilash
(formerly known as Rio Yeti on CH)

No - you do NOT have to tip anything extra.
Many places now have ‘compulsory service charge’ - and in North America a 20% tip is the norm - but you are NOT expected to provide both.

The ‘usual’ justification is that tips/service charges are ‘pooled’ with part going to the kitchen workers (in contrast to the previous situation where the server received the gratuity). This seems to have occurred when kitchen staff became much harder to find at the wages previously paid - at least that’s the explanation I was given by several restaurateurs.

Incidentally, my recent visits to Californios have been exceptional for the food, although the wine pairings don’t seem, to me, to be as exciting as they omce were - I’d probably now choose from the winelist - which raise a new question - is gratuity also included in the wine prices? Some places it is included and some not! Which seems contradictory to the presumed reason for switching to a compulsory service charge.

Incidentally, I have (once only) asked for the ‘compulsory’ service charge to be removed when service was abysmal. The place in question refused, so I responded by saying I wouldn’t pay ANYTHING. They removed the service charge!
I haven’t yet had the situation where I prepaid and requested a (partial) refund.


Thank you very much for this thorough answer, and reassuring me both that I don’t have to tip extra, and also that I chose well for great food!

I stopped doing pairings after I realized it didn’t let me enjoy the food as much, and I always left the restaurant drunk… so I’ll probably just a get a glass of wine. But you’re right it does beg the question about the “service charge” for beverages that will be paid extra…

Maybe I’ll just do the French thing and just add a “little” extra? I just hope it won’t come off as insulting (and actually worst than if I hadn’t left anything).

Anyway, can’t wait to eat at that restaurant. I will report back.

Thanks again.
T. Tilash

Just realized my comment was incomplete (re:wine).
If the bill includes a service charge on the wine (probably 20%), then no additional gratuity is required (or expected).

It is common in North America to tip on the credit card (space is left to do this), rather than in cash. ‘Ethical’ restaurants that include a service charge do NOT include space for a gratuity, and no ‘little extra’ is required. Rather, one adjusts the tip amount on the credit card ‘presented machine’. If, for example, it is set for 20% (it is almost always displayed as a %) you may be given the option to change to a ‘preset on the machine menu: 22% or 25% (say)’. There is almost always a further option to specify amount, which can then be entered as desired.
For myself, I rarely change the preset (except where it is ‘unethically egregious’). But, for example if the ‘preset’ is $123.45 (I’m assuming that is 20%, i.e. bill is $617.25 before gratuity) then I might ‘adjust’ the gratuity to $130 or $140 for exceptional service (or lower for adequate but still reasonably competent). But rarely would I leave $10 (or $20) in cash - except if I screwed up the calculation!
Almost the only exception I use, is when I bring my own wine to a place. There, a typical ‘corkage charge’ is far less than a purchase from the winelist. But the server does the same amount of work to serve my wine, so I think it only ‘fair and right’ to leave an additional gratuity - which I sometimes do in cash, particularly if a ‘service charge’ is already included on the bill.

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In practice I don’t believe this is true in San Francisco anymore. It’s pretty rare where I won’t see a gratuity line even when service charge is already included - maybe at the super high end places, but even then the majority of the time I’ll see the extra line included. My line for ‘ethical’ is now whether the server even informs you that the 20% is already included, and that’s disappointingly spotty.

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i have found ethical restaurants that have a service change and space on the credit card, the servers will explicitly state service is already included and nothing further is expected. i find this practice annoying, but do get the point, so few people carry cash that is it a substantial hassle if a patron wants to put on a few percent. I will also assure you the custom is nothing further. (I understand there are legalities around how a service change can be distributed different from a tip, i believe i greatly prefer the european model, the tides of change have occasionally lapped at our shores but never overtopped the levees)

re wine pairings. i developed a strategy a few years ago (at chez tj in mt view) where i told the server my alcohol budget for the night, in oz, and asked whether i could get a pairing of whatever they think is particularly working, and no more. this worked out really well three times and poorly once. in the cases where it worked well, the sommelier payed special attention to be, checked in, customized on route. and, bonus, i saved money (i just asked them to change me whatever was fair, it was always less than a full pairing).
The som seemed to enjoy an engaged customer, a few times even poured something not on menu either because i would like it, or it covered a few courses better - but stayed in the general size budget. the time is worked poorly they said they would scale down and didn’t. i simply left wine in glasses but would have been better off ordering all purpose glasses (like a gruner veltner and a rhone). i also got charged the full boat.

i think i tend to go with 10oz, that is two and a half pours, also equal to two pints of higher proof beer, and good for me for a long meal or your average night out (even leaving room for a pre or post but not both). Enough to enjoy the meal and lift the spirits without deadening the palate and brain. ymmv :grin:

enjoy your visit!


Thanks for all your input!

So if I get a few drinks, and there is a space for gratuity on the bill, I can add a few extra dollars if I feel like it, but it isn’t required. OK.

@bbulkow Interesting technique regarding the pairings, I’m taking note of it!

Yes, you’ve got it correctly.
Re: engaging with Somm - that nearly always seems to work - they appreciate someone guiding them so that they can better satisfy/help the customer.

Another strategy I use when dining in small groups, with tasting menus, is to ask the Somm to take the cost of two (or four) tasting pairings and instead use that same budget for a bottle (or two or three…) of the Somm’s recommendation.

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From a visit several weeks ago at Californios. Outstanding night with thoughtful, creative dishes which highlights the depth of Mexican (and Latin American) cuisine (which unfortunately too many people mainly associate with cheap $2 tacos but goes far beyond). Good wine/beer/sake pairing. Also, some of the best service we had in a long, long time anywhere - knowledgable, relaxed, fun. It won’t be our last visit for sure

Aqua Fresca - white nectarine, white tea, hibiscus

Chilapita - masa tart, jalapeno & smoked sturgeon mousse, caviar

Kampachi Taco - masa shell, kampachi, yellow peach & habanero vinaigrette, trout roe, chive

Tostada - white masa tostada, lobster poached in sun dried tomatoes & chile puts butter, early girl tomatoes

Venezuelan Arepa - harina, fresh curds cheese, serrano ham. Served with pluot jam

Sope - black masa sope, sea urchin glazed in white soy and piloncillo, camote, chile japones, sturgeon caviar

Hielo - gooseberry sorbet, tomatillo, lemon verbana infused jimmy nardello juice

Melon - watermelon (with serrano salt), piel de sapo (with honey puya salt), cantalouoe (with chicatana ant & chilhuacle negro salt)

Heirloom Tomato Water - nopales, cucamelon, ice lettuce

Blue Fin Tuna - tomatillo in a strawberry aquachile

Banana - Grilled cavendish banana, savory dulce de leche, cold-smoked kaluga caviar
Escabeches - fermented carrots, lime-pickled onions, limes, salsa verde

Tetela - white corn masa, squash blossom, cilantro, epazote, corn pudding, cotija, bean puree, acorn squash pipian

Alfonsino Fish Taco - tortilla chipotle Meco & chile pequin paste, mango, green mango salsa, chile tepin

Mushroom Quesabirria - masa with chanterelle, queso oaxaca, burgundy truffle. Served with black truffle consomme

Asado - A5 wagyu, beef jus, salsa macha. Served with marble potatoes in chintexle, patty pan squash in a jalapeño & watercress vinaigrette

Digestivo - young ginger juice, vermouth, pink lady apple

Oblea - blackberry glass cookie, blackberry coulis, goat cheese, hoja santa

Raspberry & Tomato Raspado - queso fresco ice cream, nixtamalized tomatoes, raspberries

Chiboust - plum chiboust, chocolate sorbet, fresh & demi-sec plums, vanilla olive oil emulsion

Liquid Honey Truffle, white chocolate, bee pollen

Pina Colada paleta, spun coconut sugar



Nice write up!
By the way, I never came back here, because my whole trip was cancelled… hopefully I will be able to go to SF this year, and hopefully hopefully I will be able to go to Californios!


Looks fantastic!

Was this all included with the ~$300 tasting menu? While I don’t have $300 to spend on a dinner, it does look outstanding.

Yes, that was all included in the tasting menu. My wife and I also shared a wine/beer/sake pairing which was also quite nice (they split the pairing portions but where quite generous with the pours so that we got more or less 1.5 wine pairings

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10 oz is 2 pours, not two and a half, just for clarification.

Finally back from my trip to SF, and from my night at Californios.

I’m not going to do a full write up of all that we had, although it was quite different from the dishes honkman had…

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t enjoy writing “negative” reviews, and I will not post a proper review of the place on my website, although I initially planned on doing it… but I feel it is important, especially when spending $805.35, that people know that restaurants, even at this caliber, can have bad nights…
Let me also preface this by saying that this is not “actually” a negative review.

First thing first, I made a mistake. I booked the dinner “outside”, knowing full well that my wife is the most sensitive to cold person on earth (sometimes waiting until August to take of her wool socks at night)… but this particular night in San Francisco was windy, and the heaters outside didn’t help AT ALL.
I was cold. My wife was freezing… she kept her jacket, her wool scarf, her wool scarf, and was all wrapped up like if she had been in a sleeping bag… the sight was pretty funny obviously, which made some people at other tables turn to watch her and laugh… which made her self-conscious and not in a great mood…

Then, the pacing was suuuuupeeer sloooow… To give you an idea, after 2 hours we were still not served our first main dish (taco)… still onto the amuses/appetizers…

On top of that the servers were very stiff. Not smiling (except for one nice guy), explaining the dishes as if we were at a funeral rehearsal. (which we could tell we weren’t only because of the bad lounge faux-trendy music blasting from the speakers)

All of this makes me think (especially compared to other reviews) that something was wrong (not the music, that was probably on purpose). They probably had a bad night, something went wrong in the kitchen, the chef was in a bad mood… I don’t know, but it didn’t feel right.

After those 2 hours, I told my wife I will ask them if there is a possibility to move inside… and, like magic, a server came and told us a table was opening inside, and that he would move us there, without me having to ask, which was nice. Although it took an extra 15 minutes before we were able to actually move inside.

Once inside, the pacing accelerated somewhat (still bringing the whole dinner at 4 hours instead of the 3 that were supposed to be), the servers loosened up a bit (especially when my wife revealed she was spanish, and the mexican servers had a bit of fun trying to translate the “learned by heart” descriptions of the dishes in spanish).

The food was good to very good. A few standout dishes were
the “Chilapita” (Conico Morado Masa Tart, Jalapeño & Smoked Sturgeon Mousse, and Golden Reserve Caviar)
the “Ceviche” (Kombu Cured Hawaian Kanpachi in a Green Tomato & Nettle Aguachile with Serrano Oil and Spring Leaves)
the “Bacalao Negro” (Hickory White Masa Tortilla with Beer & Mezcal Battered Black Cod, in a Sour Cherry & Tamarind Salsa with Napa Cabbage and Limequat)
“Fowl” (Black Twig Apple Glazed & Smoked California Fowl, served with Dried Apple, Grilled Honeycrisp Apples & Grilled Radicchio. Finished with a Pomegranate Manchamantel jus.
“Flan” (Burnt Marshall’s Farms Honey & Vanilla Custard with Macerated Albion Strawberries from Yerena Farms, and a Strawberry & ST. Germain Shrub.
And finally the end chocolate “66% Chocolate Bonbon with Salsa Macha”, which we weirdly had to choose from 3 choices (including a 33% Chocolate Bonbon with Pineapple Pate de Fruit and Brown Butter Vanilla Ganache and a 40% Chocolate Bonbon with Salted Caramel).
Not that I was still hungry at this point, but I would really have loved to taste all three (especially since the 66% one was so good), and I thought it was a weird choice to end the dinner with a choice to be made, and therefore a possible frustration…

Other dishes were mostly good, but not as memorable.

It’s hard for me (and I’m guessing for most people shelling out 800 bucks for a dinner) not to see the dinner through the “was it worth it” lens…

While it is clear by now that for me, personally, that very night -which again was probably a bad night for them- was far from being worth it, I’m trying to project myself on a hypothetical good night… and frankly… I still think it is not worth it.
I know it’s a bit of an arbitrary notion, but here in France, usually, one stars cost around 100€, 2 stars around 200€ and 3 stars around 300€… And if I consider the only 3 star place I went to, which was Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, it cost me about 600€ for 2, and it was an outstanding experience with dishes I still remember 10 years later, by one of the greatest chefs on the planet… I know the economy of a restaurant from one country to another is not the same, and I know the Michelin Guide is not the end-all be-all when it comes to food, and certainly not when it comes to judging the pricing of a restaurant… But I’m human… and I can’t believe I had to pay $200 more for this night than for the night at Pierre Gagnaire (in Paris which is also an expensive city, like San Francisco).

This is not a “negative review” but more-so a warning. Not a warning against Californios, but against ALL expensive dinners.
Going to any restaurant is sort of a gamble, where (contrary to casinos) I would say the diner wins most of the time (if they did their research properly, which I know people on this site do). The more you pay, theoretically the less chance you have of having a bad night, but also the most disappointed you can become if that night turns out to be, indeed, bad…

I’m not bitter, and I don’t want this review to discourage people from going to Californios. I just hope it helps them make informed decisions on all high-end dining experiences, knowing that there’s always (a tiny) risk involved.

Now to find the next splurge I will go to in about 10 years…


You shouldn’t compare European prices to those in the US (especially in California) - restaurants are much more expensive in general but especially tasting menus). We for example really liked our visit to Atelier Crenn a few years back but now at $450 (without tax, tip etc) it is hard to swallow.

Disappointing to hear that the servers weren’t friendly outside - we actually had good experience with them and found it quite relaxed and laid back. And Californios was slow paced which we actually enjoyed (coming from Europe ourselves we think that majority of tasting menus in the US are way too fast paced) - if I remember correctly Californios was about 3:45 hours which was very nice
And yes, SF is cold outside during the evening/night most of the year - August to November are the “let’s sit outside without a jacket and blanket months” - it’s quite different 30 miles south on the Peninsula