San Jalisco started out as the New Central Café, in the 50s, located on 14th Street, one of two restaurants Anita and Vicente Padilla opened once they established themselves here from the state of Mexico. Owned by the Padilla-Reyes family, they’ve been at their current location on South Van Ness since 1988, with current chef/owner Josie Padilla-Reyes having taken over cooking duties from her father.
The restaurant was for a time called Los Jarritos – meaning “little clay pots,” of which there are many on display in this brightly colored and cheerful traditional Mexican restaurant. But a soda company by the same name forced them to change it, and the family decided on San Jalisco as a nod to both areas – San Francisco, CA, and Jalisco, Mexico – from where they hail. Our server on our first visit was Chef Josie’s niece. Another server in the dining room turned out to be her mother, and has been working in the family business since she was 5! You don’t get much more old school than this.
One of the restaurant’s dishes of fame is birria – goat. I must admit that I came to San Jalisco several years ago – I didn’t remember it was the same place because at the time it was called Los Jarritos – and ordered one of the goat dishes, but found it dry. The BF had a gigantic burrito that he wasn’t pleased with, so we hadn’t returned. But I’m glad we did.
The BF had the big idea of ordering the El Trio – a sampler plate of appetizers consisting of a chicken flauta in a sweet mole, a fried crispy taco stuffed with mashed potatoes, and a vegetarian sope.
What we didn’t know was that the dish came with two of each item! We could have split just this plate for dinner and been utterly stuffed. Everything was tasty, but just too much – palate fatigue was achieved quite early in the evening. I did, however, especially like the potato tacos, and the mole was scrumptious. The sope was drowned under everything else and rather a soggy mess by the time we got to it – yet still managed to be a little tough to eat.
For my meal, I was torn between the sopa de res (beef soup) and the posole with pork chili colorado – two of the handwritten specials. The server made my choice easy as she said they had run out of the beef soup – it’s a very popular item here, and they actually sell it every day. I was actually advised to call ahead next time I want it and they could put aside a bowl for me.
That posole! Tender chunks of pork swam in a richly colored, deeply flavorful, jewel-like red chili broth, flanked by a dish of cabbage, radishes, limes, and chopped raw onion for table-top enhancement. Excellent.
Served with their very corn-y, homemade tortillas for sopping and scooping.
The BF had ordered a combo plate (“Combinación Tres Colores”) of three items for himself, still unaware that we had the mother of all sampler platters coming…
Chile relleno, chicken enchilada in red sauce, and a beef tostada, with rice and beans and salad. Once again, everything was rather haphazardly place atop each other, and so it was difficult to discern one flavor from the next, but if you managed to get a bite of one item alone, each was quite tasty. I especially loved the chile relleno – the perfect combo of eggy cheesiness. The rice and beans were rather standard. The beef tostada especially suffered from being suffocated underneath everything else, but once we unearthed it, the meat itself had great flavor. Needless to say, the BF barely made a dent in his dish, and we took most of it home.
On our next visit, we sat in the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera alcove. Loved all the artwork here, and the bright colors of this room
Apparently not having learned my lesson the first time, I ordered an appetizer: queso fundido (literally, “melted cheese”)…
I’d only ever had the Velveeta version with some chopped ortegas and chips. San Jalisco’s was made with creamy Monterey Jack, studded with grilled mushrooms, strips of nopales (cactus), and pico de gallo, and served with those great tortillas. Delicious! Like scraping off the top of a super melty cheese and mushroom pizza – in a good way.
The BF decided to test the fates and ordered a burrito – this time, a mojado.
However, instead of getting the typical red or green sauce, he let the server talk him into the mole. The mole here is great in its own right, but it was a bit of an odd pairing, to us, with the carne asada. It was sweet, chocolatey and clove-forward, and it overwhelmed all the other flavors in the burrito. It wasn’t bad, just not what he expected.
I just had to order their best-selling sopa de res.
As you can see, this behemoth of a bowl practically brims over with veggies - corn on the cob, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, and green beans, and good chunks of beef, in a rich beefy broth, served with pico de gallo, cut lemon and lime, and a bit of rice on the side so it doesn’t expand too much in that broth. Served with more sopping-up tortillas, this was another homey, warming bowl of tummy love.
Again, we could easily have split one of these dishes, and been quite satisfied, the portions are so enormous.
San Jalisco has been around forever (in one incarnation or another), and it seems that as long as this family keeps going, they will remain around forever. To help ensure that, in this day when old stand-bys can get booted by greedy landlords, the Padilla-Reyes family bought the building the restaurant is housed in, to avoid future rent hikes. From an old photograph over the counter area, Mamá Anita y Papá Vicente beam down upon you as if to say, “We’re not going anywhere.”
901 S. Van Ness Ave. @ 20th
San Francisco, CA 94110