Best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco
A offshoot of the popular, acclaimed Nopa restaurant, Nopalito offers authentic, from-scratch Mexican cooking made with local, sustainable and organic ingredients. This is the antithesis of slapped-together street food. Dishes are carefully composed with subtle flavors to create deliciously complex interpretations of traditional Mexican meals: carnitas is slow-cooked and braised in orange, bay leaf, milk, cinnamon and beer; mole coloradito con pollo is made with toasted chiles, almonds, Ibarra chocolate, dried plums and a huge array of spices. Don't miss any version of tangy, tender nopales (cactus leaves), frequently on the menu in the form of tamales or in dishes such as queso flameado con chorizo y nopales (flamed Oaxacan and jack cheese with grilled cactus and chorizo).
The Mission burrito, as iconic to San Francisco as fog and cable cars, is the star at La Taqueria, a stalwart of the Mission District for more than 40 years. While some quibble over the exclusion of rice, no one argues over the tastiness of their behemoth foil-wrapped burrito bombs, filled with beans, cheese, salsa and meats ranging from carne and pollo asada to carnitas, chorizo and lengua. The tidy, no-frills spot also features tacos, quesadillas and a full selection of aguas frescas. Whatever your preference, start off with a basket of chips and the super-fresh guacamole.
Chock full of ceramic dogs, pom-pom lamps and a patchwork of pop-art wallpapers, Loló resembles a mash-up of a thrift store and a summer getaway mood board. The Mission eatery’s food is equally bright: you’ll find Mexican food with a California twist, like crispy-creamy panko-fried avocado tacos and seared pork belly salad with mint, fennel and curried peanuts. We recommend rolling in with as many friends as you can find—not only is the festive atmosphere perfect for parties, but more guests means you’ll have an excuse to order one of everything.
Located inside the historic Officer’s Club in the Presidio, Arguello serves up straightforward Californian-Mexican classics such as chile verde, shrimp ceviche, and cheese and poblano tamales in a refined atmosphere. The menu is centered around the outdoor comal (griddle) on Arguello’s heated patio, where fresh corn tortillas are made every day. Toast with a craft cocktail to California history and the restaurant's namesake — Luis Antonio Arguello, a commander in the Presidio in the early 19th century and the onetime governor of Alta California.
From Back of the House, the restaurant group behind Uno Dos Tacos and Super Duper burgers, Flores is a new, traditional Mexican spot featuring fresh tortillas and strong cocktails. Tortillas are made by hand daily using fresh masa and served warm paired with classic dishes such as mole negro poblano, duck confit enchiladas, and citrus-roasted pork shoulder carnitas. The modern cocktail menu emphasizes Mexican-made spirits, such as the tequila and mescal-based Curandera which features damiana agave that grows wild in Baja California.
This Mission restaurant from chef Val Cantu is truly a hidden gem. Cantu's cuisine pays homage to his Mexican roots and culinary traditions, while reflecting his ethos as a chef who is always innovating and pushing. The tasting menu is as beautiful as it is delicious, and a fun twist is that you never know what’s coming—the menu isn’t presented until the end. Other twists: there are white tablecloths and refined service, but the vibe is urban, with distinctive artwork and a cheeky soundtrack. The dining room itself is also stylish and a pleasure to dine in. Have beverage director Charlotte Randolph manage the pairings for you since you won’t know what dishes are coming next—kind of like Cantu’s ever-evolving cooking, it keeps you coming back to read the next chapter.
Here, traditional Mexican street food—tacos, enchiladas, sopes, tostadas—is interpreted with local, seasonal and supremely fresh ingredients. Sit at one of the tall tables, belly up to the bar, or bask under Paul Madonna's cityscape mural on the patio in the company of bearded hipsters discussing their latest DIY projects. Whether you order albacore tuna tostadas with crispy leeks and chipotle mayo, or one of a dozen taco offerings like guajillo-braised beef short ribs, all come with three kinds of salsa (the habanero with turmeric and rice vinegar may require one of the 100 specialty tequilas to cool you down).
Mexican and vegan are not terms you would expect to sidle up against each other in a restaurant concept, but Gracias Madre has not only married the ideas, it's done so with spectacular success. Antojitos (street food-inspired starter snacks) such as grilled potato-masa gorditas topped with salsa verde and cashew cream, and sweet potato and caramelized onion quesadillas topped with cashew cheese and pumpkin-seed salsa are full of piquant flavor and meaty textures, and don't suffer in the least from their lack of animal ingredients. Main plates such as nopales (prickly pear cactus) topped with pico de gallo and cashew cheese, accompanied by black beans, rice and handmade tortillas, and an heirloom masa tamale stuffed with seasonal veggies will leave you satisfied and possibly rethinking your preconceived notions of vegan food. Desserts are also excellent, especially the peach cobbler.
House-made tortillas and sauces are the foundation for Padrecito's ever-changing, seasonal menu. Traditional Mexican dishes, made using ingredients from the restaurant's sister farm in Sonoma County, range from several types of ceviche and chilaquiles to delectable tacos made with goat barbacoa. Don't forget to admire Padrecito's eclectic decor which includes classic Mexican movie posters, vintage photos and Day of the Dead masks.
Another tasty addition to the Marina dining scene, Sabrosa was inspired by the cuisine in Guanajuato, Mexico and each dish is prepared with ingredients derived from the organic and sustainable farms in Northern California. In addition to textbook perfect aguachile and carnitas-filled huevos rancheros, they’ve also got a build-your-own mimosa option with a range of fresh juices.