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Photograph: Courtesy Arguello

The 10 best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco

There's more to Mexican food than taco and burritos. Try varied, exciting and authentic dishes at the best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco.

By Amy Sherman and Sarah Medina

It doesn't have to be Tuesday to eat delicious Mexican food. In fact, some of the best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco offer more than just the best tacos and burritos in the city. Head to one of these authentic eateries to experience Oaxacan mole, Yucatecan cochinita pibil and CDMX-style ceviche. No, they're not all in the Mission District, and yes, some are also among the best cocktail bars in San Francisco. So the next time you're planning to go out on Taco Tuesday, hit up one of these Mexican restaurants in San Francisco. 

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Best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco

Photograph: Chloe List

1. Cala

Restaurants Mexican Civic Center

This bright and airy upscale spot features innovative Mexican food made with locally sourced ingredients such as sopes with California sturgeon caviar, dungeness crab tostadas with celery root and habanero, and King trumpet mushrooms, bottarga and chickweed. Seafood dishes shine here and pair well with the restaurant's excellent cocktails.

El Buen Comer
Photograph: Yelp/David K.

2. El Buen Comer

Restaurants Glen Park

Guisados are the focus here, served with freshly made tortillas, rice and beans. The menu is perfect for communal meals where everyone dips into dishes like luscious green mole pork stew, meatballs with squash and chipotle or braised chicken with red mole. The churros are a must-order for dessert. 

La Torta Gorda
Photograph: Yelp/Ann S

3. La Torta Gorda

The cuisine of Puebla is the focus at this old fashioned diner with a pleasant patio in back. Rightly famous for their tortas—toasty Mexican sandwiches slathered with refried beans and layered with avocado, queso fresco, onions, chiles and meat—the restaurant's mole dishes and large quesadillas stuffed with huitalacoche or nopales are just as noteworthy. It’s also one of the few restaurants where you will find chile en nogada, a seasonal dish of poblano peppers stuffed with meat, nuts, fruits and spices, doused in a walnut cream sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Taqueria Los Mayas
Photograph: Yelp/Jonathan H

4. Taqueria los Mayas

This restaurant may seem like your standard taqueria, but it's really all about the cuisine of los Mayas. The menu is full of Yucatecan specialties including meats marinated in citrus and achiote like cochinita pibil, poc chuc and pollo motuleño. Start off with small dishes like the tasty empanadas, sopes, and panuchos, which are crispy fried flat masa cakes stuffed with black beans and topped with meat, lettuce, cabbage, avocado, and pickled red onion. Yum. 

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Premshree Pillai

5. Nopalito

Restaurants Inner Sunset

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, 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).

Photograph: Aubrie Pick Photography

6. LoLó

Restaurants Mexican Mission

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. 

Photograph: Courtesy Arguello

7. Arguello

Restaurants Mexican Presidio

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.

Photograph: Yelp/Chad S.

8. Californios

Restaurants Mexican Mission

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 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. Let loose and elt beverage director Charlotte Randolph manage the pairings. 

Gracias Madre
Photograph: Christina Bartel

9. Gracias Madre

Restaurants Mission

At this vegan Mexican spot, 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 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.

Crudo at Padrecito
Photograph: Yelp/ Lisa I

10. Padrecito

Restaurants Mexican Cole Valley

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 Dia de los Muertos masks.

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