Mexico DF Dominates

The wonderful food trumps everything else at Mexico DF

This is a list of the things I'm not nuts about at my new favorite restaurant: the noise level, with contributions from both the buzzing patrons and the insistent canned music; the décor, which feels overwrought, not organic, with too many ideas, too many colors, too many elements; the uneven service.

This is a list of the things I'm nuts about at my new favorite restaurant: every single dish eaten over three visits. My companions at the first two meals repeatedly exclaimed their pleasure. "I lucked out" was the contented summing-up from my friend after our particularly satisfying supper. And as I reflect on what we had, I have the same reaction, again and again: I feel hungry, my mouth waters, and I'm determined to repeat the experience.

I have a downtown lunch date with two friends, and we meet at Mexico DF. (The DF means Distrito Federal, denoting the capital, and is another name for Mexico City.) It occupies a space on Steuart, something of a restaurant row, in a brick building between the entrances to Shanghai 1930 and Ozumo. The façade features folding glass-and-metal doors that can be flung open to the street, permitting you to look into the com pact, square barroom, with a few small wood tables and chairs and an eight-seat bar. There's a tiny, intimate lounge tucked to one side, veiled by gauzy curtains.

Keep the lights on: Five nights out of seven, this place is open until 1 a.m.
Jen Siska
Keep the lights on: Five nights out of seven, this place is open until 1 a.m.

Location Info

Map

Mexico DF

139 Steuart
San Francisco, CA 94105

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Embarcadero

Details

Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday and Monday until 10 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: Valet parking $12 at lunch, $10 at dinner. Muni: 14, 14L, 14X, 41, F, J, K, L, M, N. Noise level: High.

Corn soup$8

Chuleta tacos, two$9

Three seviches$22

Carnitas$15/half-pound, $26/pound

Goat tacos$12

Sautéed corn with beans and purslane$5

Chocolate cake with chile and sea salt$9

139 Steuart (at Mission), 808-1048, www.mex-df.com.

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Behind the bar, separated by an open shelving unit stacked with wine and spirits (largely tequilas, though not in as great a number as the 60 different kinds listed on the menu), is the main dining room. I'm led to the edge of a communal dining table that could seat a dozen in comfort. It's right in the middle of the room, at the end nearest to the open, white-tiled kitchen and its grill. There are plush orange-upholstered banquettes that ring the room. Every seat is filled, but I ask the host to reseat us if something opens up.

My pals arrive and we scan the lunch menu. There are half a dozen dishes listed under botanas y antojitos, including a classic guacamole and a seviche of the day; four different soft tacos; four platos fuertos, or main dishes, including a salad to which you can add grilled chicken or salmon; and five al lado, or side dishes, including two kinds of beans and arroz Mexicano. In addition to the information that "Most of our produce, meats, and fish are from sustainable producers," there is the impressive list of some of Mexico DF's suppliers: Primo Ranch, Anson Mills, The Peach Farm, Liberty Ducks, and Pacheco Goats.

Good news: A booth-like table has opened up against the far wall. It's much quieter there. While sipping the delicious watermelon juice that is the day's sole licuado, aka agua fresca, we decide to start by sharing a bowl of sopa de elote (corn soup), and then to continue on to pork tacos, the salad with grilled king salmon, chilaquiles topped with an optional fried egg, and a side of nopalitos.

It happens that our server brings everything at once. The main dishes don't really have a chance to cool off, because the creamy corn soup, traced with a squiggle of chipotle sauce, is so delicious that it disappears in a trice under our three-spooned assault.

And everything else is as stellar. The two plump chuleta tacos are overflowing with crumbled pork loin and anointed with lively chile de arbol salsa. Tender Little Gem lettuce leaves tremble under a creamy dressing laden with mild yet pungent cotija cheese, and the generous portion of coral-colored salmon is still rare at its heart. The chilaquiles, a dish of broken-up tortilla chips soaked in salsa roja, sautéed with chunks of chicken, dressed with rich, cool crema and dusted with cotija cheese, benefits from the golden yolk of the fried egg.

And the nopalitos, slivered, dark green, slightly bitter cactus and juicy golden chayote squash, cooked with diced tomato and queso fresco (bland, pale cheese), are swell.

We finish with two superb sweets: a wedge of flourless chocolate cake that's been amped up with chile powder (most noticeable in its aftertaste) and a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt, and a beautiful fresh Mission fig tart on a round of puff pastry, with a tangy side of goat cheese crema.

There's a reason aside from the food that Mexico DF is my new favorite restaurant: Five nights out of seven, it's open until 1 a.m. We take advantage of that fact, showing up after a play one night at 11 p.m. We're shown to a tiny deuce near the kitchen. While waiting for our food, I check off some of the wacky design elements: a strange sculptural three-paneled red-and-wood fixture slanting over the kitchen, studded with lights; another bizarre fixture over the central table, with two pierced metal plates bearing warty round light bulbs, and dozens of crystals hanging by threads; brightly colored chargers in a number of different motifs on every table; exposed brick; large sculptural artifacts behind gauze curtains. Strangest are the framed "paintings," reproductions of Latino artists on changing computer screens. Tonight Rufino Tamayo is featured.

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