I used to be a fan of retaining old signage when a legacy business went under — particularly in the Mission where sensitivity around the disappearance of (mostly Latinx) culture runs high. It seemed kind. Pig & Pie hung on to the Discolandia sign on 24th Street, and Top Round Roast Beef kept it after Pig & Pie closed. On 20th Street is the 20 Spot, a wine bar with the sign of the record store it used to be. But what felt like preservation now feels like fossilization, and a sort of talisman of woke awareness to neutralize any charge of gentrification.
“We know what used to be here, and we loved it, too,” these signs seem to say. “But something something innovative empowerment community.”
Every time I walk into the newest high-end salad spot Mixt at 901 Valencia St., I think of La Rondalla (1951-2007, 2014-16), the Mexican dive named for a Medieval Spanish band of lute-playing minstrels, and all the ridiculously stiff margaritas. La Rondalla’s fate was sealed long before Mixt ever moved in, so I want to be very clear that nobody kicked anybody out. But the sterile white walls and hyper-earnest marketing — one infographic-covered wall boasts about how the “number of times our most loyal customers eat Mixt per month” is 21 — remind us that the transformation of Valencia Street isn’t nearly done yet, even if the original signs are still there. The weirdness has been replaced by a sort of flamboyant ordinariness, crowned by a salad spot that desperately needs to be perceived as super-hip, although a lemonade place with the hideously godawful name “Gourmonade” is on its way.
This Mixt location brings the company right up to San Francisco’s formula-retail threshold of 11, and as this is basically a flagship, that feels like a savvy move. Any further shops and Mixt will have to seek conditional approval, so good thing they have La Rondalla’s gaudy mid-century arrow intact. It might not read “La Rondalla” in red forever, though. A rendering depicted it replaced with the Mixt design, and on more recent visits, a painter was already at work on the business’ doorframe.
I’ve never lived in the Mission and I don’t mean to adopt its struggle as some personal cause, but Mixt’s calculated inoffensiveness feels designed by a focus group convened in 2011. (A ceiling beam reads, “ ‘I really regret eating healthy today.’ — No one ever.” It might be time to retire that rib-tickler.) Yes, Mixt is expensive, but so is everything, and if a family of four living on $120K a year from a single earner is now considered working-class by Bay Area standards, all questions of price comparisons are now moot. On the subject of cost and getting by in S.F., it would be nice if Mixt gave patrons the option to leave a gratuity. Any legal gray area about sharing tips with the back-of-house staff has been cleared up.
But the salads and grain bowls are good. Every salad I tried, in fact, was good — although merely good, with little differentiation, and they dwarf the tiny hunk of sourdough you get with each. The Nomad (a huge effing bowl of pearl couscous with arugula, wheat berries, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken, assorted other veggie bits, with avocado green goddess dressing and kalonji) feels at once overwhelming and underwhelming. Its dozen ingredients yield a nice contrast of textures, but in the end, all the care lavished on their selection and all that blandly prolix, buzzword-studded marketing-speak about “making real food choices” just feels like a $13 bowl of vegetables without anything to tie them together. Ditto the Orchard, which spruces up kale and apples with smoked bacon, toasted almonds, and cheddar for $13.45 only to feel ordinary. Why is exuberant health so lifeless sometimes? If Mixt had a more varied or imaginative condiment selection beyond salt, pepper, and Sriracha, maybe we could self-actualize more fully through real food choices.
Steer toward the seasonal offerings. Although a little salty — and the only thing I didn’t need to add salt to — the Elote (butter lettuce, cabbage, grilled chicken, grilled corn, heirloom tomatoes, avocado, jicama, pumpkins seeds, scallions, cotija, and a lime crema dressing) had an appealing maximalism. Why argue about whether tomatoes or corn is the No. 1 summer vegetable when you can have it all?
The Francisco Park is probably the best item. An $11.95 beauty that piles the obligatory kale high with grilled peaches, goat cheese, toasted almonds, shaved fennel, and a matcha cashew dressing, it’s an ambassador for vegetarianism with lots of tart and nutty notes and a nice bite. (The name refers to the 4.5-acre parcel in North Beach that’s destined to become San Francisco’s newest playspace, and every time you buy one you contribute 50 cents to its eventual construction.) While kombucha on tap is always fun, there are various iced teas and lemonades that span the full spectrum of sweetness. I usually deflect to near-sugarlessness, but the seasonal guava lemonade was very sweet and equally satisfying.
Around the corner — but still inside — a secret weapon is gestating. Wholly unlike the art-gallery whiteness of the main dining room is Mixt’s “salad lounge,” a supposedly cheeky salon where we will someday be treated to kale mimosas and other self-aware treats that may be parodies or ways of parrying parody. As is, it’s dim and partitioned off by a gold doorway chain, it’s got a leather couch and seating around various two-tops — and if it’s not fully open yet, you can still go in there and eat your salad in strangely rococo environs. Eating there alone is odd but I will take the bait as soon as the time comes.
To its infinite credit, Mixt doesn’t throw pseudoscience about superfoods at you, and a sandwich board on the sidewalk requests that people respect the bike lane by not idling in it. (From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.) And again, the portions are very good. But it’s hard not to remember that there used to be a weird Mexican dive here with trashy shows on TV and Xmas lights all year. The Valencia we have now is danger-free and nutritious to the point that bad decisions are no longer even possible, and it closes at nine.
Mixt, 901 Valencia St., 415-296-8009 or mixt.com