If you exclude Mexico City — or CMDX, its equivalent of Washington, D.C. — Mexico has 31 states, many of which have their own immediately recognizable regional delicacies, grouped into seven principal regions. Guadalajara is famed for pozole, while various moles hail from the south and burritos are most commonly found in Juarez and other border towns. While Mexican food at every price point can be had somewhere in San Francisco, Jose Alvarez, chef de cuisine at Traci des Jardins’ Presidio restaurant Arguello, has taken it upon himself to tackle them systematically.
Taste of Mexico may have a deceptively simple name, but after having launched in February with Veracruz — the central state on the Caribbean coast — it’s moved onto the southwestern powerhouse of Oaxaca. A seismically active state with a large number of inhabitants who speak indigenous languages, its topography and relative isolation have allowed for the retention of traditional methods and recipes.
To wit, Flavors of Oaxaca — available through the end of March — has a $12 plate of empanadas made with huitlacoche (or corn smut), Oaxacan cheese, pasilla peppers, the pungent herb epazote, and tomatillo salsa, plus a variation on a “Mexican pizza” called a tlayuda. Here, the “tlayudita” ($13) consists of black beans, chicken, rice, crema, and Oaxacan cheese.
Because this is the land of the seven moles, you’ll find two. Alvarez’s Oaxaca mole is made with ribeye, guajillo-spiced potatoes, roasted vegetables, and sesame seeds ($31), while the vegetable-heavy mole amarillo contains striped bass, a tomatillo salad, and the corn dumplings known as chochoyotes. The Presidio’s Arguello Gate brings you right by Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture Spire, but Arguello is your gate to something altogether different.
Taste of Mexico, at Arguello, 50 Moraga Ave., the Presidio, 415-561-3650 or arguellosf.com