Last week, special guest restaurant reviewer EAT-IT Pilaf was terminally unimpressed with the Castro’s new drag restaurant, Hamburger Mary’s, which is in fact phoning it in super-hard over there. (Pilaf is also a quarrelsome termagant who takes off her press-ons so she can crack her knuckles in church, and we won’t be inviting her back here anytime soon.)
But one underlying point of her review was that the Castro is full of commercial vacancies, which are eating into the neighborhood’s character as an LGBTQ redoubt — something gentrification and displacement have already done damage to. And this week, we’re happy to report that the Castro has gotten a new bar with stupidly awesome and kitschy decor and sloppily fun drinks. Nothing is watery, nothing is self-serious, and nothing is deadening to the soul.
It’s called Papi Rico, and it went in where Dante’s Table used to be because Dante’s peaked. The idea is that you’re on one of those vacations to Puerto Vallarta where you might accidentally not leave the resort, something that’s gross and dumb when Americans do it in real life, but the appeal of it here is very hard to resist, because Papi Rico looks like a cross between the stage set for whatever tour ABBA debuted “Fernando” on and Iris Apfel’s outdoor tablecloth. Its foyer is decorated with ropes decked out with booty shorts and undies from one of the Castro’s many perpetually-going-out-of-business stores, and the restroom is wallpapered in Frida Kahlo at her most glowering. One wall has a map of Mexico made out of artfully crushed up license plates, and there’s a big phallus hidden among the foliage in a corner that may or may not double as a shower for the staff. There’s even a stain in the bar top’s patination that sure looks a lot like a penis (or maybe a squid).
A project from the team behind Finn Town, this powerclash cantina takes its name from Latin American slang for a good-looking man, and the menu delivers exactly what you’d expect: chips and guacamole, ceviche, al pastor quesadillas, and other approachable antojitos. Fish tacos are pure SoCal, but they’re there to be had, maybe after a carnitas tostada and before an order of churros with chocolate and crème anglaise. If you want a rich pozole or mole with a dozen spices poking through, venture elsewhere, but if you want to chill after work with friends, this patio is open until 10 p.m. nightly.
The drinks are slightly more inventive than the food, with frozen treats like the Punta Negra (tequila, dry curaçao, lime, passion fruit, and habanero) and the Mismaloya (mezcal, egg white, lemon, and hibiscus) alongside standbys like margaritas and a Dirty Michelada made with a house Bloody Mary mix. The usual Mexican lagers are all there — Sol, Tecate, Corona — plus offerings like Henhouse Oyster Stout.
Above all else, Papi Rico is banking on its atmosphere — although it should be noted that there have been issues around cultural insensitivity in the Castro in the past, most notably the ill-fated bar-restaurant Banditos (later Hecho, Hecho Cantina, and now an entirely different concept, Botellón). From the patio to the Gecko Lounge, Papi Rico’s walls are just plain ridiculous — and while it’s full of tropes from a particular strain of Mexican culture, nothing is rude or mocking in tone. While they were commissioned to work in an authentic P.V. style, the muralists probably could have put in a bit more effort not to make the frolickers less all-male. Hopefully, somebody can paint in a few women, please just not over the dreamboat in the captain’s hat with the anchor tattoo.
Papi Rico, 544 Castro St., papiricosf.com