On the bright and busy corner of Fourth and Bryant streets that’s currently crowded by an excavator and construction barricades, Deanna Sison Foster (of Little Skillet and Farmer Brown) has set up a Central American oasis called Mestiza Taqueria. Inspired by the street eats of Mexico and the Philippines, this “melting pot” eatery features flavor profiles from the southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, as well. A corrugated steel and wood-framed wall protects afternoon eaters and the sunny communal tables, set against a tropical mural on the neighboring wall.
Indoors, an upbeat and eclectic selection of rap, blues, and R&B plays in a laid-back atmosphere rife with botanical wallpaper, exotic flowers, funky spherical light fixtures, and an assortment of hanging baskets. A small bar and beverage station serves a handful of wines, local draft beer, and imported cans and bottles. Agua fresca, Jarritos, and soda are offered as well.
Baskets of just-fried corn chips come complimentary, along with a spicy house salsa and a refreshing salsa verde. The menu, honed by Chopped Grill Masters champ Sophina Uong (formerly of Calavera and Pican), features six house specialties. They range from Filipino pork to Thai red curry beef, and can be ordered as tacos, burritos, or mestizo bowls loaded with garlic rice and black beans, vegetable pancit, ginger salsa, and pickled papaya. Although the hongos y rajas (mushrooms and strips of chile peppers) have a rich, earthy flavor, the spice level is mild. The Khmer lemongrass chicken is on the dry side, with most of the flavor coming from crumbled peanuts and the quick douse of avocado cream that serves as its only sauce. Juicy and sweet, the Pescado al pastor (rock fish on my visit) is seasoned with cumin and topped with a salsa of pineapple-arbol chile.
The service is excellent, though you won’t experience much of it after placing your order at the counter. It’s a low-key space; not fussy, but still thoughtful. Metal plates are lined with strips of banana leaves and tables are furnished with mason jars full of tropical fronds and flowers. With the days getting longer, the post-work crowd is likely to go for another round and snack on an order of arbol chile cheese queso and shrimp chips. It’s no tropical paradise, but it’s a welcome new neighbor for the techies and tourists stopping in SoMa.
Mestiza Taqueria, 595 Bryant St., 415-655-9187 or mestizasf.com