Nopalito is described as a “neighborhood Mexican kitchen” and we would tend to agree. The spaces (there are actually two, one in the Sunset District and one in Hayes Valley) are simple and open. Both have an exposed kitchen, simple decorations, a no reservation policy and a general laid back air that we feel is an ideal setting for Mexican food. Servers are casual but knowledgeable and the menu is straightforward and unpretentious. They focus on traditional Mexican cooking as well as using local, sustainable ingredients. They take the traditional part seriously, so don’t expect to find grande burritos or towering piles of nachos. It’s a great marriage between quality cooking one comes to expect from San Francisco and the neighborhood feel that makes people comfortable.
The Carnitas is one of their entree sized dishes, and similar to most of the menu, it’s quite simple. The carnitas arrives in a parchment pouch along with a cabbage salad, pickled jalepenos, tomatillo salsa and some tortillas. Upon ripping into the pouch a little burst of steam rises out and you behold the pork. It’s a good amount of meat, and it’s still in one full piece. The color is a nice rich brownish red and a first touch confirms that this thing is ready to just fall apart (in the way good braised meat wants to). We asked and were told the braising ingredients are just orange, bay leaf, milk, cinnamon and beer. We opted to make a small taco with the meat, cabbage, jalepeno and salsa, and dug in. The meat itself is very tender and our self made taco was quite delicious on the whole. We suggest eating it this way because the meat by itself is a bit bland. This doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it’s just that the braising is very simple and meant to feature the natural flavor of the meat. Put the wonderful texture of the meat with their ohmygodthatsgood hot sauce (what we dubbed their homemade sauce), some fixings and a tortilla, and you have a damn good morsel on your hands.
We like it, we love it, we want some more of it. The place is great and the food is great. You get to branch out with some new dishes you may not be familiar with, but they are all very solid. In addition to the Carnitas, we had their Quesadilla Roja, Ceviche and Taco Pescado, and all were fantastic. A good friend of ours works there so we now have further incentivization to return, but we would have been heading back regardless. This place is definitely worth a try if you’re in town.
A & K