Ladies and gents, we’ve found a new restaurant that we are completely and totally, head-over-heels in love with.
It was touch-and-go for a bit. This restaurant joins several good ones on Chestnut street, which are all plagued with the same problem. On a weekend, they are impossible to get into without a reservation or a long wait. Tacolicious is no different. It’s great for the restaurant but awful for the people who just spent forty-five minutes finding parking only to find that a table is another forty-five minutes away. This was in its second open week. San Franciscans sure know how to welcome restaurants with open arms and wallets.
The next time we got in through the door, but were nearly blasted right back out by the sheer wall of sound and people that greeted us. The music was intensely loud and I found myself screaming at the hostess about tables and the bar. Finally, we grabbed a couple of tacos, guacamole and some fried plantains to-go and blew out of the place. Conversation of any kind was impossible in there. Call me crazy, but I like discussing the food and other world events with my dinner companions as I eat. Not that I would have gotten to rest on even half a bar stool that night. Tacolicious was living the very high life.
It might have been a to-go order, but it was packed with the same care and precision that I was to later realize that they put into all their food. The fresh tortilla chips and salsa that arrive at your table for you to nibble on as you peruse the menu had been thoughtfully included. So were the three different kinds of salsa that arrive with the tacos. You can tell a lot about restaurants serving Mexican food from their salsa and guacamole. Tacolicious scores flashing high numbers in this regard. They have this tangy green tomatillo salsa and smoky brown chipotle salsa, along with a searing yellow habenero one that set the soul of this chilli lover ablaze. The guacamole was easily some of the best I’ve eaten in a restaurant, with a creamy consistency, sour but not too much. We were hooked.
The next couple of times that we went, we got tables. While the restaurant was loud, it was no longer shooting for airfield decibels. My favourite visit was last night. The far end of the copper-covered bar is smartly sectioned off, with stacks of bowls, plates and glasses to form its own little ‘table’. On a packed Wednesday night, this is the table we were lucky to get. I loved every second because I was right up where the chefs were cooking the taco fillings and cutting through fleshy avocadoes to stir up their amazing guacamole. Right next to our “table” is where the orders come up so I got to see a lot of the other platings. That, coupled with the fact that our food came to us the second it was ready, made for a fantastic experience. I enjoy watching professionals cook almost too much for someone who hates being watched when she cooks. I almost wondered how the chefs cope, but that was before I realized that almost no other customer was watching them as closely or giddily as I was.
The food was as amazing as it has previously been. We tried their queso for the first time and were as entertained by its cheesy, jalapeno goodness as we were by its description which reads “Sustainable? No. Local? Nope. Delicious? Yep.” I loved that the restaurant has a gentle sense of humour. I’m all for eating & buying local, but there is such a thing in San Francisco as a menu that forgets that its primary purpose is to explain what the restaurant is serving that day, instead of pretentious locavorism. (Not there wasn’t some of that on this menu. It is, after all, a San Francisco restaurant. Nothing over-the-top though.) The shot & beer braised chicken tacos are amazing. The fall-apart chicken is delicious in its sauce, which combined with the salsas, shoots right out of this world. The chorizo-and-potato tacos were like a clarion call to my tastebuds, with shades of shepherd’s pie. The tacos are about four inch in diameter. You might think them small, but make no mistake, they are just right.
Sitting next to the place where the orders were being dished up as I was, I chatted with the friendly and efficient wait-staff as they prepped little square, white bowls of colourful salsa and bamboo serving spoons. They asked us how we liked our food and pointed out several of their favourites on the menu that they thought we ought to try. I loved their energy given that it was pretty late when I got there after an evening class. Their energetic, cheery vibe coupled with the fabulous food blew the tiring day right out of my head.
Dessert was the only place where we hit a jarring note. We tried the pan con chocolate. Much as I am a fan of nutella and toast for breakfast, I wouldn’t eat it for dessert. But this is the feeling I got when I tried to eat the luscious, ganache-like mousse with the served-alongside crostatas. I really think I’d prefer churros instead. Or nothing at all. The chocolate mousse-ganache is fabulous all on its own, served with the sprinkling of sea salt and drizzle of olive oil. I got lost in chocolate heaven while Amey used the crostata to mop up the last remnants of the salsa, which he completely adored.
By the end of the meal, we were completely won over, by the food and the courteous staff alike. There were plenty of people around for a Wednesday night but the restaurant had now taken on the vibe of a busy, neighbourhood pub instead of trendy restaurant. I asked some girls sitting close by how they liked their margaritas and they told us they thought they were some of the best on that street. High praise indeed for a restaurant that shares the street with a more established favourite of mine, Mamacita. Tacolicious has vegetarian options as well. The squash taco sounded pretty good, as did the Thursday night poblano pepper, lemon-herb rice special. Their specials are different every night. I haven’t tried any of them yet.
Whether you want to eat delicious food, people-watch or just grab a drink or two late at night, Tacolicious is a high contender. It’s open until midnight seven days a week, which alone would get it several accolades in a town where most restaurants don’t go beyond ten on weeknights. The trendy decor has traditional motifs quietly worked in, like the very catholic prayer candles that flicker away on the farthest wall, casting a warm glow on the dark, brown finish. As the Mexicano waiter waved a Shukriya (thank you in Hindi) to me as I walked out, I had one of those rare spinning moments I experience here in San Francisco sometimes, that of two worlds colliding, yet inescapably and warmly being home.
2031 Chestnut St. @ Fillmore St.,