San Francisco's 12 Must-Try Mexican Restaurants

Where to go for weekend menudo, tacos al pastor and mezcal margaritas

by Trevor Felch via Zagat

We're fortunate to have a diverse range of Mexican cooking styles in San Francisco, where just a quick stroll down Mission Street yields Castillito Yucateco's Yucatan specialties, La Taqueria's acclaimed Cal-Mex burritos and El Buen Comer's Mexico City–style guisados. And those are just a few of our dozen must-try destinations for Mexican food in San Francisco, which also include freshly made corn tortillas, achiote-rubbed tofu burritos, dazzling tasting menus and more.

For the best handmade tortillas: La Palma

This 24th Street legend has been selling tacos and take-out Mexican foods since 1953, and is still our go-to for freshly made tortillas and other groceries.

Must-order: Hand-pressed corn tortillas (worth the extra $2) with carnitas or carne asada

Insider tip: There are some pleasant, shady sidewalk tables next to La Palma to enjoy a taco snack. However, the best move is to get Takeout: Order a pound or so of each type of meat and a stack of corn tortillas and you'll be the MVP of your next party (just don't forget to bring limes, cilantro and salsa). Order in-house for smaller groups, but call in advance if you're feeding a crowd; there's a range of party platters on the website.

2884 24th St.; 415-647-1500

For seafood and mezcal: Cala

Acclaimed Mexico City chef Gabriela Camara made her U.S. debut on the Mid-Market/Hayes Valley border, serving unique takes on coastal Mexican cuisine in an airy, white-walled space.

Must-order: Grilled oysters with epazote; trout tostadas; mussels tamal; mezcal margarita

Insider tip: Cala is the best destination in the city to learn about the intricacies of mezcal on its own. Choose from the extensive selection and enjoy a smoky post-dinner sipper with dessert.

149 Fell St.; 415-660-7701

For tasting menu razzle-dazzle: Californios

Tasting menus focused on inventive preparations of classic Mexican dishes and ingredients are complemented by small-batch wines in this cozy, luxe Mission destination.

Must-order: The only option is a 16-course prix fixe dinner for $157

Insider tip: Go all out and opt for the $97 wine pairings. Sommelier Charlotte Randolph (a French Laundry alum) is one of the most talented wine minds in the city at finding the perfect sipping match for a dish. Her pairings succeed at expanding the horizons of both wine novices and wine nerds, balancing obscure grapes and tried-and-true favorites.

3115 22nd St.; 415-757-0994

For atypical burritos with healthy fillings: Papalote

This pair of local favorites (in the Mission and near USF) stuff their burritos with veggies, healthy-leaning proteins and an array of beloved salsas.

Must-order: Grilled prawn tacos; mole chicken burrito; grilled achiote tofu burrito

Insider tip: The excellent salsas are available in jars to go and no self-respecting SF home should be without a jar of tomatillo or roasted tomato salsa in its larder.

3409 24th St.; 415-970-8815 1777 Fulton St.; 415-776-0106

For pozole and quesadillas: Nopalito

Nopa's Mexican counterpart serves traditional, organic takes on everything from quesadillas to ceviche in a casual and bright dining room; there's also a more spacious Inner Sunset sibling.

Must-order: Braised carnitas with fresh corn tortillas; corn and squash quesadilla; pozole rojo; Bloody Maria (Bloody Mary with tequila); margaritas

Insider tip: With delicious paletas, aguas frescas and Golden Gate Park–adjacent locations, both Nopalito locations are great for bringing the kids. If you need a tie-breaker, parking is free in the Falletti Plaza by the NoPa one.

306 Broderick St.; 415-437-0303 1224 9th Ave.; 415-233-9966

For a classic Mission burrito: La Taqueria

The city's iconic no-frills taqueria is famous for its traditional Mission burritos.

Must-order: Super burrito with carne asada, chorizo, lengua or carnitas; off-menu "dorado-style" crispy burrito or taco (cooked on a plancha)

Insider tip: There aren't many secrets left about La Taqueria but one thing tends to be forgotten amidst the burrito-seeking crowds — the place is cash only.

2889 Mission St.; 415-285-7117

For hard-to-find dishes from the Yucatan: Castillito Yucateco

The low-key Yucatan specialist right by the 16th-Mission BART often has soccer games on a TV.

Must-order: Chicken tamales; cochinita pibil (achiote-marinated pork cooked in a banana leaf); the souplike relleno blanco de pollo (roast chicken with hard-boiled egg, meatballs, olives, raisins and tomato sauce)

Insider tip: Are you here with some friends to help you eat? The appetizer sampler provides a wide array of Yucatecan favorites that can be hard to find anywhere else, like panuchos (black bean–filled fried tortillas with various toppings), salbutes (deep-fried tortillas topped with stewed meat and veggies), codzitos (taquito-like rolled filled tortillas), polcanes (deep-fried masa balls stuffed with white beans) and brazo de reina (a "spinach log tamale" with ground pumpkin seeds and hard-boiled egg).

2052 Mission St.; 415-621-5510

For al pastor tacos and frozen margaritas: Glena’s

Acclaimed chef Michael Gaines (Manresa, Kin Khao) helms this breezy Dogpatch neighborhood spot for tacos and other Cal-Mex bites.

Must-order: Tacos al pastor; fried chicken torta; huevo taco with fried egg and black beans; margaritas (frozen or on the rocks); churros and chocolate

Insider tip: Happy hour (3–6 PM, Tuesday–Friday) is the only time to get a Firedog — that’s a giant bacon-wrapped hot dog with cheddar, pico de gallo and pickled jalapeño for $8. Pair it with a paloma and it’s easy to quickly wind down from the workday.

632 20th St.; 415-915-8226

For goat tacos and duck chilaquiles: Padrecito

Local ingredients and some fun creativity are on the menu at this colorful Cole Valley Mexican spot by the team from The Tipsy Pig.

Must-order: Goat barbacoa tacos; duck carnitas chilaquiles; the La Copa Verde mezcal cocktail with cilantro and a chipotle rim

Insider tip: Weekend brunch at Padrecito is excellent, when the dining room glows with sunlight and diners enjoy potato-plantain pancakes and the epic huevos Benedictos with pork carnitas and chipotle hollandaise (10 AM–2:15 PM).

901 Cole St.; 415-742-5505

For weekend-only menudo in a family-friendly atmosphere: Gallardos

Laid-back, family-operated Mission eatery draws an all-ages neighborhood crowd for its homestyle Mexican dishes and sidewalk seating.

Must-order: Weekend menudo; pork enchiladas with red sauce; chilaquiles

Insider tip: Menudo is a classic hangover cure, but if you're hurting and the tripe-laced soup isn't your jam, birria​ and pozole are similarly life-sustaining.

3248 18th St.; 415-436-9387

For giant and delicious tortas: La Torta Gorda

Tastes from the state of Puebla are on offer at this all-day taqueria and deli on 24th Street, including tortas and unique regional specialties like huaraches.

Must-order: Pulled pork “pierna enchilada” torta; rajas con queso torta with (poblano peppers and Oaxacan cheese); al pastor huarache; atole (a warm, frothy masa-based drink)

Insider tip: Breakfast plates (both Mexican and American) and a sunny, low-key patio make this a great under-the-radar spot for brunch — though be warned they don't serve alcohol.

2833 24th St.; 415-642-9600

For guisados: El Buen Comer

This colorful, cozy neighborhood cafe from La Cocina alum Isabel Caudillo is known for daytime and dinner homestyle stews from Mexico City.

Must-order: Sopes with chicharrón in salsa verde; any mole dish; albondigas in chipotle sauce; chilaquiles

Insider tip: The guisados (hearty stews) are the centerpiece of the menu and available in various sizes. We'd recommend always opting for the small so you can try the rest of the menu. Also, be sure to round out the meal with a few side orders of the homemade corn tortillas — which make for excellent chilaquiles at brunchtime.

3435 Mission St.; 415-817-1542