It is customary to say “provecho” before starting a meal or when you enter a room where Mexicans are eating, or even if you pass a group taking their lunch break in front of a construction site (expect to win wide smiles with this one in San Francisco!); provecho, literally translated from Spanish, means “privilege”, and speaks volumes about the difference between a culture that lives with food security and one that does not. The very act of eating is considered a privilege in Mexico, certainly, that is not the case in most households in the US.
In the first part of this series, we looked at where to desayunar (eat an early, light breakfast in the Mission: cafe a la Mexicana and pan dulce or atole and a torta de tamal.)
Almuerzo is more a substantial morning meal which should not be confused our brunch (even though it is similarly eaten later than breakfast and earlier than lunch). While “brunch” is a combination of breakfast and lunch (and usually something in which Americans partake on the weekends), almuerzo is eaten in addition to a light breakfast or desayuno, especially if that desayuno was eaten early, let’s say at 7 am before the work day begins. Almuerzo is substantial meal, typically eaten sometime between 9 am and noon and may consist of egg or meat dish often made with tortillas and a salsa, such as chilaquiles, chiles rellenos or enchiladas, served with beans and coffee and/or Mexican Hot Chocolate and fresh fruit.
The word “enchilada” means “in chili” and consists of a corn tortilla dipped in salsa (there’s your chili, in the salsa). Although you may think you have eaten this dish, authentic enchiladas differ from what is often served in the US, primarily in their texture. This is a time-sensitive dish, being that tortillas have a tendency to become spongy when left sitting in sauce. The “casseroles” that pass for enchiladas in many American restaurants and homes have lost thier consistency, as the entire enchilada sits in its salsa for hours, or even comes frozen that way. There are as many kinds of enchiladas as there are fillings and salsas.
For enchiladas that are as authentic as you are going to find anywhere outside of your own kitchen (or ours at Tres Señoritas Gourmet Catering), try La Palma, at the corner of Florida and 24th St. This is the only place in San Francisco where they grind corn in-house to make their own masa, from which they make tortillas by hand (and by machine). Order your enchilada plate to go for under $10 and grab one the tables that have recently appeared on the sidewalk just outside, on Florida Street. If you are looking for a sit-down almuerzo and a four-star dining experience, Regalito’s at 2481 18th St. at Valencia is your spot! “Brunch” is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3. For your almuerzo, choose from Enchiladas Rojas ($14), Enchiladas Verdes ($14) or Chiles Rellenos ($16).
Regalito’s Chef/owner Thomas Pena has the true soul of a Mexican jefe de la cosina and it comes through in every morsel, from the Chicharrones (twice cooked pork belly; slow-roasted then finished in the fryer) to the perfectly pickled peppers and carrots that accompany them. Not your run-of-the-mill pickled vegetables, these are just the right texture, not too soft and not too crisp, and just the right pickling mix was obviously used, neither too tart, too spicy or too bland, a real testatment to the care that goes into every detail at Regalito– the Gift of Mexican Cooking. The ambiance is homey and friendly, and “designed to encourage community between … kitchen and … guests. The kitchen is completely open, separated by a simple wooden diner counter.”
For the best chilaquiles you have to go to the East Bay, to El Huarache Azteca in Oakland’s International Blvd. district (the Mission of the East Bay) at 38th St. Huarache, which also mean “sandals” is an antojito so named because the masa is shaped into something very reminiscent of the sole of a shoe. Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish and a great way to use leftover tortillas, which are cut in quarters and lightly fried and then smothered in salsa and simmered just until the tortilla starts softening. The chips/salsa base is typically topped with eggs (scrambled or fried) or pulled chicken, queso fresco and crema, and served with refried beans. “Moreover, chilaquiles are often lauded as a cure for the common hangover; this is because in Mexico it is believed that spicy foods help in the recovery process from a hangover. This can be attributed to the body’s reaction to chemicals released (chiles contain the chemical capsaicin, a potent and well-documented pain reliever)”. (WIKI).