5 Latin American staples and where to eat them in San Francisco
There’s so much more to Mexican food than tacos and burritos (burritos are actually so much more Mexican American plate). And while San Francisco has a very eclectic mexican food scenewhen you expand your culinary curiosity to encompass the 33 countries that make up Latin America, the options for a culinary adventure begin to pile up, especially in this city.
And just as many Mexican restaurants will serve riff on the taco, other Latin American restaurants have their own common staples.
From El Salvador’s pupusas to Peru’s lomo saltado, read on for an overview of five Latin American staples and where you can find them. These dishes might have you skipping your favorite taqueria the next time you crave a savory and spicy bite.
Panchita Restaurant in the Mission District makes a seriously addictive pupusa. I often have to force myself to not pick up at least one every week. Similar to a stuffed tortilla, these packets of masa harania and meat (or vegetables or cheese or all of the above) never fail to warm the soul. Pro tip: If you’re not putting a mountain of curtido (a spicy coleslaw) on their frijole pupusas, you’re doing it wrong.
Admittedly, Oaxaca is not technically its own country. But the southern Mexican state, known for producing world-class mezcal and mole, offers cuisine that is, in many ways, worlds away from dishes you might find in northern Mexican cities. . Tlayudas are large crispy tortillas topped with refried beans, meat, Oaxaca cheese (of course), cabbage or lettuce, avocado, and salsa. Gringos have been eating an Americanized version of Tlayuda: Taco Bell’s “Mexican pizza” for years. But a bite of the tlayudas of Oaxaquena in the Mission and anyone with even a slightly discerning palate will realize that nothing can hold a candle to the authentic article. Pro tip: wash it with an agua fresca (or “thermal wateras TikTok likes to say).
Although you might associate stir-fries with Asian restaurants, one of Peru’s most popular dishes, Lomo Saltado, is made by quickly searing vegetables and meat, tossing them with soy sauce, and serving them over rice (or, just as often, French fries). You can taste this Peruvian staple in the marina district at by Jaranita. This restaurant offers a wide variety of Peruvian dishes and a lovely atmosphere. The Yunza tree in the center of the restaurant, decorated with colorful streamers and sparkling garlands, is particularly beautiful. Enjoy a hearty plate of Lomo Saltado with one of their Jaranita Rita (or three if you’re making it for their happy hour special). Pro tip: Peru isn’t the only Latin American country to make ceviche, but many swear it’s the best. There is only one way for you to decide. Try.
The bright cyan building of Parade 22 is hard to miss in the Haight district, especially with its Puerto Rican flag hanging in the window. Mofongos are a staple dish of this island nation. Made with mashed green plantains mixed with ham, vegetables, and an option of shrimp, bistec, chicken, and pernil asado, the mofongo is simply hearty. Pulling up a chair in this cozy restaurant is a bit like sitting around the dinner table in a Puerto Rican home. This feeling is only enhanced by the restaurant’s homemade flavors, which resemble a warm hug. We have a feeling Bad Bunny would approve. Pro tip: if you want to continue your culinary excursion in the Caribbean, go to the neighbors cha cha cha for another glass (or pitcher) or sangria.
Chilean empanadas from Chile Lindo, are as delicious as they are quick. They offer a variety of flavors including chicken, jalapeno, and ham and cheese. Located on 16th Street, this small restaurant offers quality Chilean cuisine while using local ingredients. Pro tip: For a true Chilean experience, you’ll want to try the classic empanada de pino, which is made with beef, olives, and hard-boiled eggs.