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el sombrero out geary [San Francisco]

  • r

there used to be a terrific mexican joint out geary in the sunset, called el sombrero. they made their own tortillas and handmade their margaritas starting with fresh squeezed lime juice. but their real specialty was a green sauce over cheese enchiladas that was better than i've ever had, anywhere. i started eating at el sombrero back in the 70's and no matter where i traveled, i always tried to find a sauce that came close to being as good as theirs---but to no avail. my question---does anybody know where these guys may have opened another place? they closed because of losing their lease---it wasn't due to poor business---that place was always packed. if anybody remembers el sombrero and where the owners may have gone, i'd really enjoy hearing about it. rich

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  1. In September 1993, shortly after El Sombrero closed, the late Pat Steger in the Chron had an item that said the owner, Bill Bernal, would open a tamale parlor in the Marina "someday soon." No sign that that ever happened, and from there the trail goes cold as far as I can tell.

    5 Replies
    1. re: squid-kun
      Zach Georgopoulos

      Is this the place that used to be where Aziza is now (and Soka before that)? They didn't lose their lease -- they own the building. They're retired.

      1. re: Zach Georgopoulos

        That's the one: 5800 Geary at 22nd Ave. What Bill Bernal told Herb Caen in July 1993, the month before it shut down, was that he was closing because "I've lost money for the last two years."

        His dad, Billy Bernal, had opened the place in 1947. That's a good long run.

        1. re: Zach Georgopoulos

          I sure miss El Sombrero. It was my favorite Mexican joint, and I loved the Alhambra-inspired decor. I hope Aziza is showing respect and practicality and using all those arches, tiles, and wrought iron.

          1. re: Sharuf
            Zach Georgopoulos

            They're using quite a bit of it, but I think a lot was probably gutted by the previous tenant.

          2. re: Zach Georgopoulos

            is it possible to get their recipe for their outstanding chile rellino?

        2. thanks so much for the replies. i can't believe it's been 10 years since they closed. rich.

          1. Luz Garcia didn't open another restaurant. They simply closed. If I am not wrong, Zocca went in then closed several years later.

            You might want to try Tia Margherita just about across the street. I know they were related at one point. It's real Tex Mex (as was El Sombrero)..but without the tortilla makers in the corner. Otherwise you will find a number of pretty good Mexican holes in the wall on Mission

            1. Man, I loved that place. My favorite restaurant of all time. The sauces, the home-made tortillas being made as you watched, the best tamales on the planet, chile con carne to die for. Every birthday, every special occasion, whenever we were asked where we wanted to go, my sister, mother and I would always choose E.S. I grew up with that place, and really miss it.

              At one time they had opened a second location in the Cannery in S.F., but I believe it closed before the original did. It lacked the authentic decor, and the food was just a notch below the Geary kitchen.

              I do remember the owner griping about how much money he was losing before it closed. I don't understand it, 'cause it seemed to be busy most of the time. If he had taken a vote among his customers, I'll bet most of us would have gladly paid 50% more to keep them open. I've never encountered another restaurant anywhere that comes close to those unique recipes and sauces.

              I wonder what happened to the chefs? If anyone knows, please post. (Maybe they took some of those recipes with them?)

              1. the el sombrero on geary then the cannery was so awesome I agree...I live in mexico and cannot find that food here in cancun yet....the owner had me paint an oil painting for her to match the decor in her house and she lived in the cliff house area. She was beautifu, with blond hair and a large tree inside her house ..I never will forget her she inspires me in my cooking and art to this day.....they had the most beautiful girls with low white blouses off their shoulders and long colorful skirts as servers...the line went around the block to get in ...

                1. Man oh man, that damn Bill who owned El Sombrero! Closes the best mex restaurant IN THE WORLD, in 1993. .....And NOTHING now for 20 years....Rumors of money losses in Vegas. They had the greatest food, red sauce, green sauce...chips, enchiladas....marinated carrots & onions! It was our favorite restaurant for 50 years for my whole family! They could have doubled their prices, and we ALL would have been happy to pay! Their Cannery unit was great too, just a tad below the Geary St kitchen. Dear God, Please let those owners, waitresses like Mariaelena, recipes, RE-OPEN SOMEWHERE!!!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Mexfoodlover

                    I so agree all I do is talk about that restaurant in
                    San francisco..I painted a painting for the lady owner and she was wonderful..She lived in an area of Cliff house with a tall tree in her house..wonderful memories of her food...large plates of delicious enchiladas beans rice and a show of beautiful costumed girls serving with women making fresh tortillas..lines for hours in front always...

                  2. ok I am ready to open an el sombrero with your help..we all ate there I am a pro cook in Cancun.. we can do this..let me know...enough talk ..lets get started..

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sofia333

                      Hi Sofia! Thanks for this nice message! Do you know, or are you in touch with, the El Somb cooks? Waitresses like Maria Elena? Recipes? I am not living in SF area anymore, and not in the restaurant business, but boy, if I knew that you, or someone, had those amazing sauce and nachos and marinated vegetables recipes, which Bill Bernal always guarded so closely, I certainly WOULD, yes, want to do anything and everything I could to help "El Sombrero" re-open! Do you know/are you in touch with Bernal/his family/the former cooks?

                      1. re: Mexfoodlover

                        yes I had the recipes for some of the sauces and foods...my dad also knew the owners....I am in cancun now...Where are you living now...

                    2. My father started taking me to El Sombrero in the early 60's. I have never found anything even close. When I moved to Colorado, he used to send me three dozen of their tortillas to keep in the freezer because there was nothing else like them. My favorite was the fried tacos with the awesome sauce and thin slices of radishes-they also used parmesan cheese on their entrees. I would give a lot to have the recipe for their sauces! The last time I tried to go there, they had just closed-we missed them by days. I loved the lady in the corner hand making tortillas and I loved their waitress outfits-so colorful. Great memories. If anyone gets hold of any of the recipes I sure hope you will post a few here! Thanks to all for sharing the memories!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: aprilrosa

                        Hi I am in cancun and ived in san fran for the years el sombrero was open..we ate there my dad knew the owner and she cooked in her private residence where I visited and got some recipes...nothing is like it here in cancun so if we have interested persons willing to open a restaurant let me know..we can test the many different sauces i have recipes for from her...

                        1. re: sofia333

                          I wad just talking with a neighbor who bet me I couldn't find the recipe for the tostada sauce. Do you have it???? That would be amazing.

                      2. I was born/raised in San Francisco [living on Lake Street, Washington Hi Grad.etc.]

                        El Sombrero was 'the place to go for Mexican Food !!… Lines around the block, great mexican decor,and waitress's who were beautifully dressed in white off the shoulder blouses & colorful mexican skirts.
                        I remember having lunch there with my girlfriend, and she is signally me that Jon Voight was sitting back to back with me…
                        Everyone went to El Sombrero- [Herb Caen, movie stars, etc.]-
                        Really miss [it as everyone on this blog have also expressed]…..
                        This is where I celebrated my 21st B'day…as in :I can now drink a whole margarita and not just a sip from my parents or older siblings.
                        The food was incredible and you really felt you were in Mexico…
                        so authentic ! !Ah, memories,,,
                        Bring back El Sombrero….!! judith

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: jellybeano

                          Yeah, WHAT EVER did that El Somb OWNER GUY do?!? WHERE are those amazing uniquely excellent, yummy, RECIPES?!?! Steve

                          1. re: jellybeano

                            I grew up on 6th near clement. Presidio jr hi and Wash. No recipes seem to be surfacing here.

                            1. re: Lollyzam

                              Yeah, now remember, owner guy was Bill Bernal! Where IS he?! Damn.....it was the lifetime Favorite Restaurant of so many of us, huh guys?

                              1. re: Mexfoodlover

                                Why take a perfectly amazing restaurant, that had a line around the block, and close it… Herb Caen said it was because the Owner told him [before closing El Sombrero] "that he was loosing money' ??!!…how impossible is this… when you couldn't get into the place ??

                                Anyway, Shuberts Bakery is still on Clement [see my review on Yelp]…which to me is Amazing after all these years and now I'm bringing my children to it…!!
                                Thank God, some things from our childhood live on and are still remain the great quality we remembered !!