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Jul 14, 2006 04:58 PM

Roosevelt Tamale Parlor

I’m always in search of awesome tamales so last night a couple of us popped by the newly reopened Roosevelt Tamale Parlor to check it out.

Bottom Line: It’s only been open a week so they’re still getting on their feet and the menu is really small but if you like the Primavera stand at the Ferry Building, you’ll like the new Roosevelt.

Personally, I’m ambivalent.

I love Mexican food. I’m from Texas so I have a special affinity for Sonoran cuisine but love the food from all the regions/cities - Puebla, Yucatan, Veracruz/Baja, Oaxaca, Coahuila, Mexico City to name a few. My undergraduate degree is Latin American Studies, I’ve spent time in Mexico/Latin America and my husband is a Californian of Mexican/Italian heritage so I’ve even come to respect Cal-Mex. My point is that like a New Yorker eating pizza or a Bostonian looking for chowder – I come to the table with knowledge & baggage so I’m a hard customer to please. I’ll definitely check back in a couple of months because they have a lot of potential but right now the food is not particularly interesting to me.

The Food

Salsa with stone ground organic tostaditos (free) – The salsa was deep orange and flavorful but didn’t have the slightest bit of spice to it, the tostaditos were fresh but I wonder how they will go over in SF where people seem to have a strong preference to thin, crispy chips.

Guacamole with stone ground organic tostaditos ($4.50) – The guacamole was fresh but had no detectable spice, onion or cilantro.

Ricotta and Squash Blossom Quesadillas served with guacamole ($8.95) – The tortilla was freshly made and beautifully thick. The filling, while fresh, was unbalanced – the ricotta & onion overpowered the squash. And once again, there was no discernable seasoning.

Red Mole Chicken Tamales (2) ($9.95) served in banana leaf with side of refried beans and cabbage salad. The mole was quite good with a slight kick and there was a good filling to masa ratio. The refried beans were black and pretty good. The cabbage salad would have been a lot better if it had been chilled and hadn’t been put on such a hot plate.

Poblano Chile stuffed with corn, cream & cheese ($9.95) served with rice, salsa fresca and tortillas. This was the dish I ordered. The chile was fantastic, properly roasted, filled with super-fresh flavorful corn. The rice was nice (I love it when places take the time to use stock to infuse rice with flavor). The salsa fresca was a total waste – it was almost entirely tomato & onion with way too much onion – and it was served as if it was a side dish, I had as much salsa fresca as my friend had black beans. I guess that’s what I didn’t understand about this plate – the chile was served atop the rice with the salsa fresca on one side and two fresh tortillas on the other side. I didn’t see the point of the tortillas – I wanted to savor the flavor of the roasted chile so I surely wasn’t going to wrap it in a big thick tortilla (and if they want you to do that why not just list is as chile tacos on the menu?) and the only thing left of the plate was rice (starch inside starch?) and the salsa. I thought it odd and couldn’t think if any time I’ve ever been offered such a combination.

I kinda wanted to order a calabacita tamale to go to try later but I was so stuffed I couldn’t do it. They do have the signature Roosevelt round beef tamale & gravy on the menu as well but we didn’t try it.

We all had the melon, mint, lime agua fresca ($3) which was nice. They don’t have their beer/wine license yet.

The Vibe

The remodel is nice enough but I’m sad about the disappearance of the 24th Street of my youth. The super cool St. Francis soda fountain was awesome, the owners ran the place, knew the names of the neighborhood kids who came for ice cream in the afternoon, there was the window where you could watch them make candy and their chocolate-covered English toffee was the best I ever had – now its just another joint that serves boring, average food with rotating 20-something tattooed hipsters that barely acknowledge customers or keep the place clean. Then there’s Pop’s across the street, which used to be an good, dark old-guy bar – now its run guessed it...20-something tattooed hipsters who destroyed the selection on the jukebox, stripped the place down & put in windows so you see just how depressing and grimy it really is. Now Roosevelt has fallen prey to “progress”...the whole time we were there, the only patrons were white - every time I went to the old Roosevelt it seemed like at least 80-90% of the patrons were Latino men & families, the change in demographic in the heart of the Mission just down the street from La Raza, it just seems messed up and sad.

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  1. Do they have pork tamales? Those are the best thing at the Primavera farmers market stand.

    I haven't been to Roosevelt for years, but it was always a totally gringo crowd. In the 70s when I lived a few blocks away it was one of the half-dozen places that most people from outside the neighborhood had heard of.

    The St. Francis was a similar kind of place, high nostalgia value but sucky food from a 50s time warp that most people didn't want to eat.

    1. I don't remember seeing pork tamales being on the menu. I got the idea that this was just their starter menu and that it will expand later.

      I guess our Roosevelt experiences were different, I frequented it in the early-mid 1980s and, as I said, during that time, every time I went it had a predominately Latino clientele.

      I rarely went to the St. Francis for the hot food (although the corn beef/cabbage plate & tuna melt sandwich were ok), I went for the awesome candy and fountain drinks - I'm a sucka for a good malt! I also liked the friendly owner & his cute daughter and how he knew/greeted all his customers & their families.

      1 Reply
      1. re: larochelle

        I heard Roosevelt's owner and chef on KGO's dining around yesterday, and yes, they're still working on the menu. Specifically, they said they were planning on re-introducing the enchiladas soon. Apparently they've kept some of their "classic" recipes as is -- the rest will be based on Diana Kennedy's recipes.

        I liked when the host (Grace Ann Walden filling in for the regular host) asked if they were using lard in their tamales, and he said absolutely.

      2. 24th Street is changing. It used to be my favorite place in the city but it's fading. I saw that even Studio 24/la Raza is going through some kind of downsizing.
        Let's hope Roosevelt's can pull it off. I really would llove to see it a hit. I hope you complained about the lack of spice. It's the only way they'll learn!

        1. The Mission has been changing for 150 years with successive waves of new arrivals: Germans, Irish, Italians, Latinos, hippies, Asians, punks, dot-commers ...

          That's why within a couple of blocks of 24th and Mission you can find an Irish bar, an Italian bakery, espresso, pupusas, tacos, pad thai, lumpia, and dosa, just to name a few. There are few places in the world where you will find such a cosmopolitan assortment of affordable food. Places come and go but the diversity keeps increasing.

          1. I have to chime in and disagree with your characterization of St. Francis, Robert ("high nostalgia value but sucky food from a 50s time warp that most people didn't want to eat.").

            I lived a few blocks away for a number of years up until '99 closed, and their savory food may have been crappy, but their candy was GREAT! Handmade and absolutely delicious chocolate. I don't think they closed because people didn't want to eat there, I think they closed because the owner retired.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ace

              I used to go to the old St. Francis, and I have to concur that the food wasn't so hot. It was okay, but not great.

              But the homemade candy was great. Really dangerous to go there. I wish the new owners had kept making their own candy, although the nostalgic selection of old-timey brands they sell is cute.