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Roosevelt Tamale Parlor

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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 by...you 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.

            2. Have you actually been to St. Francis? The people who work there are very nice and the restaurant is quite clean. And the food and fountain treats are very good.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Atomica

                I was talking about the old days, when the place was failing. The current owners have made a lot of improvements, notably adding a real kitchen. Totally different business today.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I actually wanted the OP to tell me whether or not she had been--sorry about the confusion. I just walked the neighborhood last night, and it's still very Mexican and Latino. All neighborhoods in every city change over time, larochelle.

                  1. re: Atomica

                    Yes, I have been to the St. Francis Soda Fountain.

                    And yes, Atomica, I am aware that all neighborhoods change over time. I have witnessed drastic changes to many SF neighborhoods some for the better, some not. I'm not so stupid that I don't realize that time can't stand still, but that doesn't mean that I can't look back with nostalgia at some businesses and people that have "passed on". I miss the original St. Francis, I miss original Roosevelt, I miss the original Pops. So I mourn, move on and find a new awesome toffee, a new favorite Mexican dive and a cheap, strong cocktail in a dark bar with a killer jukebox.

                2. re: Atomica

                  Yes. I have been to the new St. Francis.

                  The last time I was there, it was filthy. And if the areas that can be easily seen from the counter are that dirty, one has to wonder what the back is like. Personally, I have a very high tolerance for bad service and cleanliness if the food is good. And I felt like that was only a minor point in my OP - more of an observation that it wasn't clean rather than a long rant about the specifics.

                  As to the people being "very nice", perhaps they are when they're having a good day and are fully staffed but I have not yet been there when that has been the case. And since they not longer make the awesome candy that was their main draw for me, its not likely to happen.

                3. Thanks for the report...I also tend to be a difficult customer to please when it comes to Mexican food, but I am a bit puzzled by your reaction to the tortillas and presentation of the chile, since I don't find it odd. Tortillas are always an appropriate accompaniment, IMO, (and are often served as part of the meal in Mexico) so am not sure what you would have wanted to be different: some beans? Rice not under the chile? or was it just the placement of the tortilla as if it were a side dish rather than as an alternative to bread? (from my point of view, the real problem would have been that the salsa fresca wasn't that good. If it had been, and the tortillas were also good and fresh, I'd just eat the tortillas with a bit, or more than a bit, of the salsa.)

                  1. Sorry to be unclear.

                    It was the placement of the salsa fresca & tortilla on the plate as if they were side dishes rather than a condiment & bread that I thought was odd.

                    1. I went to Roosevelt the first weekend it was open, and then again tonight. Basically, the restaurant has changed a lot in the few weeks it's been open. Almost to the point that I think posts about the restaurant in the first few days are not valid unless you've been to the new restaurant.

                      The original menu had 5-6 items only, and you ordered from the counter. Now there's table service and a menu with a full 2 pages of items -- probably 30 choices or so. There are 6-7 different enchilada choices and many tamale choices.

                      They have their own molino, and seem to still be refining their grind - literally. The chips that I had the first time, while good, were a fairly grainy. Now the masa is much finer.

                      I had an order of the enchiladas. Sorry I don't have tons of details, but I wasn't planning on posting about this. They were delicious with a gravy-ish sauce that reminded me of enchiladas I had when I was a kid. Very good.

                      There is not much heat to the dishes that I have had in general, though they are now serving chips and salsa at the tables gratis, and the salsa accompanying that had a nice heat and delicious flavor.

                      The only thing that was disappointing was the agua fresca. While the agua that I had the first time was so strong I had to water it down, this one was fairly flavorless and not particularly great.

                      I am looking forward to trying out more of the menu items.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Fig Newton

                        Thanks for the update, J. I used to love stopping at Primavera's kitchen in Sonoma to get a hot-out-of-the-steamer tamale, and could never make myself buy them cold to reheat. I'm looking forward to trying the new line-up at Roosevelt's.

                        http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res...

                      2. Karen? What happened?
                        I live in the neighborhood and was so happy when I saw it was going to reopen. We went for the first time on Wednesday, 7/12, and it was fantastic - the host was so welcoming, attentive, and efficient. Delicious Pineapple-Cucumber Agua Fresca, and this amazing quesadilla with ricotta cheese and squash blossoms - it was one of the best tasting and most unique takes on this dish I'd ever tried. The tamales were great, too. The menu was SIMPLE - tamales plus just a few other specialties (incl. said quesadilla). It was great. Then just this past Sunday we went with a couple of friends... both the quesadilla and the agua fresca (these should be hallmarks!) had disappeared, yet they somehow tripled the size of their menu. But the food quality suffered and the service was The Worst I can remember in my 30 some-odd years of dining. The server was obviously young and new, but didn't know mole from a tomatillo (even this gringo knows tomatillo sauce is green, not red). They kept bringing out the wrong dishes multiple times. Only 1 of the 4 in our party got served what they ordered the first time. My enchilada finally came but only with one enchilada instead of 2 on the plate. The manager finally came over after at least half an hour, but the experience was already spoiled. Karen, what the heck happened? Go back to whatever you were doing when you first opened: keep it simple with a couple of signature dishes, hire competent people, and you'll actually build your business and give us neighbors a special restaurant we can enjoy that doesn't necessarily involve burgers and shakes. We all know what happens when you try to be everything to all people...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: admission

                          karen is no longer involved- as of the time of the menu change, etc. a couple of weeks ago- too bad

                          it's an entirely different place than what it was while she was consulting for that short time

                        2. I had the exact same experience as admission. Bad service, bland mediocre food, high prices. Even the tortilla chips were soggy and stale. What's the point?

                          1. we were really excited about checking out the newly re-opened spot -- especially because Karen from Primavera consulted on the revamped menu... Primavera has the best chilaquiles in town but you can only get them from their stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market every other Saturday or so...(and grace ann walden said that roosevelt's had her favorite chilaquiles in SF)... so of course that's one of things we were excited to try... let's just say that our chilaquiles were essentially the same (average) chips we had on the table to start coupled with what tasted like warmed up salsa (from a jar, think Pace Picante) poured on top...we asked if the dish came with eggs and they replied yes..but in fact it didnt come with eggs...when we inquired he said sorry and brought us a huge plate of over hard eggs - again with salsa poured over them...flavorless salsa and these hard eggs on top of crunchy chips does not make a plate of chilaquiles... we also had eggs and chorizo which was a plate of undercooked chorizo with barely any egg, and a bland carnitas dish which was supposed to have carmelized pork and basically came as shredded pork, no sauce, and a dash of black pepper... we were sad that things werent better... the language barrier was tough as was explaining when asked to the owner/manager that things could have been better (much better)... serive had issues but usually that is something i can forgive with great food... unfortunatley we had neither

                            1. ok -- i just read in Tablehopper that Karen from Primavera is NOT consulting anymore and that the place may be up for sale...which could explain the for service and sub-standard food we had... phew! there is an explanation...