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Tlayuda, Chapulines at La Oaxaquena, Mission, SF

After the long wait kept us from having lunch at Weird Fish last weekend, we stumbled upon a new restaurant and bakery, La Oaxacena. The address was something like 2124 Mission, but I'm probably off by a few doors.

This is definitely a gem in the rough, with one overworked guy doing all the front of house work, but highlights from the meal were:
1) Tlayuda, with a choice of various meats. I think we picked the cecina (spicy pork), and it was delicious. Tyaludas are a special type of big tortilla, baked or griddled (not fried) until it is dry and crisp. It's smeared generously with rich refried beans, topped with shredded oaxacan string cheese, shredded lettuce, meat, hot sauce, some avocado, maybe some crumbled cheese, etc.
2) Salsa - it had a nice fruity/floral characteristic. My better half thought it was a particular type of chili, I thought it was from rose hips pureed into the nice red salsa. I'd say it was medium hot.
3) Real quesillo/queso oaxaca, used on the tlayudas
4) Specialties from Oaxaca: imported chapulines, quesillo, manteca, etc. When we tried to buy some quesillo, they said they were running low and couldn't sell us any. Don't get your hopes up.

Things we weren't so excited about were the sopes, the totally overwhelmed and forgetful service, the hot chocolate (nicely steamed milk blended with hershey's syrup), and the unavailability of some of their Oaxacan treats, but beggars can't be choosers in this town when it comes to promising Oaxacan food, and we'll definitely be back. This place is so new it has left no googlable traces on the internet, so I'm willing to forgive much of what we didn't like about the place.

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  1. Great hounding! Last week I got an email from a friend: ". . . passed a Oaxacan bakery on Mission closer to 17th. Have you checked it out? They do seem to have cooked food, but the guy out front with the pollo en mole suggested coming back on the weekend." Sounds like the same place. There was a bakery called Calmoon at 2128 Mission that seems to have closed (phone disconnected), maybe it's in that storefront?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      It's definitely within 10 address digits of 2124 on the even side of the street, with a sandwich board out front, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. No idea if it's the old Calmoon. 2 doors down, on the northwest corner of sycamore and mission, is a plywood coated storefront with signs promising "Cafe Prague," which could be entertaining.

      I forgot to mention that I had the impression their tortas could be very good, with the possibility of house-made bread (important because that type of Mexican bread goes stale very quickly), cecina, avocado, and real quesillo coming together for my favorite type of torta.

      The oaxacan imported specialties list also included Mole pastes, at $15 per pound. That's expensive, but a little goes a long way and if it's the real deal it could be worth it.

      1. re: SteveG

        Thanks for the report, Steve. The tlayuda sounds wonderful . .did you notice whether or not they used asiento? If you answer in the positive, I am on my way NOW!!! :)

        1. re: pastryqueen

          What's Asiento? The one very unclear reference I can find on the web is "special pork fat." They do list a fairly expensive manteca in the imported goods section of the menu, so the answer is...maybe they use asiento.

          1. re: SteveG

            Asiento has the little browned bits in it as well as the manteca.

            1. re: SteveG

              It's what we would call "the bottom of the can" (my grandmother kept her manteca in a coffee can) when you ground and freshly rendered lard. .. it's the crispy brown bits and a little bit of lard that is spread sort of like butter onto a tlayuda. . it adda quite a bit of flavor and a lovely mouth feel.

              1. re: pastryqueen

                Yes, La Oaxaqueña does have manteca de aciento (the spelling used there). I confirmed that it is spread on the tlayudas before the layer of beans. It's also available for purchase in bulk.

              2. re: SteveG

                It's lard and a key topping for tlayudas.

        2. I stumbled across this place myself on Monday morning and shared a tamale (spinach and cheese) with a friend. It was piping hot, and the gooey, delicious masa was the star of the show. I also sampled a thick, warm, and cinammon-y milk/rice milk drink. I don't remember what it's called.

          1 Reply
          1. re: vinchar

            Comida oaxaquena en la Mision? Andale, hipa. Muchisimas gracias, SteveG. Top of the list for next trip...

          2. I didn't read this post until now......but I was on the 33 tonight and spotted this place from the window, and decided to jump off and try it. What caught my eye was that they had a little taco stand set up out front (at about 10:30 PM).

            I had two tacos: al pastor and carne asada (the 3rd choice was lengua). Tacos were small, but cost only $1.50, served w/ grilled chilies (which were super hot), grilled onions, radishes. The carne asada was just okay, but the pastor was excellent. I may go back tomorrow to confirm this....but I think this is the best taco al pastor I've had in San Francisco. I will report back, since I don't want to make bold statements like this too soon. But it was very very good - not super wet, but lots of dry-spice, and slightly larger pieces than what you get at Taqueria San Jose.

            I also had champurrado which was pretty good, but not super flavorful - maybe too much milk. They had a nice selection of breads, and unlike SteveG, I had great service. I spoke to a few people who worked there, and they pointed out some of the Oaxacan specialties on the menu, including the tlayuda which I definitely want to try. Everyone seemed really nice and helpful.

            La Oaxaquena is on the west side of Mission street, between 18th and 19th.

            1. Did you try the chapulines? I can't imagine having them shipped all this way and still be decent unless they are shipped alive and cooked here.

              3 Replies
              1. re: realspear

                The chapulines are dried. I haven't tasted them here, but have purchased them from its sister restaurant in Petaluma.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Any concerns over the lead issue? I had planned on trying them here in Fresno at a place called Oaxaca but got a little gun shy after getting the impression that it isn't really possible to tell whether sources are contaminated or not.

                  1. re: PolarBear

                    Yes, there are concerns about lead in chapulines. Here's a post on the topic from a State of California epidemiologist, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5463...

              2. Monday morning I popped into La Oaxaqueña before 10AM to see what might be available for breakfast. Quite a bit actually, here’s the full menu,
                http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3079/3...

                The friendly guy behind the counter offered me a taste of the hot horchata, made of rice, milk, and sugar. That’s what he called it, yet I did notice a label that said “white atole” on the shelf. Delicious and warming on this frosty morning, that was a sure sale.

                La Oaxaquena opened three weeks ago. I asked him whether the owner had other restaurants in the area. Yes, another in Petaluma, he replied, and then was very surprised that I was familiar with Karina’s Mexican Bakery. I asked whether the owner of Karina’s, Sr. Carreno, came here to San Francisco some time, and then found out that Karina’s had been sold and the new owner decided to open this second location in the City.

                I shifted my focus to the list of tamales. Remembering “Eat Nopal” joking about “wine country cuisine tamales”, I was really interested in trying one of the veggie versions: Sweet corn, goat cheese and salsa verde, Tomatoes, eggplant and goat cheese, Spinach and feta cheese, or Rajas (tomatoes, jalapeños and cheese). No eggplant or sweet corn and goat cheese tamales at this hour, so I picked rajas. For the second one, the chicken with mole sauce in order to try the mole negro here. I noticed the handwritten sign for tamales dulces (sweet tamales) too late, oh well, next time.

                My order came out with two chubby tamales nestled in corn husk wrappers. Oh no, I wanted Oaxacan style in banana leaves. No problem, he would exchange the chicken one for a tamal in hoja platano. Soon I had this plate in front of me along with a couple squeeze bottles with red and green salsas.

                Tamales for breakfast -
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                Both were freshly steamed though the rajas tamal had cooled down a lot in the extra handling. The red-tinged, coarse yellow masa of the rajas tamal, $2.50, was very tasty. The generous filling was quite spicy hot with many circles of fresh jalapeño chili pepper, chunks of tomato, and inch-cubes of firm white cotija cheese. This tasted very similar to my recollections of the last time I’d had rajas at Karina’s, when I noted the style change from earlier versions. Quite moist and plenty spicy, this one didn’t need any additional salsa. I liked this very much and would order it again.

                The chicken tamal wrapped in a banana leaf, $3, was quite fully packed. The strained white masa extended from end to end lengthwise, filled with chicken in black mole and more thickly in the center portion, then the leaf was folded over the middle. The thinner layer of masa in the ends had more contact with the banana leaf and a slightly different taste than the thicker and silkier center. The cubed chicken pieces, mostly white meat, were somewhat dry. The black mole was too sweet for my taste without enough complexity to balance the flavors. It did taste better with some one the salsas, and I especially liked the green salsa here.

                When I was the only customer there, the counter guy came over to chat with me. He is from Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca. I asked whether the owner was Oaxacan too, and learned that the new owner is from India but had traveled to Oaxaca and loved the food and people. The lady cook is from El Salvador, and the male baker is from Guanajuato.

                I've added it to the Places database without the tilde in the spelling to make it easier to find.

                -----
                La Oaxaquena
                2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA

                14 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Great report, thanks! The tamales sound good.

                  I still haven't made it back to try the tacos al pastor again, but I intend to do so soon.

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    I'd be especially interested in hearing from anyone who has tried a torta. There was a self-serve box for teleras, the soft rolls used for tortas, but it was empty at the time I was there.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Melanie, what's the difference btw teleras and bolillos (sp?) which iirc, I've heard are used for tortas also?

                      1. re: PolarBear

                        Teleras are brioche-like in texture and sometimes called 3-finger bread. Bolillos are crustier, torpedo-shaped, and more like a French bread roll. Here are some old posts on the topic.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3423...
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2825...
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3771...

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I tried a venison torta a few weeks ago that was a special. The meat was thinly sliced and the roll seemed more round than torpedo shaped and not brioche like in texture, but more sturdy. We also tasted a braised goat special that came with a super flavorful broth on the side. This dish need some rice to sop it up b/c it was delicious. The goat was very tender and boneless. They were out of the the banana leaf-wrapped tamales so we tried a few of the regular ones which were decent to good but not stand out in my opinion. We also had a tlayuda with spicy pork and Oaxacan cheese which was great for sharing and pretty good. I would go back for the tlayuda and the goat.

                          The owner was very busy taking orders and bringing food out, so it took a long while for us to put our order in, maybe not the best place is you're in a hurry (it was about 1pm on a Saturday). The specials were only announced as we placed our order, they were not written anywhere. The owner also brought out 2 small cups for us to sample the warm chocolate drink and the rice based drink. It smelled great in there and I was actually tempted by the trays of fresh panaderia style corn muffins that were coming out of the back even though I'm not usually a big fan of pan dulce.

                          1. re: Candice

                            When I was there on Saturday they did have a specials board outside the restaurant that listed a few things, including costillas in red sauce and the torta de venado (venison torta).

                            I also would like to try the banana leaf tamales, so I'll be back for those.

                    2. re: Dave MP

                      Al pastor is from Mexico City, and Oaxacans don't do it very well. Either way, NO ONE in SF has ever even come close to a real Al pastor. Some might be a tasty bbq'd pork, but NO ONE does and authentic al pastor. If they did, I'd move next door.

                      1. re: hankstramm

                        Lebanese shepherds immigrated to Mexico City?

                        1. re: hankstramm

                          I'm trying to remember whether the "al pastor" that I had was the same as the "cecina" that I had on my tlayuda. Are these two words for the same thing?

                          I think that the person who made the meat for al pastor was not from Oaxaca. He definitely referred to it as 'al pastor.' When I was there last weekend, 'al pastor' was not an option, but cecina was. So either they had two different recipes, or just two different words for the same thing. Anyone know?

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            They're different from each other . . . or should be.

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              Cecina is adobo marinated pork sliced thin. Al pastor is adobo marinated pork roasted on a spit. I'm guessing the guy meant cecina.

                            2. re: hankstramm

                              Taqueria San Jose does authentic al pastor.

                              1. re: a_and_w

                                Taqueria San Jose is not even close to an authentic Al Pastor--it's tasty bbq'd pork, but nothing even recognizable to al pastor.

                                Not to be rude, but you've obviously have never been to Mexico City. A previous post was correct, it started as lamb from Lebanese immigrants to Mex City.

                                I think I'm going to start a thread about al pastor.

                                1. re: hankstramm

                                  I haven't eaten al pastor in Mexico City, but here's a post by someone comparing Taqueria San Jose's al pastor favorably to offerings in Guadalajara:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5159...

                                  What specifically about TSJ's al pastor makes it inauthentic in your eyes?

                        2. This weekend I went to La Oaxaquena again and tried a tlayuda con cecina (pork).

                          The huge crisp tortilla was the size of a small pizza, and filled the plate completely. Like SteveG describes, it was smeared w/ refried beans, and topped with oaxacan string cheese, shredded lettuce, cecina, queso fresco, sauce (hot sauce? it tasted kinda like tamarind to me, but maybe it was vinegar). Decorated with some avocado and a Mexican flag.

                          I ate half of the tlayuda, which made for a huge meal....the leftovers I ate two days later, after a quick reheating in the oven, and it was still great.

                          I really like the flavor combo of the beans and cheese - I haven't had a tlayuda before so I have little to compare this to, but I thought it was very tasty and I'd definitely return to try more of these or some other specials.

                          Attached is a photo of the tlayuda

                           
                          1. i wanna go here so bad now. Venison tortas! thats something that almost all bay area restaurants don't have.

                            1. Ahh, bad service, it might possibly be a real Oaxacan place then. I was doubtful at first. I've come across about 1 Oaxacan in the Bay Area in 20 years I've lived here, and that's my wife.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hankstramm

                                there are actually a lot. A few months ago i wrote about a oaxacan food (el oaxaqueno) store in san jose, which if you haven't already, you should check it out.

                              2. A word of caution for those who come here and order the specials: You'll probably get something interesting, but always ask what the price is first! I ordered two of the special tacos de avestruz, thinking that "de avestruz" was some type of special Oaxacan style of making tacos.

                                Avestruz actually means ostrich, as I found out by looking it up on my phone while eating. These are tacos made with grilled ostrich, and they are crazy expensive ($5 each). I love ostrich meat but I can't recommend ordering these, regardless of price. Ostrich is an incredibly lean meat and the low fat content means you have to be very careful when cooking it, as it overcooks in a flash. This meat was overcooked and had none of the delicious rare steak taste that it should have had. If you see this on the specials board, save your money and go with a tlayuda or tamales plate instead.

                                1. Have passed by La Oaxaquena numerous times in the past few weeks, including this afternoon. It's been closed every time, though they sometimes have been putting the taco/bacon dog cart out front on weekend nights. Anyone know what the deal is? I miss getting my tamale fix.

                                  -----
                                  La Oaxaquena
                                  2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bigwheel042

                                    Looked like La Oaxaquena has reopened. Passed by Saturday night and they were serving again, with a different layout in the interior.

                                    -----
                                    La Oaxaquena
                                    2128 Mission St, San Francisco, CA