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Any tasty upscale mexican in SF?

I have my go-to taquerias, and the places I go to drink margaritas, but in terms of tasty mexican you can take out-of-town older relatives to, that feel a little spruced up (and serve tequila!), where do you go? Is Mamacita tasty? I haven't tried Poc Chuc either, but I'm worried it won't feel upscale enough.

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Mamacita
2317 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123

Poc Chuc
2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. Poc Chuc's not upscale. Look for reports on:

    Chilango
    Colibri
    Mamacita
    Maya (branch of NY celebrity-chef place)
    Mexico DF
    Nopalito
    Regalito
    Tropisueno

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    Mexico DF
    139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

    Mamacita
    2317 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123

    Colibri Mexican Bistro
    438 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102

    Nopalito
    306 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA

    Regalito Rosticeria
    3481 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

    Tropisueno
    75 Yerba Buena Lane, San Francisco, CA 94103

    Chilango
    235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

    1. Nopalito just added tequila (and is tasty, and upscale)

      1. Have you tried Nopalito? That's sort of upscalish and they have a variety of drinks available.

        I actually like Chilango (near Church & Market) a bit better. The food is a step up from Taqueria food - excellent (not too sweet) aquas frescas, crunchy-fatty-juicy carnitas, fresh soups. Best housemade tortillas i've had (slightly green and sour from cactus in the dough). The tres leches desert is also quite good - sweet, milky and large.

        They have beer but (I think) no hard alcohol.

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        Nopalito
        306 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA

        Chilango
        235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

        1. I would heartily recommend Nopalito. I was served the best carnitas that I have ever have had and I've been to Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Oaxaca.
          I can't wait to go back next time I am in the city.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kare_raisu

            Glad you liked it! What else did you get a chance to try?

          2. Agree with Nopalito. It's not the biggest, but the quality is very good.

            1. Thanks everybody! I've always wanted to try Nopalito but it never wins since they don't serve tequila. Sad, I know. But now it's all good!

              1 Reply
              1. re: leeinsf

                Not sure if htis is an issue, but another huge plus for Nopalito is that it offers free parking (which not many people know about)

              2. I had originally been planning on Mamacita for an upcoming trip, but looks like Nopalito is the favorite. Similar prices and menu looks great.

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                Mamacita
                2317 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                10 Replies
                1. re: metfan630

                  Last time I was at Nopalito, they had me at Moonlight Death and Taxes on draft. Awesome paired with the pozole on a dreary, rainy day.

                  1. re: chuckl

                    Neither Nopalito nor Chilango felt upscale to me, though they are inarguably a step up from the average taqueria in terms of ambiance (we tried lunch at both, not dinner). Colibri seemed more of a place to take older rellies, though I didn't love all the food, but certainly service-wise. And AFAIK, Poc Chuc doesn't have a liquor licence, so no tequila. Agree it is not necessarily "spruced up" enough for the OP, though I would put it at about the same level ambiance-wise as Nopalito and warmer than Chilango which seemed kinda spare and uncozy, though we really enjoyed the food.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      This would probably be a good topic for a broader scoped board, if it hasn't been done already. Thinking about our situation down here in the central valley and places I've been to in SoCal, upscale and Mexican food are pretty much mutually exclusive. Most of the attempts at it seem to miss the mark when it comes to the food. I can think of one exception but have to qualify it by saying the main draw is a full bar with decent margaritas and a couple of dishes featuring braised ribs. For all the other wonderful dishes of Mexico we always patronize the smaller low key spots, dives, and taco trucks.

                      I'm sure they must exist in major metro areas, probably more as you go south, and would like to hear about them. I've always been kind of surprised that SF and Vancouver haven't been able to attract and support at least one or two.

                      1. re: PolarBear

                        Not in SF, but take a look at this menu for tomorrow's dinner in Healdsburg
                        http://www.roadhousewine.net/menu.htm

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Wow, hadn't heard of this place. The .com link at the top of the menu isn't a registered web site, here's the working one:
                          http://www.roadhousewinery.com/

                          Is this a one time event that is being catered?

                          1. re: PolarBear

                            Tendejon de la Calle is a mobile restaurant that pops-up a different sites a couple days each week. Here's my post with the news of the first dinner in April, haven't managed to be in town on the right days to try it myself yet.
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/700621

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              I saw your post after we had returned from our last visit to Healdsburg and immediately put notes in my file to track down Mateo Granados next time we're up that way. Thanks for the great tip Melanie.

                              Cheers,

                              Dave

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                              Mateo Granados
                              399 Business Park Dr, Windsor, CA

                        2. re: PolarBear

                          Not for this board, but next time you are in LA, you need to check out Babita. (Lots of posts on the LA board). I think it is what you are looking for, though IIRC it is beer and wine only; no tequila.

                          I think Mexico DF is best for happy hour. Good drinks, decent food.

                          -----
                          Mexico DF
                          139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                        3. re: grayelf

                          Totally agree. Nopalito may be awesome food-wise, but it is not "upscale" to me. They don't take reservations, and they don't have a comfortable waiting area. The tables themselves are casual and somewhat crowded, and the menu is basically taqueria/diner, not adventurous or fine cuisine. I would recommend it to a person seeking, say, dynamite carnitas, but I doubt it qualifies as an "upscale" Mexican restaurant suitable for "out-of-town older relatives."

                          1. re: grayelf

                            I agree that Chilango does _not_ feel upscale, but something is different about Nopalito. While not upscale Coi, upscale, the service is decidedly more polished and the atmosphere more atmospheric then your average neighborhood place.

                            So upscale, maybe maybe-not, but fancyish for sure. Suitable for out-of-town elders.

                            -----
                            Chilango
                            235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                      2. Two of my favorites are Mexico DF and Tres Agaves. Maya is also good, although it's recently adopted a more informal style. I'm not certain whether Tres Agaves fits the description of "upscale," but the food is certainly tasty.

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                        Tres Agaves Restaurant
                        130 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                        Mexico DF
                        139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                        1. I'd characterize Poc Chuc as a nice neighborhood place, not too fancy but you could bring a friend or (younger) relatives for a nice casual meal. The menu certainly is different from your standard Cal-Mex place.

                          Tres Agaves has tequila and that's part of their thing but that's also their "vibe"...think co-workers at lunch getting hammered for a b-day. It's a nice enough place however but it doesn't whisper older relatives to me. I think of this place El Torrito with a hip make over.

                          Maya in its past incarnation (not the more casual form) had white table clothes and the upscale presentation. The food got a little stale in the past few years but they do well with seafood and that's what I'd usually get.

                          Mexico DF is upscale but more of a bar vibe vs. a white table cloth vibe.

                          -----
                          Tres Agaves Restaurant
                          130 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                          Mexico DF
                          139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                          Poc Chuc
                          2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ML8000

                            note that Chilango is essentially a clone of Mexico DF, foodwise, same owner

                            -----
                            Mexico DF
                            139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            Chilango
                            235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            1. re: vulber

                              I did not know that -- maybe have to put Mexico DF back on the list for next trip. Thanks.

                              -----
                              Mexico DF
                              139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                              1. re: vulber

                                Wait...it is? I knew they both had links to Azteca taqueria, but I don't think their menus are very similar, and the sit-down eating experience is definitely not. Though I've only eaten at Mexico DF for lunch and Chilango for dinner, I don't sense much similarity between the two. I like Chilango more than Mexico DF, so am curious if they are in fact run by the same team.

                                -----
                                Mexico DF
                                139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                Chilango
                                235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                                1. re: Frosty Melon

                                  I thought for some reason it was just an ex-Mexico DF chef at Chilango, but it is indeed the same owner and an ex-Mexico DF + Fonda chef:
                                  http://www.mex-df.com/mex-df.comresta...
                                  http://www.tablehopper.com/biz/chilango/

                                  Both owned by Victor Hugo Juarez, chef Roberto Aguiar-Cruz (Aguilar-Cruz?

                                  )

                                  This actually makes me want to try Chilango--I thought Mexico DF showed a decent authentic sensibility but was trying to bring it to downtown Americans. A restaurant where they try to bring Mexico DF food in a more neighborhood style might be more up my alley.

                                  -----
                                  Mexico DF
                                  139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                  Chilango
                                  235 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            2. I've only been to Mamacita once and while it's not exactly authentic Mexican food, everything our table ordered was really tasty, the drinks delicious, and the service great. It's more expensive than Nopalito but also much more upscale. Definitely a place you could take your older out of town relatives to. It's also in a nice area on Chestnut Street, so afterwards you could walk around a little bit and do some shopping or grab dessert if they want to see some more of the city.

                              -----
                              Mamacita
                              2317 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                              1. What about Tres Agaves? Honestly, I've only had apps there (so other people can speak to the food better than I) but the margs are great and they have tons of tequlia choices and a nice big dining room with a fairly upscale atmosphere (not fancy, but nice enough for a family dinner for sure). http://www.tresagaves.com/

                                -----
                                Tres Agaves Restaurant
                                130 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MaddyK

                                  I've wished for a place like Frontera Grill or Topolobampo (Rick Bayless, Chicago) here and have not exactly found it. That right combination of menu, tequilas and wine list. I've been told Mexico DF comes close but still have not been. Maya does not do it for me as it's a glorified chain, Tres Agaves, the food really isn't that good. Oaxacan Kitchen (Palo Alto), just ok food and no tequila list.

                                  -----
                                  Tres Agaves Restaurant
                                  130 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                  Mexico DF
                                  139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                  The Oaxacan Kitchen
                                  2323 Birch St, Palo Alto, CA 94306

                                  1. Which upscale Mexican restaurants mentioned in this thread serve the best ceviche or cocteles de mariscos? Would be especially interested in an upscale restaurant that serves a good version of vuelve a la vida ceviche.

                                    Thanks for any suggestions.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: prima

                                      if you don't mind going upscale latin american rather than upscale mexican, there's limon

                                      1. re: vulber

                                        For Peruvian cebiche, La Mar is good.

                                        Some of the best Mexican-style ceviche might be at non-Mexican restaurants. Some of the best I've ever had was upstairs at Chez Panisse.

                                        -----
                                        La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
                                        Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          La Mar has a great variety of styles of ceviche. Nopalito has a good standard Mexican ceviche, which I often order for a light counterpoint to some of the other dishes, but it's not a total standout for me.

                                          1. re: SteveG

                                            Thanks for all your comments and recommendations. I'm definitely open to Peruvian and other Latin American and South American styles of ceviche, as well as Mexican-style ceviche at non-Mexican restaurants. Good to know the ceviches upstairs at Chez Panisse are good ones. This week's halibut, blood orange & avocado ceviche sounds interesting. http://www.chezpanisse.com/menus/cafe...

                                            -----
                                            Chez Panisse
                                            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                            1. re: prima

                                              The ceviche I had at Chez Panisse was probably 30 years ago, that was just an example. Ceviche was pretty common in Cal-Med places for a while, though in recent years it seems to have been largely supplanted by Italian-style crudo.

                                              -----
                                              Chez Panisse
                                              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                You can get ceviche for $3.50/half quart off a taco truck on International Blvd. For the price and quantity, it's rocks.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            We just ate at La Mar for the first time last weekend. It was just delicious. Service was great. View phenomenal.

                                      2. Should this thread still be taken to indicate that Nopalito is better than Mamacita in 2014? Or have things changed in 4 years?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: BacoMan

                                          Not an answer to Nopalito vs Mamacita, but since this thread, there is now also La Urbana http://www.laurbanasf.com/

                                          And in Oakland there's Nido http://www.nidooakland.com/

                                          Upscale is not really an accurate description, but the menus are more sophisticated than your basic taqueria (and the creative coctails increases the check, too).

                                            1. re: foodeye

                                              I like La Urbana. I've had a number of items on their brunch and dinner menus and liked every dish. Some are on the heavy side and there is no want for salt, but the flavors are all well balanced. I have always gone on the early side so I've avoided the busy scene, but if you are looking for a social drinking atmosphere you'll find it there in the evenings.