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Garaje in SOMA [San Francisco]

Per Melanie Wong's request on the San Diego board, this is a short post about Garaje which serves up what tastes to me like a heavily Southern California-influenced version of Mexican food.

We relocated here from San Diego about a year ago and have had a hard time finding the kind of Mexican food that is ubiquitous down there. Garaje is extremely close in spirit, if not 100% in execution. It's more upscale and deluxe, but the flavors are very close.

I haven't eaten everything on the menu, but I've tried several things. My favorite are the tacos. The Cadillac, grilled fish, and seared ahi are excellent. They're not cheap, but they are quite large. Two tacos makes for a good meal.

They also offer crispy tacos with homemade fried shells which are cheaper and less filling. These are OK for a taste of nostalgia but can be safely skipped.

They have a burrito they call a Zapato that's grilled on a panini press. The presence of refried beans is the only off-note, otherwise it's a pretty bona fide take on the California burrito (carne asada, cheese, fries, guacamole). No rice, no steamed tortilla, etc. The panini press use is a little strange, but it gives a drier, grilled tortilla flavor that you get in San Diego taco shops.

Beer selection is quite good, though it's hilarious that their beer menu says "no crap on tap" when Hamm's is one of the options.

I don't know that I'd travel to eat there. We're in the Inner Richmond and if we are craving tacos Tacobar on Fillmore is as good in its own way and a lot closer, but I work in SOMA and this is one of my go-to spots for lunch there and it's a lot better than many of the other lunch venues in the area.

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  1. Thanks much, Josh! Now that I've had a chance to read more about the eclectic, it's pretty commendable that it can hit Mexican flavors so closely.

    Has anyone had the hamburger?

    Garaje: 475 Third Street, SF; 415-664-0838; open Monday thru Saturday, 11am to close. CASH ONLY

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I might say "Mexican" as opposed to Mexican, since SoCal's spin is definitely its own kind of Americanization. Garaje hits the SoCal variant well, but from my limited experience of more authentic Mexican cuisine I'd say it's definitely not that.

      1. re: Josh

        OK, I shall read that in my mind with "quotes". On one of my SD trips, I asked Alex to take me to one of the 'berto's, but he was so reluctant, I didn't press it.

        Over the years, we've had quite a few requests for San Diego style "Mexican" so your find is going to help answer that quest.


    2. I had lunch there on Friday. When we arrived shortly before one, there were more than a dozen people in line, and the line stayed that length until shortly before we left. There are almost no good seats when there is a line, because the space is narrow and people walk forward to get a menu. Plus it was loud and somewhat dark. Don't go for the atmosphere, though it might be okay at off hours.

      Whoever planned the menu appreciates texture. The "Como Se Llama" is a crispy taco wrapped in a soft corn tortilla, which is brilliant. It was nice to have a grilled fish taco option instead of fried, and the fish was properly cooked, though the portion was a bit small for my tastes. But the surprise winner was the BBQ pork sandwich. This was quite generous, not overly sweet or soggy, and had nice crunchy bits. If I go back, I'd find it hard to not order that again.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

        Aha, so you've not had a Nick's Crispy Taco or the founder's Tacko. Nick's Way doubles the tortillas exactly like that. Yes, it is a brilliant texture sensation.

      2. Can anyone confirm the hours/days of operation?

        The sfist link above says Mon-Sat, while yelp has Mon-Fri. (Obviously Saturday is the day I'm wondering about.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: eethan

          I'll answer my own question: closed on Sat.

        2. I liked the grilled aspect of the the Zapato, but I agree with the OP that the refried beans don't quite work. I found the beans gave it an off-putting density and my DC commented that it needed something wetter inside. A dip of salsa or whatnot could have helped.

          The $8 Asada cheese fries were great and could be a meal for one. Guacamole, carne asada, lots of cheese and so much topping that even the last fry was coated in cheese.

          Really good ahi tostaditos with a slight smokiness.

          Funky set up with. The tables against the left wall have way too short chairs and iPhone 5 charging cords coming out of them. Laptop discouragement? It's also really loud in there.

          1. I think it's pretty funny that there are so many comments about what the "style" is of the food at Garaje. Personally, I'd say call it whatever you want, it tastes pretty good. I also work in SOMA and since Fly Trap stopped serving lunch I've been looking in vain for a reliable lunch spot. I think Garaje is it. Crowded, a bit quirky for sure, but the flavors are great. I particularly like the grilled ahi and avocado taco. Agree with the comment about the refritos not adding much to the zapatos, but overall...I'll keep coming back.

            1. Went today for lunch for the first time and I liked it a lot.

              Music was playing relatively loud, and it was pretty busy at noon. Food only took about 10 mins to arrive, so not bad at all.

              I had a burger which was excellent. I have posted about it here in the Dish of the Month discussion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9151...

              Dining companions had various fish tacos (which are big and good). I only tasted the seared tuna one, and it was light nicely seasoned. Fried tilapia looked good too. The zapatos, which I did not taste, also looked good, but smaller than I would have expected. My fries were decent but nothing special.

              This place strikes me as a great spot for happy hour, with good beer prices on interesting beers, and some very nice snacks.

              1. Went for lunch today with Dave MP and a small posse from the CHOW offices and liked it. Being close to South Park, in SF's tech zone, Garaje seems like a case of right concept, right space. Though it's open til 10 p.m., this is obviously a place calibrated for lunch and happy hour: a mostly male crowd, and the beer, burgers, and tacos that'd appeal to them. The decor is a bit university hofbrau, with California beach-bro style: vintage motorcycle license plates, old street signs you'd expect to see in dorm rooms, retro traffic signs, a bathroom sign showing a stick-figure guy peeking over the stall at a stick figure woman and TVs tuned to soccer. There's a collection of retro-looking diner banquettes and rough wood benches.

                The food I saw and tasted was straightforward and good, definitely Cal-Mex. I had a carnitas zapato (pictured), sort of a burrito as rich and soft inside as a quesadilla, in a flour tortilla that'd been crisped in a panini press. The fish taco was impressive: a single piece of battered and fried tilapia as long as the red plastic serve basket, in a flour tortilla that couldn't quite contain it, with cabbage and a chipotle-ish mayo. A guac-heavy seared ahi taco a little like poke but without the soy. Good fries (crisp, fresh-cut, and salty). And really good beers on tap, $5 the pint at lunch (I had a Flying Dog IPA).

                In short, great lunch spot for a mostly tech-bro audience; can't wait to go back for happy hour.