The other day we braved the crowds loitering outside Nopalito (mostly young, hip, good-looking people, mind you), on Broderick in between Fell and Oak, to get some Carnitas. Yes, Carnitas, that staple of, oh, every single tacqueria and burrito joint in San Francisco. But Nopalito's were supposed to be better, and in fact its entire, authentic Mexican menu was said to be very, very good.
We were not disappointed. Everything on the menu was enticing, but we couldn’t order everything. We settled on a watermelon radish salad, tatellios (fried chips with salsa), a goat stew, and the carnitas. What Nopalita, founded by the owners of Nopa, has over all those other tacquerias is, in that famous Bay Area gastronomic tradition, that they’re willing to go that extra distance for their ingredients. Rather than use the cheapest available foodstuffs, they use the best. For instance, the goat in our stew was from Marin Sun Farms, that farmer’s market staple famous as much for the high price of its meats as for their quality. The carnitas were wonderful. Sweetened a little like a southeastern barbecue and seasoned with cinnamon, orange, bay and more, they needed no sauce and no condiments to be delicious.
As for the drinking options, I stuck to Mexican beer--first a Bohemia, then a Tecate in a can--though more complex beers, like Russian River Brewing’s Blind Pig, are available. There were some good wine choices too, like Lioco Chardonnay and a fine rosé of Carignan from Sutton Cellars. The only unfortunate aspect is that the proprietors choose to honor their casual Mexican theme over the integrity of the wine, serving it in squat, thick ceramic mugs rather than in stems that would do them justice. But, who drinks wine at a Mexican joint? Oh, my wife. Well, stick to beer and Nopalita is some of the best Mexican food in town. As soon as the crowds die down, I expect to be a regular.