Usually I don't emerge for lunch on workdays. It's a little sad, I admit, but if you worked where I work, you might not either. Sometimes I don't feel like getting an extra look at the colorful folks stumbling out of the Rodeway Inn across the street, occasionally shoeless and often fighting over some kind of, shall we say, relationship problem.
Anyway, back to lunch. My colleague and I had an event the other night so we decided to get ourselves a good lunch for sustenance. We pretended to think about where we might go, all the while knowing we'd end up at Nopalito.
Nopalito is the little sister restaurant to the larger Nopa a few blocks away, which (I hear) is excellent comfort food. Nopalito, as the name suggests, is Mexican. The place is smallish, with lots of natural light. The feel, like the food, is clean and uncluttered, but warm. Service is enthusiastic and informative.
I have now been three times, which I think is a good number to judge a place, although the first two times I got the the same thing, the enchiladas de mole, because they were so delicious I could not stop thinking of them. This time, however, branching out was in order. My colleague and I split three items, all of which, two days later, I am still mooning over.
We shared a delightfully tart and sweet salad of grapefruit, blood oranges, and queso fresco. Then on to the pork tamale with spring onions. I'm no tamale expert, but I've had some that seemed starchy and leaden. This tamale had the lightest masa and the deepest flavor: I could have eaten two by myself, no problem. (Let's be honest: I could have probably eaten three.) And finally, the dish that has me debating about taking a cab over there today, the carnitas, pork braised in cinnamon and beer, served with cabbage salad and warm tortillas.
I was a bit in shock when the carnitas arrived. We had shared the lively citrus salad, and the smoldering tamale, both delicious but moderate in size and scale. When the carnitas arrived, I fell deeply in love. This dish could, and perhaps should, be their signature dish. Nestled in a deep ceramic bowl, the carnitas are served in large, fork-pullable pieces, deeply spiced, with the perfect amount of fat. Wrapped in a warm tortilla with tomatillo salsa, they disappeared quickly and silently between the two of us. This was one of the best dishes I have ever had, and it was lovely for two.
Meals at Nopalito are rounded out with simple but elegant touches: spicy toasted chickpeas to start you off, and buttery, crumbly Mexican wedding cookies to send you on your way. There's something about this place that really gets me. It's not the most exciting atmosphere, and I'm not sure I'd be interested in going there for dinner--it seems more like a lunch place. But the menu is conceived of and executed with great focus, and the food is direct and pure. Nopalito gets an A from the Hungry Dog.
Nopalito is located at 306 Broderick Street in San Francisco.