Nearly hidden by surrounding buildings but still in broad view on a busy street, Los Potros Restaurante Mexicano at 508 E 11 St. attracts a big crowd. After we ordered at the counter we learned that we also could have sat down at one of the (few remaining) tables to review menus with more details than a bulletin board. Had we not been at the counter, though, we wouldn’t have seen the horchata and jamaica beverage fountains. Zach’s younger brother Willie joined us for dinner and we shared a glass of each agua fresca among the three of us while we waited for our plates to be brought to our table. Since Willie hadn’t tried jamaica before and he enjoyed it, we took that as a good sign that our coming meal would be deliciosa.
Willie got the classic Mexican sandwich with steak. He reported that the tender beef didn’t pull out and was easy to bite through. The fresh quality bread was soft inside and crisp outside, from just the right amount of grilling. Creamy, fresh avocado and rich, light, and tangy crema balanced the jalapeños resulting in a fair amount of heat without being overwhelming. None of us knew from the bulletin board that this would come with fries, and even though they were prepared from a frozen state, Willie said they were “golden to perfection.”
We’re accustomed to seeing chimichangas as a side or appetizer. There are many theories to the origin of the stuffed and deep fried flour tortilla, but it is commonly agreed that it is a truly American dish, in the sense of embracing the Americas as a continental culture from Arizona to Sinaloa. With a nice amount of rice and beans, this pair as an entree was very filling. Crispy and fried yet absent of grease, the tender chicken inside was moist and savory. It was stewed with “tons of spices” like Mexican oregano and chile. Los Potros sends this from the kitchen usually with crema, cotija cheese, and guacamole, but Zach requested no guacamole; otherwise the picture would have been prettier.
Nearly a quarter of the menu is dedicated to mariscos (shellfish), so it would be a disservice not to try something from that section. August was not disappointed with her choice of shrimp cocktail; she initially asked for the one with shrimp and octopus, but then the camarero at the counter asked if she’d like the one that also had clams and abalone. Well now, who would say no to that? The peeled shrimp, massive octopus hunks, bed of clams, and abalone pieces were remarkably fresh and meaty, swimming in a chalice of tomato and lime juice with abundant vegetables. Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cilantro were “fresh, fresh, fresh,” providing crunch and acidity to contrast the sinking bite of the seafood and the creamy avocado pieces.
We made it here just in time for dinner, as Los Potros opens at 8 am but closes at 8 pm. If we find ourselves in the area during the mañana, we might have to stop in to try breakfast. The happy patrons around us validated our opinion that this is a great place for made-to-order comida mexicana.
Having a car in San Francisco can be a hindrance. Besides the traffic of the metering lights on the Bay Bridge and the lookie-loos taking pictures on its new span (and that’s just approaching the City), finding a parking spot once there can feel like a never-ending battle against one-way streets. In the end, testing your brakes in a parallel spot on a super steep hill several blocks away from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is so worth it. Owner/mastermind Tony Gemignani puts the everyday pizza joints to shame with the wonders coming from his kitchen. Eight ovens of different kinds (gas, electric, wood fire, coal fired, rotoflex) at a range of temperatures from 525 to 1000 degrees F, means the varieties are seemingly endless from crusts to toppings.
Honoring our native state and August’s favorite European country simultaneously, we ordered the Barcelona for its toppings, wood fired California style at 900 degrees for a mere 90 seconds. The result was a soft and chewy dough with a burnt bottom, but that was the intention. A light layer of mozzarella was the base cheese, as it is for most pizzas, but this one had the added bonus of Spanish Manchego cheese, named for the region of La Mancha where it is produced. Don Quijote likely would have loved Manchego cheese, if he were real. It is slightly piquant, which works well with the other quintessentially Spanish flavors on this pizza. Nora peppers (another name for paprika peppers) and smoked paprika chorizo tomato sauce both brought a deep spiciness, but with almost zero heat. The chorizo, being Spanish and not Mexican, was neither greasy nor spicy but more like what an American would call a fancy, flavorful pepperoni. Another famous Spanish ham product, jamón, was plentiful and delicious. Considering the tender bits of scrambled farm egg, it wouldn’t be wrong to have the leftovers of this pizza for breakfast.
Cole fired from a 1000 degree F oven for about four minutes was this “white pie with clam and garlic,” plus bacon for an extra charge. That’s about all that the description said, really. With such a description, we did not anticipate that simplicity would taste so glorious. There was mozzarella cheese but a different kind than the Barcelona, this one being a whole milk, milder, Brooklyn style – to go with the East Coast vibe, naturally. It was a creamy backdrop for the bold bacon and plentiful, sweet garlic. The clams, those in the shell as well as the minced meat on the pizza, were nicely chewy, smoky, and very fresh. This pizza had the perfect combination of flavors reminiscent of a hearty clam chowder, but in a cheesy bread bowl. There were overwhelmingly more toppings than crust, since it was thinner than the Barcelona yet harder, but don’t be scared by a little work.
As much as the white pie reminded us of clam chowder, the Detroit style red top reminded us of grilled cheese Texas toast. Funny, since the two places aren’t even in the same time zone. Anyway, Zach says he may have found his new favorite type of pizza, and we really lucked out since only 25 of these are prepared each day and we got the last one. Baked in a gas oven at 550 degrees F for 25 minutes on a blue steel pan from Detroit, the kitchen knows how to recreate authenticity. What else would the owner and first American to win the World Pizza Championship strive for, but authenticity? With its own mozzarella unlike those of the other two, Wisconsin brick, as well as white cheddar, this was the cheesiest pie of the night. Where the edges met the pan, a delicious garlic butter edge was formed, with caramelized corners adorned by mini cheese skirts. The dough under the bed of toppings was thick, soft, and slightly buttery. Poured over the top were ladles of a tangy and mildly sweet tomato sauce, rich and fresh. All that is just the basic “red top” Detroit style pizza, without your choice of toppings, and we couldn’t do without trying a couple of the roughly ten. Just like almost everything else here, the high quality sausage was made in-house. August is not generally a sausage fan, but this was mild for her and pleasantly savory. The pepperoni we requested provided the classic meatiness expected in an American pie. All the elements, from the caramelized cheese to the crust, the sauce to the meat, balanced incredibly well.
Chris, our server, made excellent recommendations and conversation, while the rest of his crew worked together seamlessly to keep the tables happy. A few people waiting for a clear table looked a teensy bit peeved, on the other hand, since reservations are impossible (literally, they don’t book them). When you come, be prepared and ask for the first table available, inside or out. If it’s cold outside, don’t worry because the heaters are set right above each table to keep guests warm and cozy while watching the sun set. We came without coats or sweaters, and we were just fine with our single layers. Across the way, if the door is open, you might catch some live jazz music coming your direction, so the ambiance outdoors is unique and can never be repeated. We intend to return to try Tony’s other types of pizzas and non-pizza items, and just like jazz, there seem to be countless possibilities on the menu.
It’s been unseasonably cool the last couple of nights, so Zach was inspired to make clam chowder. This isn’t exactly New England style because of the bacon, but it’s definitely not Manhattan style either, since there is no tomato. It’s a white chowder with flour as a thickening agent, so it’s more like Hatteras style, but with celery and carrots, it’s most like Zach’s own style.
Makes 8-12, depending on the temperature outside and the appetites present
46 oz. of clam juice
4 cans (6.5 oz. each) of chopped clams
2 1/2 cups of peeled and diced Russet potatoes
1 1/2 cups of diced carrots
1 1/2 cups of diced celery
1 1/2 cups of diced onion
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
8 oz. of bacon
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of white wine
1 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme
1 tsp. of ground white pepper
Bread bowls for serving (optional)
Chop the bacon into small pieces. Render all the fat out by frying until crisp, then straining and draining over towels. Fry in a large pot, because you will use the bacon fat in the chowder itself.
Add the chopped white onions to the pot with the bacon fat. Cook until slightly softened over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and wine, and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Open and drain the cans of clams, saving the juice. Add this juice, the other 46 oz. of juice, potatoes, thyme, and pepper to the pot with the vegetables. Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking the vegetables, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the flour to make a roux; be sure to stir constantly so as to avoid chunky flour lumps.
Add the roux to the vegetables in the large pot. Cook for about 2 minutes until thickened. Add the clams and the cream, and continue cooking for 3 minutes more to meld the flavors.
Sprinkle bacon on top for garnish.