Don Pisto’s: Authentic + Mouthwatering Mexican in San Francisco
Let’s face it: there’s good Mexican and then there’s great Mexican. It’s the sort of cuisine that can drown under pools of oily melted cheese and overcooked ground beef or that can make your stomach sing with specialities that taste like they’ve come from a family owned dive in Oaxaca, Patzcuraro or the heart of Mexico City. Well, if you find yourself in San Francisco you won’t have to go all that far to have flavoursome Mexican food that will make you double check whether you’re still within the borders of the good old US of A.
A friend who resides in the bustling – yet frosty – metropole of San Francisco introduced me to Don Pisto’s during my California road trip. I fear will be forever indebted to him for this fantastic suggestion as I still (more than a full week later) cannot get this dining experience out of my mind. Located in the heart of Telegraph Hill is a casual and unpretentious restaurant that boasts weighty wooden furniture and russet brick walls where various red-tinged canvases hang and wait to be sold.
Don Pisto’s is about providing a new take on traditional Mexican street food and using quality local ingredients in each and every item. The menu is seasonal, so the courses change throughout the year depending on what is available at the time.
Eating with three strapping men can be a bit daunting (at least if you’re cooking for them), but at a place like Don Pisto’s it’s fantastic because you can order a several items and have a little bit of this…and a little bit of that. Sharing is probably the best way to get the most value for money.
Between the four of us we ordered some tacos, chips and salsa, the grilled pork chop rib, tortilla soup, wild Monterey calamari, and a bottle of white. Yes, it sounds like a lot of food and it was in fact, but believe you me, we ate until every plate was perfectly clean.
I mean the plates were so pristine I might as well have licked them clean.
The flavours were astounding. I can honestly say I haven’t had any Mexican food quite as good, even the food I had in Mexico – clearly I went to the wrong places – dulls in comparison to Don Pisto’s. The calamari was divine, each delicate strip doused in a tart dressing, and a beautiful texture: tender without being at all chewy or rubbery. I had a spoonful of the tortilla soup, which was rich and spicy, though I was told by one of my dining compatriots that “This is so damn good, it makes me feel like I should be lying in a deck chair in a cabana under the setting Mexican sun with a bowl of this soup in one hand and a margarita in the other.”
My pescado (fresh market fish) tacos were mouthwatering and yet so simple. With a dollop of avocado salad, cabbage and onion it was an appetizer that was light and offset nicely by the freshly-made corn tortillas that tasted as if Mama was back in the kitchen doing them herself.
The pork chop was the culinary climax of the night, the men started salivating the moment that pig leg was deposited onto our table. Tender and juicy with an orange/chili marinade I haven’t had anything quite like it. Seriously, for food meant to be a spin off of street-fare it was anything but the oily, greasy or sometimes over-spiced options you get from a street truck.
It was the great kind of Mexican food you hope to find when waltzing into a restaurant for a bite to eat. Not only was the atmosphere amiable and the food delicious, but the price/quality was killer, with our most expensive purchase being the bottle of white Rioja (*swoon*). So if Mexican is your thing then Don Pisto’s is your place. Just make sure to get there early, and even if you’re told that there’s a 40 minute wait ahead of you, saddle up to the bar, order a drink and put in your time.
It will be worth it. I promise.
510 Union Street
San Francisco, California
Tuesday – Saturday: 17:30 – 00:30 (also opened for Friday/Saturday brunch from 11:00 – 15:00)
Sunday: 10:00 – 22:00