The Aguirre family, who run the colorful, congenial Los Yaquis
on S. Van Ness and 15th St., are doing something no other San Francisco restaurant is: serving Jalisco-style botanas (snacks) and smothered antojitos in addition to their more traditional menu of Mexican entrees and Salvadoran fare.
Look over the cook's station in the front of the restaurant, and you'll see the botanas ― glass jars filled with orange, green, and white ingredients. There are slippery, jelly-like strips of cueritos (pickled pork skin), shredded carrots, chopped cactus, thinly sliced pork loin, and head cheese. They'll put together a small plate of the botanas (which also includes quail eggs and pickled pig's feet) for $6, or you can order tacos dorados, fried quesadillas, or tostadas smothered in your choice of the snacks. The owners come from San Juan de Los Lagos in Jalisco; Samuel Aguirre, who I talked to over the phone, says that the snack-bar approach to topping antojitos is common in the region.
Take this order of ham and cheese tostadas: five just-fried mini quesadillas, each folded into a half-moon the size of a grapefruit wedge. I couldn't see the crunchy quesadillas at first, though, thanks to the blanket of crema poured over top. Each time I dug in with a fork, something new came up ― a few strips of cueritos, slices of avocado and queso fresco, paper-thin slivers of pork loin, a tomato. Was it a bit rich for lunch? It was. Would I go back to try the tacos dorados? Any day.
In fact, I went back a few weeks after my first visit for the tacos and got distracted by another smothered house specialty, the torta ahogada ($6.50). The cooks packed a warm bolillo with pork loin, avocado, tomato, and white cheese, then doused it in a thin red chile salsa so precise and potent in its heat I had to take two-minute rests after every third or fourth bite. Did that stop me from finishing the sandwich? Hardly.Los Yaquis:
324 S. Van Ness (at 15th St.), 252-8204. Open for lunch and dinner.