Vincent Schofield has to be the busiest chef in San Francisco. He's executive chef at Nombe, still keeps an eye on the food at Darwin, and last Friday, Schofield and his partners opened Taco Libre, a casual, brightly colored Mexican place near the S.F. State campus. One of Schofield's partners is Tim Drolapas, whose family owns the building at 598 Guerrero (at 18th St.) in the Mission, site of the shuttered Ebb and Flow, where Schofield worked briefly as executive chef.
Schofield tells SFoodie Taco Libre is calibrated to appeal to college kids. The theme: a humorous take on Mexico's popular lucha libre wrestling scene. The walls are covered with colorful, cartoon-style artwork from the highly palindromic Sirron Norris, same artist who decorated Jay's Cheesesteak in the Mission.
The menu includes burritos ($5.25-$12.95), tacos ($1.75-$3.95), tortas, quesadillas, breakfast options (huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, etc.), and rice plates. Plus a few unique twists, like the ability to order "Libre style," meaning you can convert any item into a meal by adding rice, beans, and salad for an extra $3.95. Nachos are available with tortilla chips or waffle fries (known as "asada fries" in SoCal). There's even a bacon-wrapped hot dog.
SFoodie loved the house-made tortilla chips. Light and delicious sopapillas (fried dough with cinnamon, $2.50) were another winner. The tacos and burritos were as good as any in the Mission, though the mango salsa on our fish taco was superb. On the other hand, all the sauces from the salsa bar proved too mild for our Mission-hardened palate ― your best bet is probably the pico de gallo. And borderline-bland carnitas were too lean for our tastes, maybe in an attempt to make them healthier. Stick with carne asada. At the moment drink options consist of sodas alone, though aguas frescas and alcoholic drinks are in the works.
Schofield says he's still working out Taco Libre's kinks, and that his main focus remains Nombe, though he says the Libre concept is one that could be duplicated elsewhere. The old Ebb and Flow space maybe? Not there, Schofield says.
Taco Libre: 55 Cambon (at Gonzalez), 334-8226. Open daily, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.