Nopalito's famous carnitas -- pork braised in milk and beer with cinnamon -- put them on the S.F. dining map, and those pleasantly tart, bright margaritas keep us coming back. On that note, there's good news and bad news for brunch-goers at the sustainable Mexican kitchen. The good: You can still eat carnitas at noon on a Saturday, along with almost every other dish or cocktail you love on the dinner menu. However, the restaurant offers few truly "brunchy" entrees.
Like lunch and dinner, seating at brunch (served from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) is first-come, first-served. The wait times aren't as long as they tend to be at dinner, but it's still a good idea to call ahead. If your schedule is flexible, arrive on the later side; since brunch is served well into the afternoon, there's no need to rush.
All beverages -- from juices and cocktails to wine and beer -- are the same at brunch as they are at dinner. You can't go wrong with a margarita ($9), or better yet, splitting a margarita pitcher ($33) between a few friends. They're some of the best we've had, strong, balanced and never too sweet. Two cocktails that fit the brunch theme are the bloody maria ($9), made with tequila, and the Mexican coffee ($9), a blend of coffee, tequila, and liqueur topped with whipped cream. If you're not feeling boozy, order a simple cup of coffee; it's Blue Bottle, and they bring it out in a French press.
The entire left side of the menu is likewise identical to the lunch/dinner fare, and it's composed of seasonally changing small plates. Start with some simple chips and salsa for the table ($1.50); the chips are made in-house and are deliciously thick and spicy, even naked. The salsa is slightly sweet with a kick, and you may end up wanting more of it than they bring out.
The taquitos de calabaza ($5.50) are also great for sharing. Soft butternut squash is rolled up into tortillas and deep fried, then topped with a medley of goodies -- raw onion, guacamole, spicy chipotle salsa, sour cream and queso fresco. Even though it's fried, the dish doesn't feel too heavy, with the salsa and guacamole brightening the rest of the flavors.
When it's time to order entrees, look to the right side of the menu. Again, if you've dined during lunch or dinner you'll see some pleasantly familiar faces, including the pozole ($12), chicken consomme ($10), and carnitas ($15.50). If you do want to sample some new brunch dishes, try huevos de caja ($9), which seems to be Nopalito's version of huevos rancheros. A house-made tortilla is topped with a thick layer of refried black beans, a couple of poached eggs, and an even thicker layer of stringy jack cheese. Then cilantro salsa is spooned evenly over the top, with bright, grassy flavors that balance the richness of everything below.
The machaca de camaron con huevo y salsa ($11) is another good option, and a unique dish to boot. It's hard to visualize what the menu describes as "smashed shrimp" until you see it on the plate -- shrimp and eggs are mixed and mashed together to create a spicy hash-style breakfast, featuring peppers, tomatoes, onions, and salsa. It comes with a side of refried black beans and a stack of tortillas, so you can spoon it all into tacos if you want.
Other brunch entrees seem a bit thrown together, but they all look and sound delicious anyway. The chilaquiles rojo en cazuela ($9) is a stack of tortilla chips, chiles, tomato and cheese, with an egg in the mix as well. The frijoles puercos y huevo ($9) is a black bean stew with chorizo and bacon, also with an egg added in. The torta de chilorio ($9) offers another way to eat your braised pork: in a sandwich with cheese and avocado.
All of the dishes are served a bit spicier than the average palate may prefer, except maybe the huevos de caja. Otherwise, Nopalito makes bright, flavorful Mexican dishes that nearly everyone should enjoy.
However, brunch isn't really the main event here. They're being resourceful; The smashed shrimp mix is the same that goes into the dinner menu's enchiladas, for example. Not that we're complaining. Consider brunch as another way to enjoy your Nopalito favorites -- either with a new spin and a poached egg on top, or the old-fashioned way.Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.