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Monday, February 28, 2011

No. 56: Birria at Gallardos

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 6:03 PM

click to enlarge Small bowl of birria at Gallardos, $7.50. - GIL RIEGO JR.
  • Gil Riego Jr.
  • Small bowl of birria at Gallardos, $7.50.

SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

click to enlarge sf_92.jpg
It's not hard to spot your bowl of Gallardos' birria coming out of the kitchen, snaking around the families filling center the of the dining room, gliding toward a soft landing below your nose. The weekends-only stew is the red of a tracking beacon ― visible from 20 feet, if not the top of a mountain ― its aroma almost as potent. When the bowl slides into place, and you dip your face into the steamy aura, you can inhale and map the contours of your sinuses, a sort of Scoville MRI.

Juan Gallardo, who came to San Francisco from San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, and his family have run their Mission restaurant for 51 years,

and only its facade hints at the decades. On weekend mornings, the

interior, with its high ceilings and walls paneled in blown-up movie

stills, is the kind of place where you can bathe an addled head in white

noise, or let your 4- and 6-year-olds spin around the tables while

ignoring them for a few seconds, mopping up a plate of huevos rancheros

with soft, corn-sweet tortillas.

There are birrias so thick they could be mistaken for moles, but Gallardos' is an elegant, almost transparent soup. Its brilliant color comes naturally, roasted tomatoes simmered with fistfuls of dried chiles ― guajillos for fruitiness, New Mexicos for heat. Before you cover the surface of the soup with chopped onions and cilantro, then squeeze in a bit of lime, stop and sip the broth as it is: The chiles, blackened on the comal first, give it a supple smokiness ― not chipotles' concentrated flavor, more of an honest sense of the flame. And while the soup is clear, its flavors coalesce and throb on the palate, backed by the meat and musk of lamb. Pluck out a few hunks of the shredded lamb and roll them into a tortilla, sprinkling on onions and a few drops of the chile de arbol salsa, just because it's there. Alternate bites with a spoonful of the broth, letting its spice fire flare and subside. This is a Sunday morning ritual to be anticipated as hotly as the Saturday night before.

Gallardos Mexican Food: 1807 Folsom (at 15th St.), 436-9387.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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