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Friday, March 18, 2011

No. 42: Nopalito's Quesadilla Roja

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 1:41 PM

click to enlarge Nopalito's quesadilla roja, $9. - KEVIN HENDERSON/SFOODIE
  • Kevin Henderson/SFoodie
  • Nopalito's quesadilla roja, $9.

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


For some mysterious reason, Gonzalo Guzman and Jose Ramos haven't yet made any rising star chef lists; in SFoodie's opinion, the two co-chefs of Nopalito are among San Francisco's best cooks. Their dishes plumb areas of Mexican regional cuisine many Americans only know from reading Diana Kennedy books; but they're not slavish to traditions, incorporating California produce and sustainable meats and billowing flares of creativity.

Take the quesadilla roja, a dish that blends Oaxacan and northern Mexican styles, and one so rich that its pleasure verges on the guilty. Guzman says his cooks make the shell of the quesadilla by mixing ground mulato chiles into fresh masa. They then press the blood-red masa into a round and fry it, filling the tortilla as it sizzles and browns.

In go chunks of braised pork belly, braised down into shreds and coated in a fruity-hot guajillo chile salsa. In go clouds of queso fresco, a melting cheese to hold everything together, and onions and cilantro. At the last minute, the cooks toss in a few strips of chicharrón ― pork skin that Guzman dehydrates and fries in lard. Catch the stray pieces of chicharrón falling out of the quesadilla, and they have a feathery-crisp texture and full-fat taste, while the strips in the center quickly become saturated in salsa.

Nopalito: 306 Broderick (at Oak), 437-0303.

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
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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