Up until last week, it hasn’t much looked like winter here in the Bay Area. Yet winter it is, and with it comes chillier weather, seasonal flus, and (we hope) days filled with rain. There’s little better than a big bowl of soup to sooth a wintry soul: chicken noodle and take-out pho are fine picks, but there is a whole world of Mexican soups hidden amongst the burritos and beer in the Mission. Mexican soups like pozole and menudo are the strongholds, but Salvadoran and Yucatan restaurants each have their own twists on these classics.
We traveled up and down Mission Street to slurp the best soups we could find. Not wanting to limit our search for brunch-only specials, we focused on soups that are available just about any time of day for any kind of soup emergency. Four restaurants and their specialties stood at the top of the pack.
Pozole: Gallardos Mexican Restaurant
It would be hard to understand the transformative power of hominy without tasting Gallardos pozole. Each toothsome kernel offers its own burst of sweet corn flavor, with small pieces slowly drifting off into the deeply porky broth. The hominy thickens, flavors, and enriches the soup, haunting each successive bite, making it impossible to put down the spoon. The pork itself is a delight as well, with large pieces of bone-in meat adding heft and protein to the bowl. Toppings—radishes, cabbage, lime juice—are obligatory, providing textural contrast, bright zip, and a pop of color.
On the weekends, a line forms out the door populated with diners hoping to nosh on their house speciality: birra, spicy braised lamb served with a rich broth. But on a weekday, those soup lovers searching for something other than pozole should seek out the caldo de res (beef soup). The soup is more akin to a pot roast served in broth, with towering hunks of beef shank and short ribs almost overwhelming the subtle broth. Equally large pieces of super soft carrots, potato, corn, and zucchini break up the bounty of beef.
Gallardos itself is a pleasant place to pass the afternoon. Their new space at 18th and Shotwell is bright, airy, and still adorned with huge black and white photos of classic Mexican movie stars. The decor is far from the Tex-Mex kitsch typical of the neighboring taquerias. Best of all, on a quiet weekday afternoon, there are only a few other diners, offering plenty of room to slurp down a transformative bowl of pozole in peace.