At Los Jarritos, the Reyes Padilla family's sit-down eatery on the corner of South Van Ness and 20th, components of the restaurant's fantastic chilaquiles remo are reminiscent of canonized comfort foods from other cultures.
Like noodles in a day-old lasagne, the quarters of fried corn tortilla are pasta-like, smothered in tomato sauce, congealed, pinioned under an oozing crown of cheese. Nestled amongst the bits of tortilla, the long-simmered strands of chicken taste as if they have been lifted from a huffing stockpot of soup. Scrambled eggs are there too, slippery and elusive, binding everything into a velvety mass further enriched and enlivened by a pour of crema. As the crema melts and disappears, the effect is smooth: none of the comforting elements stand out unless they're deliberately eaten apart from the others; taken together, the flavors are big and familiar, yet invigorating and, to the uninitiated, new.
Sometimes, the homiest dishes -- foods without pretense or artifice -- are most revealing about the cultures from which they spring, and inspire the most debate amongst their devotees. However, from countless regional Mexican renditions -- like white sauces in Sinaloa and Guadalajara's polenta-like cazuela cook-downs -- to American adaptations that echo Tex-Mex migas, all chilaquiles aim to soothe -- regardless of a particular variation's provenance and claims to authenticity.
The other weekend, hungover and exhausted from a morning of pick-up basketball, I was looking for comfort in sustenance. I found it easily, several thousand calories' worth: two distinct and excellent versions of chilaquiles served up at two very different Mission District establishments.
The chilaquiles at Los Jarritos aren't particularly spicy, merely salty and luxurious. Cranberry-colored and riddled with ice, a pitcher-sized glass column of agua fresca de jamaica -- a refreshing tea-like infusion of dried hibiscus flowers -- compliments the richness with tart notes as well as sweetness.