Occupation: Creative PR Firm, Owner
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: El Huarache Loco
Reviewed El Huarache Loco: Sunday, September 4, 2011
I love Sundays at the Alemany Flea Market for many reasons, but a real highlight is the El Huarache Loco stand at the market. Run by Veronica Salazar, who grew up in Mexico City and missed her street food in the Distrito Federal so much that she recreated it here for those of us in the S.F. I’ve been a fan of the amazing gourmet but simple foods the Bay Area’s mobile food business offers and I follow many food trucks/carts on Twitter, as well as frequent the pod at the end of Valencia most Saturdays (Off the Grid) as well as the Tonayense truck by Best Buy on Harrison Street. El Huarache Loco first got my attention when I arrived at Alemany about 4 years ago, starving for bargains and something good to eat. I always look for where the lines are, as well as what people are eating and how much they’re enjoying and focusing on their food vs. simply eating to fill a hunger gap. When I saw the crowd by the El Huarache table and then looked over at the simple colorful tabletops with Mexican oilcloth tablecloths where people were digging in with enthusiasm, I knew I’d struck pay dirt.
This place is all about the freshness of the ingredients, the authenticity of the dishes, and specifically the signature dish called the Huarache which is a refried bean filled handmade corn tortilla lightly griddled and covered with red or green salsa, crema, queso fresco, cilantro, onions and a choice of toppings, either meat or vegetarian. Huarache means sandal in Spanish and history goes that in the 1930s in Mexico City, a woman named Carmen Gomez Medina invented this oblong/sandal-shaped goodness. She sold her huaraches in an open market called the Mercado de Jamaica, and today, that tradition of serving them in open markets is continued by the Salazar family with El Huarache Loco.
On a recent Sunday, I went with a friend of mine who has Mexican heritage, and who also had become a fan completely serendipitously. We ordered three things to share: a Flor de Calabaza quesadilla (squash blossom), the Huarache Alambre, and the Lamb Barbacoa taco. All cooked to order, the three dishes are a blaze of color and flavors, as well as textures and temperatures; a true gastronomic experience.
The Huarache Alambre is a classic dish from Mexico City, and it has a thick but supple tortilla filled with refried beans topped with steak, bacon, onions, cilantro, chorizo, poblano peppers, and queso fresco with a chile de’arbol sauce. It’s a toothsome dish that offers an explosion of flavor with each bite. Cool fresh queso fresco, onions and cilantro is counterpointed by sautéed poblanos, melted mozzarella on top. The lightly griddled huarache is crispy on the outside but soft and chewy throughout. The tortillas for the tacos and the huaraches are made on site by hand which makes everything so very fresh and delicious.
The squash blossom quesadilla was also prepared with a soft corn tortilla and, rather than being a big cheesy mess of two tortillas bound by cheese, it is a folded over simple presentation with fresh lettuce, queso fresco-stuffed squash blossoms, the chile de’arbol sauce and cotija cheese. I love squash blossoms, especially those stuffed with cheese, and these are not overdone, they are just right. All the dishes at El Huarache come with either a red sauce (chile de’arbol) or a green sauce (tomatillo, avocado, cilantro and lime), which cuts through anything fatty and adds zest and acidity to it. The arbol sauce is more creamy and decadent and helps pull together all sorts of different flavors in the dishes.
The lamb tacos are made on an organic blue corn tortilla and served with lamb that has been braised, so that it’s tender and falling apart, and covered in fresh onions and cilantro, and we ordered it with the aforementioned salsa verde. A squeeze of fresh lime cut through the fattiness of the lamb, and the acidity in the salsa verde complemented its richness as well. You can have it served with either or both sauces, I think I might try the ying/yang of that next time.
I love the story about how Veronica worked with La Cocina and was able to get support for her catering business from this Mission-based program. I live in the Mission and love its bright colors, flavors, and culture, and I am proud to see a program like La Cocina’s help talented people. One of the reasons I’m such a fan of El Huarache Loco is that you can tell it’s food made with love by the family behind it. They take our great farmers' market fresh ingredients and craft authentic dishes from Mexico that tantalize. It’s really affordable, which is great in this economy, and you see none of the classic overdone rice, beans, cheese, or guacamole that has become an Americanized form of Mexican food, this is the REAL DEAL!
Occupation: Advertising Sales President
Favorite Restaurant: Izzy's Steaks and Chops
Reviewed El Huarache Loco: Saturday, September 10, 2011
I ate at El Huarache Loco in the Alemany Farmers'/Flea Market. I love all types of street food, especially Mexican, so I was very excited to eat theirs. I had to try the huarache, which is one of their specialties. It’s an oval tortilla with beans (lightly fried), sour cream, onion, cilantro, and an orange spicy salsa. The choices ranged from alambre, pollo, huevo, mole, and more. I had the alambre huarache, which seemed to be the most popular one. It’s Mexico City style (I’ve never been there though), which was bacon, chorizo, asada, bell peppers, onions, and melted mozzarella. I really liked it. The mixture of the meats weren’t really distinguishable, but the blend of all of them, along with the cheese and salsa, made for a delicious, new Mexican dish for me. It was similar to a tostada in that it was served open-faced, however instead of a crispy tortilla, it’s soft. It’s a bit messy, so be sure to eat it with someone with whom you’re very comfortable.
I love tacos so I had to try theirs. Again, you have a choice of meat from their large selection: ground beef, cured beef, chicken, pork, and more. I had the cecina taco, which is cured beef. The taco was an organic corn taco, and I got it with all the toppings, cilantro, onions, and the orange salsa. The salsa is really loaded on top of the entire taco, so it was pretty spicy. I loved the cecina. All the flavors mixing together really filled my mouth in an incredible way, making for a great taco. I liked the cecina meat even better than the alambre mixed meats. After finishing the taco, my mouth was still hot from the salsa. I just wish I had a cold Cerveza to go with it -- it would have been perfect! The people working there were all very nice, including the owner. She’s from Mexico City, and the entire experience of eating there, from start to finish, was truly authentic. Their truck was crowded (which usually is a good sign) and deservedly so in the case of El Huarache Loco.
The only downside of the day was the traffic getting into and out of the farmers' market. There was about a 10 minute wait to get into the market and park the car and probably closer to 15 minutes to get out of there. Waiting that long to eat at a place as good and authentic as El Huarache Loco and being able to shop at all the incredible organic fruit and vegetable stands at the market was worth it, however it’s not something I would do often. I think the next time I’ll satisfy my El Huarache Loco craving at Off the Grid on Friday night in Fort Mason.
Occupation: Registered Dietician and Marathon Runner
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Helmand Palace
Reviewed El Huarache Loco: Sunday, September 18, 2011
This family-run food truck is tucked away in the Alemany Flea Market and makes for a great Sunday family outing. My two nieces, sister, brother-in-law, and I ventured out to this spot and were amazed by the number of people who had the same idea for their weekend. After perusing the merchandise throughout the market, we discovered the true gem of the day: the El Huarache Loco food truck. Surprisingly not busy, we approached the lady running the truck (who we found out was the daughter of Vanessa, the owner of the “restaurant”), who patiently guided us through the menu and provided us with suggestions that would please our entire group. We ended up with a variety of items that wowed the adventurous palates of the adults, and met the basic cravings of my three and six-year-old nieces.
As we waited for our food, we sat on a picnic table located between El Huarache Loco and another food truck, and sipped on the homemade hibiscus aqua fresca. Not particularly fond of sugary beverages, I found this was not overly sweetened and had a pleasant and refreshing flavor. The food arrived quickly and was brought to our table by the friendly staff. The handmade corn quesadilla that was served with squash blossoms won the award for the day. The squash blossoms were perfectly prepared and were complemented with a sprinkling of cheese that had a slight bite to it. The huarache with lamb and the side of nopales were also top contenders. The homemade mole sauce served with the lamb is a specialty of the food truck and it amazed us. Don’t be intimidated by the cactus salad (nopales), it is a perfect side that will balance the flavors of the meal. My three-year-old niece polished off the entire quesadilla before I had a chance to snag a bite, apparently she agreed that El Huarache Loco was the find of the day.
El Huarache Loco food truck truly is a precious gem, offering authentic, inexpensive Mexican food that caters to all palates. More sophisticated diners will enjoy their gourmet flair, while inexperienced eaters will appreciate the simple, yet well prepared cuisine. This family-run "restaurant" is so accommodating and friendly that you feel like you are being served out of their home.