This past weekend I took a whirlwind jaunt up to San Francisco with my husband for my birthday weekend adventure. I'm no stranger to San Fran - growing up in the Bay Area I have visited many times - but never to blog about it! So the first thing I did when planning what few meals I had for the trip was to ask you guys - via Twitter.
I received a slew of responses all telling me I simply had to go to an organic, vegan restaurant in the Mission District called Gracias Madre. Funny enough, I had never really heard of Gracias Madre - even though Mexican food is my fave - and Gracias Madre did earn the title of 2010 VegNews Editor's Pick for Restaurant of the Year!
I scanned the menu online and decided that I had to try and pop in for a lunchtime bite. And oh my goodness I am so glad I did! Thanks Twitter friends for the advice!!
I am splitting my San Francisco Vegan Eats review into two posts. And this is part one. I'm devoting it to what may be my new favorite Mexican restaurant ever: Gracias Madre..
Arriving in San Francisco was a delight. I glowed with glee from the crisp cool ocean bay air. I happily melted into the bright yellow sunshine sparkling across the glassy city buildings - warmly dancing through the green trees that are plentifully speckled through the city blocks. My husband and I arrived on an early flight so that we could get the most out of our quick one night trip.
We were super excited to have dinner later that evening at Millennium Restaurant - with one of my BFF's and her talented chef husband. More on that in my part two post later this week. But first, we set out for some solo sightseeing and frolicking through the city. And Gracias Madre..
Exhausted from a busy morning of walking, we took a cab to Mission Street - a little past noon - and walked a few sunny blocks to Gracias Madre. It was a gorgeous Saturday. The sun was warm and the perky blue sky was shoo-ing away spotty white clouds in all directions. Amazing day.
We arrived to the humble exterior of Gracias Madre - you'll find a simple gate and small outdoor patio area. Funny enough there wasn't anyone sitting outside. But upon entering, the restaurant was packed! The dimly lit dining room, rich in earthy wood accents and deep warm colors, was filled with an energetic crowd feasting on some amazing, colorful plates. The kitchen is nice and open. You can view it deep in the restaurant - just beyond a short pane of glass. I could see the freshly made tortillas, shiny black avocados and plenty of fresh salsa just hanging out on the counter - waiting to be served.
We decided to break from the indoor pack and sit solo outside on the patio. Plus, food blogger 101 - natural lighting is so much better for photos.
Happy hungry girl.
Out on the patio sit cozy wooden tables and chairs, nestled against a rich terra cotta colored wall on one side and a brilliant mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico on the other. The mural is done by artist DaveSG. I didn't know why more people weren't eating outside. Later in our meal more diners joined us.
I loved how the patio tables each had their own green glass bottle of water. And pink salt on the table (my fave!) - plus two jars of freshly made salsa. A salsa rojo and a salsa verde. Both tasted ah-mazing! I am a salsa addict. And I like to say that you can judge a Mexican restaurant on its salsa. And this place passed my salsa test with flying colors.
To drink we ordered a Green Agua Fresca and a homemade fizzy Ginger Ale. I was blown away by these beverages. My agua fresca was like a blissfully thinned down green juice. So refreshing with a hint of lemony sweetness. Cucumber accents. My husband's ginger ale was probably the best ginger ale I have ever tasted. And I am a serial homemade ginger ale taste-tester. I will always order it on a menu. It was fizzy, light, hints of lemon and tons of fresh, real ginger flavor. I stole more than a few sips from my generous hubby.
For food, I had a very hard time deciding because everything sounded fantastic. I settled on the Tamale filled with butternut squash. And my husband ordered the tacos - two with mushroom filling and one poblano. To start, we ordered a guacamole and some pickled veggies.
The guacamole was smooth and creamy and incredibly flavorful. A creamy green mixture of high quality avocados, cilantro and seasoning. Perfection. I loved the fact that they brought out the guac with a warm basket of homemade corn tortillas - instead of chips. I wish all Mexican restaurants did that. Sometimes I think I would be happy with simply a huge bowl of guac, fresh tortillas and some amazing salsa. This combo is bliss to me..
Green agua fresca and my guacamole/salsa tortilla..
Feeling simply giddy about our bevies and guacamole, my husband and I smiled and swooned as we awaited our entrees. There is something about having an amazing starter that gets you super excited for the entree to come. I knew it would be stellar. And it was. My rustic tamale wrapped in a corn husk had the perfect combination of hearty corn flavor and sweet silkiness. I loved the butternut squash filling. The tamale was cake-y and the flavor had notes of sweet cornbread. I hate when tamales are oily and greasy - this one was not at all! Totally flavorful and healthy.
The beans on my plate were awesome. Wow. Pickled veggies yummy too.
My husband dove into his mushroom taco drizzled in cashew cream and raved. "So good!" It was then that I reminded him that everything at Gracias Madre was indeed vegan. He paused and was genuinely impressed with the authenticity of these Mexican eats. He was stunned that everything on that glorious menu was indeed plant-based.
I sat back in my chair in glee. This meal rocked. And since Mexican food is probably my favorite thing ever - I was thrilled to find a new spot to gush over. I couldn't wait to share my experience with anyone and everyone. "You have to go!!" I urged my friend who by the way is non-vegan married to a non-vegan but very knowledgable chef. She said the food looked amazing, but that she doesn't make it into that part of town all that often. I responded by ensuring her that Gracias Madre is a destination dining location! And I think my photos help my argument. :)
Lastly, the employees at Gracias Madre was lovely. Chill and knowledgeable. Kind and warm. Cool group of people. The spot had a friendly, modern-yet-traditional, home-y, cozy, inviting mood to it.
And lastly, I usually like to include at least one criticism when reviewing restaurants...
But for Gracis Madre, there was nothing negative! For this spot, I have only good things to shout from the rooftops.
So gracias, Gracias Madre! You have given me a new reason to scoot myself over to San Francisco. I will definitely be back! And for a curious vegan foodie like me who loves trying new spots - that says a lot.
Visit Gracias Madre in San Francisco. 2211 Mission Street. Open 11am-11pm. Details of their website.
More of San Fran later this week!..
Have you been to Gracias Madre? What did you think?!..
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