As I prep for yet another upcoming apartment move (I have somehow never renewed a lease in my life), I’ve been trying to visit local restaurants within easy walking distance of my current place. This is of course subjective, but let’s say somewhere reachable in a leisurely 15 minute stroll. Luckily for me, there is an abundance of excellent dining options including Californios, a contemporary fine-dining interpretation of Chef Val Cantu’s Mexican heritage.
I tried Californios a few years back when they were in a smaller space in the Mission. My dining experience then was pretty mixed. I really liked the menu on paper, but there were too many execution errors and the service was cold. Since they relocated last year to the former Bar Agricole space, many of my friends have visited and every single one loved their experience. With so many rave reviews, I was eager to give Californios another try.
The new SoMa space is airy and grand, with a sizable courtyard for outdoor dine, a spacious kitchen, an impressive wine cellar, and a full bar area. I appreciated the friendly and approachable service, and my dining experience also matched the initial impressions. On seating, we were presented with a very detailed and thoughtful menu which also featured the names of the entire staff.
The tasting menu was about 14 courses, portioned appropriately so that I was comfortably full afterwards, but not overly so. There were many standouts, but I especially loved the middle courses of tlacoyo and tacos, with the DIY accompaniments. The alfonsino fish taco in particular was my favorite, perfectly cooked with incredibly crispy scales. The very different, but equally standout lamb barbacoa taco on a sourdough tortilla was a close second. I would be very happy if Californios offered a taco tasting menu someday! The queso and bean filled tlacoyo was also a treat with the addictive huitlacoche crema.
Other highlights included the ceviches, the uni caviar sope, and the rack of lamb served with mole amarillo and morels. My sweet tooth loved the numerous, yet light desserts, especially the chocolate cornmeal tart with savory cacao nib salsa macha.
In lieu of wine, my table chose to enjoy a few cocktails with the tasting menu. The cocktails were fine, but not notable. I had a great prior experience with their wine pairing, and given their extensive selection by co-owner and Michelin sommelier of the year Charlotte Randolph, I would opt for wine on my next visit.
Please excuse my low light iPhone photos!
June 2022 Menu