Taco Swell

Taco swell

Food, atmosphere make Mijita a must-try taqueria.

The Mission District is full of really good taquerias that feed people delicious, affordable and quickly prepared food. I always maintain that San Franciscans have no reason to eat at franchises when we have so many independent Latin American and Asian venues for cheap, tasty bites. So I wondered what Mijita, opened by no less than three-star chef Traci Des Jardins, would add to the taqueria genre.

As it turns out, a lot. Des Jardins’ simple little taqueria in the Ferry Building is like none other in San Francisco. She applies the same principles of purchasing she uses at Jardiniere and Acme Chop House. She gets ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen, many of them selling a few steps away at the Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday farmers’ markets. The raw materials she uses are pure — antibiotic-, hormone- and pesticide-free — and that includes everything from the pork in the carnitas and the beef in carne asada tacos, to the corn masa that goes into the hand-patted tortillas. With ingredients of this pedigree, she creates extraordinarily buoyant, bright-tasting food. A meal at Mijita does not sit at the bottom of your stomach all day.

Every dish on the small menu bears Des Jardins’ stamp. The food looks especially pretty on color-saturated, Fiestaware-style plates. Each little taco, empanada and salad shows off its fresh, esthetically proportioned and placed components — from refried beans to cilantro leaves. They have a seductive visual appeal. And better yet, they taste as good as they look.

Taco swell
One day at lunch when the line stretched to the front door, Des Jardins herself was on the cooking line with her crew, working as fast as she could. We placed our order at a second, outside window and didn’t have to wait long. In the meantime, we found seats outside, at blocky, good-looking, wooden tables and stools, nestled under an overhang by Mijita’s floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The intimate views of the Bay and the hull of the Larkspur Ferry a few yards away exhilarated, as did the passing parade of people walking along the bayside promenade. We selected our own silverware and napkins (made of recycled paper) and blessed Traci for setting salt and pepper on the tables, indoors and out.

When our number was called, we picked up a light plastic tray of dishes at the front counter and arranged them on our table. A passing bus person removed the tray. Before us was an enticing, colorful array of food.

A Baja-style fish taco ($4.75) — double corn tortilla, a finger of deep-fried mahi mahi and a spoonful of cabbage salad –was unified by a drizzle of unctuous Mexican crema and avocado puree. A squeeze of lime added sparkle to this clean, juicy taco. Carnitas ($3.50), or pork slowly cooked in a lot of its own fat, had some crisp edges and deep pork flavor. A little pile of carnitas sat on the warm tortillas, topped with bracing green tomatillo salsa, chopped onions and fresh cilantro leaves. Des Jardins’ carne asada tacos ($4) come with grilled onions, smoky chipotle salsa and raw onions.

I usually pair a taco with the signature quesadilla Mijita ($4.50), really an empanada, or tender turnover, of masa dough (the same dough that’s pressed into tortillas) filled with creamy Mexican cheeses, oregano-like epazote and roasted chiles. The quesadilla crisps on the griddle and the cheese mixture oozes out when you cut into it. It’s really lovely, especially with its garnish of generous dabs of guacamole and fresh tomato salsa.

If I’m not hungry enough for both taco and quesadilla, I’ll have the refreshing jicama, avocado and grapefruit salad ($4), simply dressed with lots of lime juice and a little salt. Toasted pumpkin seeds add savoriness and crunch.

Now that it’s getting chilly, a deep bowl of sopa de abondigas ($4) really hits the spot. Tiny, firm beef and pork meatballs nestle at the bottom of a stew of meticulously cut squashes, carrots and celery in a tomato-based broth, scented with strong Mexican oregano. Both a substantial tortilla strip and cilantro garnish and whole cilantro leaves melt into the soup as you eat. The sopa is lusciously salty but balanced, just my cup of tea.

On the weekends, you can have Mijita’s elegant huevos rancheros ($7), two poached eggs, nicely runny (though I would have liked them even less cooked) on two of the delicate corn tortillas. The eggs are swathed in a fabulous, spicy, chile sauce that packs a small wallop of heat. The eggs are scattered with minced white onion and queso fresco, both playing against the eggs and the sharp sauce. The dish, stunning on a bright royal blue oval plate, is divine.

I like to eat tacos with Mijita’s watermelon aqua fresca — a drink of pureed fresh fruit, lime and plenty of sugar ($3.50). Both desserts, by contrast, are understated: a firm, creamy flan ($3) with burnt sugar syrup; and buttery, crumbly Mexican wedding cookies full of nuts ($1.50).

Mijita works on every level. I love the cheerful, tiled open kitchen and the congenial staff; the view; and most of all the food. To me, Mijita feels genius. It’s my favorite Des Jardins food operation, and that’s saying a lot considering that her other two restaurants are Jardiniere and Acme Chop House. This woman has found her true calling building tacos behind the counter at Mijita.


Located in the Ferry Building (Embarcadero at Market Street), San Francisco. Call (415) 399-0814. Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday until 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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