Eats: La Rondalla Before Midnight

 

On Friday night, the fog returned to the City, and I returned to La Rondalla, the quintessential Mission “Mexican” restaurant.

Closed since 2007 and threatening to re-open every month since December 2011, the blessed event finally occurred Thursday night.

La Rondalla has been reborn.

Ambiente

In my party were two Scientists and my Editor. It was 8 p.m. “I’ve never really been here when it was still light outside,” said one of the Scientists, the smaller one.

In the late 80s, the Scientists and I conducted a series of  experiments at La Rondalla. We asked: what are the chances of a heart attack if we drink two pitchers of margaritas, share the Botano and eat the La Rondalla Special at 2 a.m. and then play basketball six hours later?

If you’re looking for that La Rondalla – always dark, always vintage, always mariachi Christmas, with the mudflap Aztec princesses, velvet paintings and old family photos staring down at you from the walls – stay home and turn off the lights.

You won’t find it on 20th and Valencia. La Rondalla 2.0 is suburban chic: light, orange, clean, bright, smooth, loud, clean bathrooms, clean kitchen, clean floors. Bring shades and charge your phone. You’re better off texting than talking.

A mariachi band appeared, but was immediately gobbled up  by the din. Bring your own mariachi playlist.

Margaritas

The margaritas tasted light. “It’s the alcohol,” said the Scientists. “You’ll get diabetes before you get a buzz,” one of them, the bigger one, said, alluding to the sugar content.

After much scientific jargon passed back and forth with chips and salsa, the Scientists stated their hypothesis: there was no tequila in the margarita.

The next time we saw our waitress, my Editor asked if she could taste any tequila. Looking grim,  harassed,  and yet sweet, the waitress whisked the pitcher into the kitchen for testing.

When she returned, she was laughing. “Of course there’s tequila.”  She was right.

And the reviews?

Strong said the Scientists. And tasty.

Chips, Salsa and La Rondalla Botano

The chips were not as fat and greasy as my memory. More like Paplote’s. The salsas, green and red, were weak, light, uninspired. They tasted almost – healthy.

We were getting worried. Seriously.

Saved by the old Botano! Of course it wasn’t the old Botano, but the newer version of the old Botano. Kind of a super nacho with carne asada, carnitas, avocado, cilantro and sour cream piled on the thinner, no doubt healthier, chips. And fresher ingredients, said the Scientists.

The portion was big, but not humongous.

But something seemed missing. What?

La Rondalla Asado Special  (carne asada especial)

Even from across the table, my Editor could see the cut of meat used was more than an old salty slice of hide ripped off as the herd wandered down Valencia Street. To what may dismay purists, both Scientists, after moments of thoughtful chewing, agreed it tasted like steak – good steak.

This dish, a skirt steak smothered with sauteed fries, onions and tomatoes, reprised the theme of fresh(er) and high(er) quality ingredients. Like the Botano, it was more than plenty but not too much.

Ghost Tacos with Virtual Beans

Unencumbered by the ghosts of La Rondalla past, my Editor ordered the Tacos de Tinga. Pickier than most local diners after a pitcher of margaritas (with tequila), my Editor fact checked her order when it arrived. She discovered that beef had been substituted for chicken and refried beans for black beans.

When our waitress passed by again, she expressed her personal anguish, and whisked (yes, whisked!) away the tacos promising they would return, correctly, ya mismo. Or was it en seguida?

The tacos, true or false, didn’t reappear.

My Editor was happy picking at everyone else’s plate. Some say that’s an editor’s job.

The Missing Ingredient

Lard?

It may still be in the mix, but the microbes in my intestines tell me if so, the chef is using a lot less.

The Scientists brought back a sample of the sauteed fries to their lab and I promise a full report on their findings.

The Secret Ingredient

Don’t expect express.

They never rushed you at La Rondalla. A tradition 2.0 hasn’t lost.

And something else. Whether your margaritas come with tequila or black beans, or your tacos never come back at all, the staff could not be more delightful. Despite the crowds and the opening week chaos, the owners and the workers seem to have recaptured the spirit of the place: they seemed to be having fun – even if they were running here and there.

When we walked back into the fog, I felt the past alive in the present. My Editor said I was just feeling full.

The Scientists,  always careful to distinguish satisfaction from fact, decided that to know — to really know — we would have to come back to La Rondalla after midnight.

Stay tuned.

 

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10 Comments

  1. BTinSF

    I used to go there every Saturday night for chile rellenos. I loved those–smothered with home-made ranchero sauce–and I loved their salsa. But in healthy versions without the lard, they can’t be as good.

    I tried to check it out this past Saturday–to find out for myself. Couldn’t get in the door at just after 5PM. And the NOISE! Then there’s the fact that the sign now refers to the place as a cocktail bar–says nothing about food although I saw one almost empty plate on a table otherwise full of margarita glasses and convinced myself the new iteration does serve food.

    So I fled . . . down 20th Street to a place that serves a very good duplicate of what the old Rondalla served: San Jalisco. So good that I once asked if they had hired Rondalla’s cook when it closed (they said no).

  2. seth

    did they charge you for the tacos?

  3. poor.ass.millionaire

    Apparently they couldn’t even last a day, there was some kind of fire last night. This family is so fucking incompetent it’s mind blowing. Takes them 7 years to reopen a crap restaurant and then they still fuck it up safety wise. These guys are not cut out for the 21st century.

  4. Orddu

    There was a fire? Already?
    La Rondalla was always a crappy restaurant with equally crappy margaritas that used only the worst, most-hang over inducing tequila. I’m not sure why everyone waited with baited breath for the re-opening of this place. You could could get much better food elsewhere.

  5. mario

    Are the roaches back too?

  6. marcos

    Manteca is the first word that comes to mind when I hear the words “La Rondalla.”

  7. Michelle

    Wish I could’ve tried it for myself. Myself and three others went in for an early dinner yesterday, trying our chances on Cinco de Mayo. It was busy but not packed, and so we got a table immediately. Not kidding, we literally sat at our table for 35 minutes with no service aside from our waters and chips and salsa that were brought out 20 minutes in! With not a single “I’ll be right with you,” we had to walk out hungry.

  8. handro

    They should have changed the name then. It clearly bares no resemblance to the La Rondalla of old, whose primary draw was great atmosphere, decor, and margaritas. The food was always terrible, in my opinion, but who cared it was always a fun party there.

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