Shrimp in garlic sauce with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms

Poc Chuc is a place I’ve seen from the window of the 22 bus more times than I can count. Each time, the closed curtains gave me the impression the restaurant was closed, so I never ventured inside. Even today, as I walked up to the door and saw a sign on the door, I thought it would say closed and I’d have to find an alternative for lunch. Instead, the sign read “Yes, we are open.”

Clearly, I’m not the first to think this.

A traditional Yucatecan and Mayan cuisine restaurant, Poc Chuc serves traditional dishes made mostly of slow-cooked meats served with black bean puree and rice. Yucatecan cuisine is known for its melding of flavors and recipes from Europe–mostly French cuisine–, Cuba, New Orleans, and the rest of Mexico.

On the menu, you’ll see traditional Mediterranean dishes such as escabèche, poached or fried fish. Combine with condiments such as pickled purple onions and spices like pumpkin seed, oregano, sour orange, and sweet chili pepper. We’re not sure if what we had was ocellated turkey, a bird native to the forests of the Yucatán, but there sure was a lot of turkey on the menu.

To get a taste of different dishes, I gathered a few friends and colleagues, and started ordering.

For appetizers, we decided to go for the Platillo Maya, a combination of five small appetizers served on a large plate with a roasted tomato salsa and a spicy yellow onion and garlic salsa. It came with panucho, a handmade tortilla filled with black bean puree, slightly fried, topped with shredded turkey, lemon marinated cabbage, pickled red onions and sliced avocado, sprinkled with ground black pepper. The salbute is a handmade tortilla puff, slightly fried, topped with shredded turkey, lemon marinated cabbage, pickled red onions and avocado, sprinkled with ground black pepper.

The plate also included an empanada, a half-folded handmade tortilla stuffed with ground pork, served on a bed of black bean puree and tomato and onion sauce, a tostada, a crispy corn tortilla topped with black bean puree and queso fresco and kotzito, a crispy taco covered with tomato/onion sauce and queso fresco.

We also tried some freshly fried corn chips with a surprisingly sweet guacamole.

For entrees, we had the following:

Tacos de carne asada

The tacos de carne asada (for $2.75 each) had many tasty layers of lean marinated grilled steak topped with tomato sauce and sliced avocado. It was served with a thin black bean puree.

The chimole de pavo ($10), a jet black turkey mole flavored with recado negro, seasoning made of charred chile peppers was the most flavorful dish of the bunch. The mole had a smoky flavor and the turkey was tender to perfection.

The cochinito pibil ($10), a very common Yucatecan dish, was also very good. Made of slow-braised pork shoulder in a peppery annatto sauce. Annato, also known as achiote is made of a reddish pulp which surrounds the seed of the achiote tree, often found in South America and the Caribbean.

The camarones al ajillo ($13) were tiger prawns with mushrooms, green onions and tangy cherry tomatoes sautéed in a sweet white wine garlic butter sauce, served with rice.

Chimole de Pavo – slow-cooked turkey in a flavorful, smoky chimole sauce.

The verdict:
This is good home-cooked Mayan food you won’t see at your average Mexican restaurant. 
Take a look in the kitchen while you’re here, and you’ll see why everything tastes so fresh. A woman is likely sitting at a table in the open kitchen, hand-making tortillas one by one.
 Drinks are also freshly made. I ordered a lemonade and saw the owner squeeze limes one by one by hand before serving.

No dishes are overpowered by onions, garlic or spices–which in my humble opinion, shows that the staff is using quality ingredients and cooking them just enough to bring out subtle flavors.  The only exception, I thought, was a yellow onion salsa brought out with the appetizer plate, but opinions differed around the table.

Around the table, the verdict was unanimous: the meal was delicious and we’ll be back for more!

4 out of 5 agua frescas

Poc Chuc
2886 16th Street
(415) 558-1583

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Hélène Goupil

Hélène Goupil is a former editor at Mission Local who now works independently as a videographer and editor. She's the co-author of "San Francisco: The Unknown City" (Arsenal Pulp Press).

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