I must confess, I’ve been to Lolinda quite possibly more times than I’ve been to any other restaurant in this City. It hasn’t been around for decades (they only opened in 2012), it isn’t old school, nor is it a mom-and-pop/family owned business. It is always packed, so it doesn’t need any more business. And it’s not cheap. (It’s not crazy expensive, either, though.)
Why review it? Because it’s really good, reliably so, astoundingly so. In Lolinda, the neighborhood has a restaurant that serves consistently high quality, gorgeous and delicious food, whether you want to celebrate, wow a visiting relative, or impress your date. Or, because it’s Tuesday. Lolinda is an Argentinian-ish “steak house” – “Argentinian-ish” because their food mixes many Latin cuisines, and “steak house” because they do so much more than steak. Although, they do a helluva job on steak. I live around the corner, and every evening I swoon on the beckoning savory smoke trails emanating from their wood-fired ovens. Chefs Alex Morgan and Juan Torres have a lot to answer for in my expanding waistline.
The best date nights I’ve had have been at Lolinda, whether they be with the BF or with a good Argentinian friend who is as in love with this place as I am, or with a large group of friends. I love sitting at the bar downstairs, which I find oddly intimate, even when the place is filled to the rafters (which, again, is usually the case), and even at the shared table in the bar area. Make no mistake about it, Lolinda is a scene. I usually hate scenes, so it is a testament to how great the food is here that I come back again and again.
The space is cavernous, having formerly housed the (to me) pretentious Medjool, so it can get very noisy. There is seating upstairs as well, and another whole bar. I love the bovine art that looms over the ground floor, the wagon wheel chandeliers, and the wood stacks ready for the ovens. I love that it’s dark. It’s a pretty sexy space.
It can sometimes take quite a long time to get a drink on a busy Saturday night, but once you do, it’s always worth it. Lolinda’s cocktails, whether you order a classic (a killer Manhattan that comes with a sidecar to replenish) or one of their own inventions (El Pistolero – mezcal, sloe gin, cynar, dry vermouth, grapefruit, is my smoky favorite), are well-crafted, boozy, and addictive. But they also have a very decent selection of wines from Spain, Argentina and California, reasonably priced by the glass if you don’t want to splurge on a bottle.
A good place to start, for carnivores, is the asado mixto – a platter of grilled wonders – chorizo, morcilla, flap loin, shortribs, and shishito peppers, for two.
You get a good sampling of their way with meats. The sausage is tasty, the morcilla (blood sausage) is stellar – rich and meaty, a hint of cinnamon, and excellent with their grilled bread and some of their wonderful chimichurri – an Argentinian concoction made of minced parsley, red chili, salt, red wine vinegar and olive oil – a sauce to bathe in, really . Both the flap loin and short ribs are tender and deeply beefy.
For the BF and I, however, our absolute favorite steak is the rib eye (Ojo de Bife) – a giant, melty, hunk of meat, perfectly marbled with just enough fat, marvelously juicy, cooked to smoky deliciousness.
It is the Nirvana of steak, it is why cows want to die. It also comes with the chimichurri to drizzle over, grilled bread and a char-grilled tomato. It is bit like torture to come here and not order this juicy specimen.
While the rib eye is spectacular, the pork chop is no slouch, either.
Friends of mine actually prefer the pork chop to the steak, and it IS one of the best pork chops I’ve ever had. Thick, tender, slightly sweet, it is a porcine paradise.
My Argentine friend and I must always, when we go for a cocktail or three, each have our very own order of the mollejas – sweetbreads. If you’re afraid of sweetbreads, please don’t be. I’ve converted people to them, here. When done right, they’re lovely crispy bites of tenderness. At Lolinda, they’re grilled lightly and served on a criollo salad – here, red onions, tomatoes, and cancha, large Peruvian toasted corn, in a slightly spicy vinaigrette. The creaminess of the sweetbreads is addictive. Heaven on a plate!
Other items I’ve tried in the past are their empanadas – flaky little filled pastries, with a great texture even though they’re baked instead of fried, and stuffed with beef, chicken or veggies. Tastier than most I’ve had in this City, and perfect as a starter.
If we’re not having a whole dinner, we often get the skirt steak to split – a much smaller cut than the rib eye, of course, but incredibly full of deep, rich flavor. It is literally the best skirt steak I’ve ever had.
If you don’t want meat, the wood-fired pulpo (sliced octopus) on a bed of greens is to die for. Lolinda also does a mean ceviche – a couple of them, actually – a mixto (squid, shrimp, ono, rocoto [a hot red pepper from Peru]) and pescado (ono, aji Amarillo [another Peruvian pepper], sweet potato). Both are excellent, as good as at any Peruvian-style cevicheria I’ve been to – tart and always fresh. The corn fritter that comes with the ceviche is another table-pleaser – big, fat kernels of sweet corn are tossed in a batter, deep fried, and served in the leche de tigre – the limey juice the seafood has marinated in. The fritter absorbs the sauce and you get a mouthful of crunch, sweet and tang.
To veer away from the protein section of the menu for just a minute, Lolinda has no dearth of veggie options. Our favorite salad is the palmito – sliced hearts of palm are the constant but the rest changes over the year; it used to be made with avocado and arugula, in a limey/spicy dressing that we adored, but more recently it contained cucumbers, apples, and blood orange in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette.
Their grilled artichokes, served with an enticing lemon aioli, make a good, smoky starter or snack. Their sautéed mushrooms are dreamy as a side, and the little fingerling and Peruvian purple potatoes served with that wonderful chimichurri are an earthy accompaniment to any of their dishes. The cauliflower is a new favorite for us – roasted with almonds, raisins in a raisin vinaigrette with arugula, it’s a lovely, hearty yet light, warm salad.
I’ve still not tried their escabeche (here, pickled eggplant), the grilled brussels sprouts with tapenade and manchego cheese, the tartar de carne, or the grilled trout. But soon, my pretties, soon…. My goal is to try everything on their menu! Very difficult to do when I keep going back to my favorites. Like the croquetas, for instance…
Lolina does yuca (cassava) – as seen in so many Latin American kitchens, and not to be confused with yucca – SO RIGHT. They’re made into croquetas here, blended with ricotta, so they’re exceptionally creamy, and then fried until the perfect crackling exterior has been achieved. They’re served with a rocoto aioli, and I could, and have, eaten my weight in these. Their yuca fries are great, too, light and crispy, not leaden as some I’ve had, and came with the burger the BF ordered one night recently as we sat at the bar.
Standing high and mighty, that burger packed a meaty punch. First time we’d tried it, and it will not be the last. I love how they keep surprising me!
Have I mentioned the marrow bones? The lengua (tongue)? The pork belly?? You’ve come this far in this review and finally I mention the pork belly?? That’s how you know this place is good: pork belly is only touted near the end of the review because everything else is so exceptional.
I’ve even had dessert at Lolinda – and I hardly ever do dessert. Their churros are perfectly crispy, sweet golden rods of deliciousness, dipped in thick Mexican chocolate or dulce de leche. Their alfajores are as they should be – light, flaky little disks, very tender – but here they give you a boozy little milkshake to dunk them in. What’s not to love?
As you have now surmised, I’m a super fan. However, I’ve actually not loved everything I’ve had here. We recently got a salad by accident (server misheard us) – their quinoa salad with a mint dressing. I love quinoa, but the salad was just odd, and a bit flavorless, and we didn’t finish it. The server was kind enough to take it off our bill. I also didn’t adore their pastel de choclo – a Chilean dish I’d had in Santiago not long before I had it here. The pastel is made with a creamy pureed corn crust topping a meaty ground beef filling, sometimes with slices of hard-boiled egg, olives, and/or raisins. Lolinda’s had red pepper in it, which to me threw the flavor off.
So there you go: two things I’ve not absolutely raved about and would not order 100 times. I think you can still call me a super fan.
That fandom unfortunately does not extend to El Techo, their upstairs offshoot. The drinks up there are too sweet for me, the food just ok. It’s a completely different menu, and I don’t think El Techo is about the food, anyway. It’s about being seen, standing in that ridiculous velvet roped line outside, with people I would not choose to spend my time with. Maybe I’m just too old. Alright, no “maybe” about it. I’m too old, so get that line of whippersnappers off my lawn! The view from El Techo, however, is lovely on a clear day, and that I believe is the real payoff. So, perhaps take a visiting friend or relative up there for a glass of wine, enjoy the vistas of our gorgeous city, and then come downstairs for a memorable dinner at Lolinda,
2518 Mission St. (between 21st and 22nd)
San Francisco, CA 94110