Editor’s Note 9/25/17: La Santaneca is being honored by the Mayor’s Office for 2017 Latino Heritage Month as a Latino Heritage Business. 

“La Santaneca de La Mission” essentially means “The Lady from Santa Ana of the Mission” — the Santa Ana in question is in El Salvador, and is the country’s second largest city. It’s like saying “a San Franciscan.” The owner and chef of this La Santaneca (there’s another one in the outer Mission, unrelated) has run this place for almost 50 years. It’s taken me 12 years to try it — a shame. I have to say that, of all the mom-and-pop places I’ve been fortunate enough to try in reviewing for Mission Local, this may be my favorite.

First, the restaurant is small, cozy and nicely decorated, with wooden awnings and beautiful black-and-white photographs on the walls depicting rural Salvadoran quotidian life. Second, even though it is always packed, both times we were there, we were greeted warmly. Third, the food is just really good!

La Santaneca interior.

The menu is pretty extensive, and be warned: it tells you right away that your food will probably take a good 25 minutes before you get it. That’s because everything is fresh and cooked to order. There may be a line out the door, too. Every minute of the wait is worth it.

We started out with the cheese and loroco pupusa:

Pupusa.

Drizzled with their proprietary hot sauce and vinegary curtido (a pickled slaw heavy on the oregano), the BF was sad that we had only ordered one to share. But, as usual, we ordered so much other food:

Plato mixto.

The BF’s combo dinner consisted of a pork chile relleno, a pork tamale, rice and beans. The chile relleno was, hands down, the best I’d ever had. I’m a die-hard fan of this dish anyway, but I’ve very rarely had one with anything other than cheese. Tender chunks of flavorful pork ensured that that will never happen again.

And I’ve always loved Salvadoran tamales better than Mexican ones — their masa is so tender, where I often find Mexican ones a bit dry. The filling was meaty and rich. The rice had great flavor too, and even the beans were amazing. Everything just tasted like there was a seasoned hand in the kitchen, someone’s grandmother, someone’s mom.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, and decided to go for some caldo de pollo:

Caldo de pollo.

Chicken soup! They insisted on charging me less for this giant bowl because they said they had “run out of chicken.” There was easily a half-breast in there, so I can’t imagine how much more it normally contains. The golden broth was replete with good chicken flavor, warming and soothing. Their tortillas are homemade and wonderful, buttery almost, and perfect for dipping into this elixir of life. Of course, I brought 95 percent of the soup home with me, enough for a couple of lunches.

On our second visit, it was a sweltering 84 degrees in the Mission at 6 p.m., but there was no wait. We ordered two pupusas this time:

Pupusas.

The BF got the cheese/loroco combo again (on the bottom), and I the revuelta — a mixture of cheese and chicharron. In the past, I’d not really been fond of the chicharron version, even being such a pork lover, so I’d always gone for the simpler cheese-only kind. But for the sake of science … the pork one was exquisite — a chubby pouch of love! Much better than those I’d had at other places. Really, all you’d need are these two for a meal and you’d be happy.

The BF ordered a steak dish — al estilo Salvadoreno, which basically means smothered in onions, tomatoes and bell peppers.

Asado Salvadoreno.

I’m always rather “meh” about this combination. And, sure enough, the steak itself was tender and juicy, but the peppers overwhelmed the flavor. Even the BF thought so. Still, comparatively speaking, it was a good meal. Status of the tortillas, rice and beans: still excellent.

I had always wanted to try a Salvadoran pan con pavo — literally, “bread with turkey,” but it’s actually a sandwich.

Pan con pavo.

Ay dios mio! It’s listed under their antojitos (appetizer) section — I can’t imagine if I’d gotten it as a starter and then ordered a main dish. A humongous bolillo came piled high with turkey that had been stewed in an anatto- and tomato-based sauce, adorned with crunchy/cool tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, and a cup of the sauce the turkey had bathed in to pour over. It was very tasty, but quickly overwhelmed me, and I brought almost all of it home.

There’s so much I want to try here, but the BF has already planned our next meal: pupusas and that chile relleno. I’m down. (Note that there is also a whole Mexican section, and the chile relleno on that one does not have the pork.) They seem to do a lot of takeout, which could be wise if you don’t want to wait. And you really can’t get a better deal than this.

La Santaneca is truly a family place, brimming with the flavors of the old country, the mellifluous sounds of generations murmuring over their plates, and the aromas of home.

La Santaneca
3781 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-1034
CASH ONLY
No beer or wine