El Metate will celebrate its 15th year this November, and the young man who took our order at the counter of this sunny taqueria-plus seemed quite enthused about it. “We’re going to have a party!”

“When?” I asked. “I’m not sure of the date, but we’ll let everyone know.”

That cheerfulness follows you all the way inside from the Day-Glo yellow exterior. It’s an order-at-the-counter, get-served-at-the-table type of place, and the dining room is a charming faux adobe/brick-tiled hacienda fantasy with colorful blue-painted tables, half-moon-faced ceiling lamps, cute little shelves stocked with a plethora of different hot sauces, and a “cantina” that serves beer, micheladas, sangria and wine.

Our first visit, we got an order of guac, chips and beer to start:

El Metate guac.

The chips were great, a rarity at taquerias — some flour, some corn — as were the salsas: tomatillo, habanero and chipotle. There’s also a wonderful pineapple salsa and a spicy/tart cuke salsa. We weren’t a fan of the guacamole, unfortunately; for me, it just lacked chunky integrity. But that’s strictly a style thing.

For my main, I went with one of their specials, chicken mole:

El Metate mole.

Really good mole, subtly chocolatey, and apparently it’s a prize winner! Francisco and his mom used to compete with each other as to who made the best mole, and his mother finally said, “You won.” Although the rice was a little dry — this is a place that tries to cut down on fat wherever they can — it had really good flavor. Their fresh salsas are delicious mixed into the rice. The beans were especially tasty. You can tell these are homemade recipes.

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The BF got a carne asada “a la Mexicana” burrito:

El Metate “a la Mexicana” burrito.

“A la Mexicana” meant that the carne asada was cooked with tomatoes and peppers. It was huge, and he says he liked it. I tasted it, and it was good, but the black beans were the best part for me — very flavorful. As long as he’s happy, I’m happy. And he’s happy when I let him order a burrito at any Mexican restaurant.

On our second visit, the BF and I had to arm wrestle for who was going to get to order the chile relleno platter. I won.

El Metate chile relleno.

First, it’s huge. Go starving. Very gooey cheese, tasty. And again, I LOVE their beans.

The BF, however, actually won the evening with his pork tamale:

El Metate pork tamale.

Unusual, but the tamale appeared to just have veggies inside the masa, and the pork — stewed in a wonderfully tart tomatillo sauce — seemed spooned over the top. Really delicious and juicy. I’m not usually a fan of Mexican tamales, as I often find the masa dry. This one was tender and flavorful all the way through, and the BF was pleased he’d gotten it instead of the chile relleno. I would definitely order this again.

We both decided we needed a taco on the side. His, a carne asada:

El Metate carne asada taco.

And mine, a fish taco:

El Metate fish taco.

His steak, to me, was OK, nothing terribly exciting, less flavorful than the Mexicana, but again, he liked it. My fish taco was very crispy — a plus. The fish itself was very mild — perhaps they’re using basa. I liked that mine came with rice on it. Even though we found El Metate’s rice a bit dry, again, a few splashes of their hot sauces or salsas render it juicy and spicy as it soaks them all up.

There are a lot of things I’d still like to try on the menu, like chicken milanesa tacos, tortas and a few shrimp and fish dishes — in particular, a platter of seafood. It’s a homey place and it’s usually packed by old and young, though it does seem to get its share of techie bros. Can’t blame them, really. It looks like a great place for big private parties, too — they appear to have another whole dining room on the side. The boys up front are very warm and friendly. The owner, Francisco Hernandez, is a local boy. and he’s usually on site working with his “second family.” Go pay him a visit and find out about that anniversary party!

Señorita Taco.

El Metate
2406 Bryant St. (between 22nd and 23rd)
San Francisco, CA, 94110
(415) 641-7209