The Mission has its share of restaurants that hail from the Yucatan region of Mexico, but as far as I know, this is the only one we have from Guatemala right now. El Sabor de San Miguel is definitely an old-school, family-run restaurant from back in the day, but it’s new to me. Juana and Justiniano Gomez opened the place originally as San Miguel Restaurant, in 1994, at 20th and Mission streets.
Now, their grown children, brother Juliano and sister Noris, own and run the storefront at 3263 Mission St., as well as the restaurant’s food trucks. I remember the trucks that sold late-night taquitos and other delicacies to bar-goers in the neighborhood. The trucks underwent a renovation, butI haven’t seen them in a long while. The restaurant reopened as El Sabor de San Miguel at its current location in La Lengua, and is a comfortable, brightly colored place, with family photos on the wall.
Noris herself waited on us on our first visit; a welcoming, bubbly presence. To start, we split a salad with a really interesting parsley-based dressing, almost pesto-ish in texture, with pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
Really fresh, with an unusual consistency and bright flavors. We devoured the entire plate of veggies.
Next, the BF ordered the Plato San Miguel.
It consisted of a charred NY steak with a juicy, housemade, longaniza sausage, double-refried black bean paste, ripe plantains, and crema. The steak had a hearty, flame-grilled flavor, and was just tender enough. The chubby longaniza has mint and cilantro in the filling, giving it a floral, green taste – very different than any longaniza I’ve ever had, and better. The beans were deeply charred, giving them an almost burnt flavor – again, something I’ve never tasted before in Mayan cuisine, but they went well with the plantains and crema.
I’d heard about the famous pork adovada and had to order it.
The secret here is that the pork is marinated in fragrant achiote for 24 hours and then fried. Once you order it, they then also grill it, giving it that crispy, fatty perfection. This appears to be the star of the menu, and we loved it. My beans were more the expected — pureed, dusted with queso fresco. I slathered their homemade habanero salsa on everything (don’t worry, it’s really not as hot as they say it is, but if you’re averse to any heat, they have a tasty mild sauce, too.) The tortillas didn’t appear to be house-made, which was a good thing, or I would have eaten way too many of them. As it was, most of my dinner came home with us for the BF’s late-night consumption. I’m going to blame that giant salad.
On our second visit, Chef Justiniano took our orders. We got all appetizers this time, because there are so many good combinations on this menu. First, the Guatemalan enchiladas.
Guatemalan enchiladas are not rolled and drowned in sauce, but instead are crispy tostada-like shells, topped with cold beets (yes, beets!), a ground meat sauce (also cold), a slice of hardboiled egg, red onions, queso fresco, and parsley. Another really fresh tasting dish, with a satisfying crunch. I’d get this again in a heartbeat.
Next, the ceviche sampler.
One was shrimp, the other a chilled beef ceviche (not sure if that meant tartare?). The shrimp ceviche had a bright, minty taste to it, but neither of us liked the beef one. It was mushy and the flavors were muddled. One bite and we left it behind.
Then came the tamales.
We had one chicken and one vegetarian, with black bean puree and crema. The chicken was a bit bland until you ate it with the fabulous beans and the habanero salsa. The veg tamal was dense but not at all dry, and deeply flavorful. While I liked both, I kicked myself later after overhearing Noris telling the next table that there was also a Guatemalan tamal (I guess more typical than these?) that she described as having very soft masa, which is the way I love my tamales (like the Salvadoran ones you can pick up at Evergreen Market on Mission Street at 21st). We may have to make a third trip here, for science.
Stuffed with chicken picadillo and topped with guac, tomato sauce and cotija, these were another winner, but I love just about any taquito. For our taste, they could have used just a little more guacamole.
All of these dishes had an air of familiarity to me, but I left feeling kind of amazed at how different this was from Mexican Yucatecan food. There seemed to be a lighter touch, more herbs, and an overall refreshing quality to this cuisine.
There’s a lot more to try here: A chicken pepian stew, camarones al mojo del ajo (garlic butter sautéed prawns), and most intriguing, what could be considered Guatemala’s national dish — Kaq’ik soup — here, a hen (rather than turkey) stewed in a broth of chilies, achiote, coriander and other spices, and typically served with a tamale of chipilin (a Central American and Southern Mexican green). Even the desserts sound interesting, featuring plantains three ways, and atol, that wonderfully warming, sweet corn-based drink.
Happy to have this under-represented cuisine in our own backyard.
El Sabor de San Miguel
3263 Mission St.