At some point during the pandemic, Nopalito opened up a little takeout window right next door to Bi-Rite Ice Cream, and I was excited to try it. More Mexican food in the Mission? Hell yeah. A quality takeout joint during the pandemic? Smart move. As many may know, Nopalito had at one time two full-service restaurants, one on Broderick Street near the Panhandle, and one on 9th Avenue in the Sunset District (which has since closed). Both were much beloved by their respective neighborhoods.
I ordered the carnitas rice bowl for the BF, which came with pinquito beans, and the totopos for me, with achiote chicken spiced with salsa de arbol and adorned with cotija and crema, and a big market salad to share, which I failed to notice also came with the chicken.
We took the chicken off the salad right away to use for another meal. The chicken was very nicely spiced, with a decent smokiness and even a little heat, but I found it a bit dry. The BF’s carnitas were very tasty, sweet-ish, but again, just a bit dry. The rice lacked seasoning for us, and, yes, a little dry! The beans were bland. WTH?
The salad was huge, and came with a smoky jalapeno vinaigrette, but sadly, it was a bit of a snoozefest. The dressing on its own was tasty enough but somehow it lost its assertiveness when mixed with the various greens.
The totopos themselves, which I’ve read rave reviews of, were also dry. I’d seen pictures online where the totopos appeared to have a very generous splash of crema, but on these, the crema was just pooled on the side. I know they don’t have a full kitchen on-site, and they’re presumably getting the food already cooked from the Broderick site a mile and a half away, so perhaps it just sits too long. Everything that was supposed to be hot was hot, but the salad greens were too cold, and the garbanzo beans in it were undercooked. I barely made a dent in the totopos and was stuffed but not satisfied, a feeling I hate. BF finished his bowl, but was underwhelmed.
The good news: I ordered a side of their house-made tortillas, which were great, thick and corny, as was their brilliant green guacamole, and I made a couple of tacos with his pork and my chicken. I also got the BF a little dessert, an almond pound cake with jam, the Norte 54 Garibaldi, which had a nice dense texture and a gentle sweetness, with a slick of fruit jam on top.
The takeout menu is teeny tiny; in addition to what we ordered, there are tacos made from the same carnitas and chicken, or you can go veg with a mushroom/squash combo. You can get a platter of just the carnitas with tortillas and fixings to make your own tacos. And there are a few Mexican pastries and coffees on offer as well. They serve fresh, fruity aguas, and horchata too. I didn’t see Bi-Rite ice cream offered on the menu, but they’re right next door, so …
We all know the people at Nopalito know how to make good food, but they need to figure out a better system to ensure the quality holds true from the flagship restaurant, or what is the point? I liked the option of having something so close for a picnic at Dolores Park. But we have a plethora of good Mexican food in the Mission, and our standards are high.
Once it’s really safe to eat inside again, I’m heading over to Broderick Street and trying these dishes (and more) as they were meant to be eaten. With a margarita!
Nopalito 18th Street takeout window (website)
3690 18th St.