It isn’t exactly France meets Mexico at the new Papito in San Francisco.
But you will find a thoroughly wonderful duck confit taco at this tiny restaurant in Portrero Hill, which was opened in August by the restaurateur behind the popular, Francophile Chez Papa and Chez Maman, both in San Francisco.
That would be Jocelyn Bulow, who opened Papito with one of her chefs, Oaxaca-native Rodolfo Castellanos Reyes, who got the 17-seat cafe up and running, only to leave to return to Mexico to start up his own restaurant. Not to fear, his replacement, Reynol Martinez, also from Oaxaca, seems to have a good handle on the menu.
The ingredients are top-notch. Many are organic. The pork is Berkshire. The chorizo is house-made.
Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, a short drive from the Holiday Inn Civic Center, to check out the bustling cafe adorned with warm, terracotta walls and big sombrero hats for decor.
Three salsas arrive at the table when you sit down — a zesty tomatillo, a sweet and fruity mango, and a spicy red chile one. If that’s still too tame for you, your server is only too happy to bring you an even hotter version.
We started with a Mexican street-food staple — grilled corn on the cob ($5), smeared with Mexican mayo and queso cotija. Bowls of house-made red chile salt and wedges of fresh lime let you customize just how spicy or tangy you want it. The corn is sweet, smoky and tender. The squirt of lime really makes it special, cutting through its creamy coat.
Next up, ceviche ($10) with exceptionally plump shrimp in a lime-infused pico de gallo with chunks of mango.
If you like pork carnitas, definitely try the much-talked-about duck confit tacos (two for $8). The duck is done carnitas-style, resulting in really rich and tender meat with deep flavor. Pickled carrot and jicama strands, along with a sweet-tangy tamarind sauce lend an almost Vietnamese flair.
Papito also does a spin on a fried shrimp taco — frying the shrimp tempura-style for extral crunch. Rolled up in two organic corn tortillas with a smear of chipotle remoulade and crisp purple cabbage slaw, it was colorful and satisfying.
Oaxaca, of course, is known for molé. And the one at Papito didn’t disappoint. Thick, complex and inky looking, it covered enchiladas ($13) rolled up around a filling of juicy, braised chicken. The pickled onions on top were a nice touch, too.
For dessert, enjoy some of the crispiest churros around (four for $5), with every ridge covered in cinnamon sugar. There’s also a fine rendition of a very eggy Mexican flan ($5) with caramel sauce that has an almost coffee-like bitter edge.
The city already may boast a lot of good taquerias. But this may very well be its only Mexican “bistro.”