San Francisco’s rich and diverse culture can be experienced through its art and music scenes, its architecture, and, of course, its food. Mexican culture in particular has greatly influenced the city, thanks to the large Hispanic population and the history between Spanish America and Mexico.
Many Mexicans came to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century, bringing with them their culinary traditions and recipes. By the early 20th century, Mexican restaurants and food stands had become a common sight, and as more Mexicans migrated to the city in the 1940s and 50s, the demand for Mexican food continued to grow.
The Mission District quickly became the center of the Mexican community, and to this day you’ll find boutiques, murals, fruit markets, panaderias (bakeries), and taquerias (taco stalls) helping keep the Mexican and Latin American cultures alive. But the love for Mexican food can be felt throughout the entire city, with a wide variety of restaurants serving dishes from across Mexico. Here, we’ll dive deeper into some of the most popular ones.
A tamale is a traditional Mesoamerican dish that typically consists of masa (a type of dough made from corn) filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, or chilies, then wrapped in a corn husk before being steamed or boiled.
Its origins can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of Mexico in 8,000 B.C. In fact, tamales are considered the first Mesoamerican dish to be made of corn. Thanks to their portability and protein-packed contents, tamales were often taken into battle by Aztec warriors.
Tamales were introduced to California in the 1870s, where they were sold in street carts. Fast forward to today, and tamales are now table fare for special occasions like Christmas, New Year’s Day, and the Day of the Dead. However, you can always order piping hot tamales from the many food trucks and restaurants around the city.
If you don’t have time to make your own, offers several varieties of the classic Mexican dish. Her main culinary influences come from Guanajuato and Durango, and her tamales are a reflection of her family’s culture.
A chile relleno, which translates to “stuffed chili,” is a whole poblano chili stuffed with minced meat, coated in an egg batter, and fried.
Though the use of chili peppers in Mexican cuisine can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, the modern chile relleno is thought to have originated in the Mexican state of Puebla in the 16th century. Many believe it was made by a group of nuns to honor Mexican’s victory over France during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Today, the dish is served to celebrate and honor Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16th.
Can’t wait to get your hands on some? If you’re in San Francisco you can have them delivered straight to your door, including Shef Tania’s chile relleno with ground beef. Born and raised in Cancun, Mexico, Shef Tania grew up watching and learning how to cook authentic Mayan and Mexican dishes from her family. This inspired her to pursue a culinary career with the goal of sharing her heritage through her food.
Tres Leches Cake
There’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s tres leches. The popular treat consists of a rich sponge cake that’s been soaked in three types of milk — giving it its signature melt-in-your-mouth texture — and topped with meringue or whipped cream.
The exact origins remain a mystery — the closest documentation is a 19th-century recipes for antes, a sherry-soaked cake from Sinaloa and Oaxaca — but it’s clear that Mexico has the strongest ties to it. Nowadays, tres leches is celebration dish across Central America, and you’ll also find it served in Mexican restaurants across San Francisco, where chefs have fun experimenting with all sorts of flavor variations.
If you’re searching for tres leches cake in San Francisco, try Shef G. Ahmania’s light and spongy café con leches tres leches cake! It’s one of her most popular desserts and a crowd favorite, perfect for celebrations.