Until last week it didn’t look much like winter here in the Bay Area. Still, it’s winter, and with it, colder weather, seasonal flus, and (hopefully) rain-filled days. There’s nothing better than a large bowl of soup to soothe a winter soul: take-out chicken noodles and pho are good choices, but there’s a whole world of Mexican soups tucked away among the burritos and beer. of the Mission. Mexican soups like pozole and menudo are the strongholds, but Salvadoran and Yucatan restaurants each have their own variations of these classics.
We walked around Mission Street to sip the best soups we could find. Not wanting to limit our search for brunch specials only, we focused on soups that are available pretty much any time of the day for any type of emergency soup. Four restaurants and their specialties were leading the pack.
Pozole: Mexican restaurant Gallardos
It would be difficult to understand the transformative power of hominy without tasting Gallardos pozole. Each savory kernel offers its own explosion of sweet corn flavor, with small pieces slowly drifting into the deeply pork broth. The hominy thickens, fragrances and enriches the soup, haunting each successive bite, making it impossible to put down the spoon. The pork itself is also a delight, with large, bone-in pieces of meat adding weight and protein to the bowl. The toppings – radish, cabbage, lime juice – are mandatory, providing a contrast in texture, a bright zipper, and a pop of color.
On weekends, a queue forms at the door, filled with diners hoping to taste their house specialty: birra, spicy braised lamb served with a rich broth. But on a weekday, soup lovers looking for something other than pozole should look for caldo de res (beef soup). The soup is more akin to a roast served in broth, with towering chunks of beef shank and short ribs almost overpowering the subtle broth. Equally large chunks of super soft carrots, potatoes, corn and zucchini break up the bounty of the beef.
Gallardos itself is a nice place to spend the afternoon. Their new space at 18th and Shotwell is bright, airy, and still adorned with huge black and white photos of classic Mexican movie stars. The decor is far from the Tex-Mex kitsch typical of neighboring taquerias. Best of all, on a quiet weekday afternoon, there are only a few other diners, providing plenty of room to sip a bowl of transforming pozole in peace.