Padrecito suits Cole Valley. The upscale Mexican spot is full of dark corners where you can hole up and let music and conversation flow like a river into which you needn’t dip a toe. It’s a cozy spot in a cozy neighborhood.
It also has notable tortilla chips. A Mexican restaurant can go far with good chips, and these are an exception, even among the ever-widening field of seasonal, regionally inspired Mexican restaurants around here. The chips, which verge on a quarter-inch thick, are made from the restaurant’s handmade extra-thick tortillas. (Such tortillas are something of a Bay Area rarity outside Oakland’s Fruitvale district.)
Also rare: Padrecito’s large, quartered and fried blue tortillas. The texture of these chips is even more tender — blue corn is less glutinous, I think — and I found myself seeking them out with a mercenary eye.
The trio of carefully made salsas accompanying this bowl of chips works in harmony like a singing trio from the 1940s — bright, precise and delicate, each with a distinctive tone.
Typical Mexican restaurant options are atypical here.
The arroz verde (green rice) is tangy and pillowy, flecked with hair-thin specks of cilantro, and I liked it very well with a grounding, earthy and plump bowl of chorizo pot beans, which pop with spicy notes.
Again, the tortillas – ample, thick, smooth, with the edge of metal from the comal – are noteworthy. Such a tortilla is necessary to handle Padrecito’s truly massive tacos: the fillings spill over, lofting onto the plate.
One can put just about anything in a taco with favorable results, and to my pleasure, Padrecito puts deep-fried and battered calamari within the tortilla’s humble fold. It makes for a memorable bite, and particularly satisfying in that I’ve never had so many rings of calamari in my mouth at once.
<p> The vegetable tacos of kale braised tender with earthy chili are also meaty and satisfying, even for this meat lover.
Unfortunately, the gusto of Padrecito’s dishes can approach overkill, especially taking into account how the menu highlights seasonal, locally grown ingredients. For example, the metallic, nutty flavor of nettles in the seasonal quesadilla was trounced upon by the volume of cheese.
The manchego dressing for the kale salad was creamy like ranch dressing. It was a little too heavy for the already thick, chewy shreds of kale, and the tangerine slices were a little too sweet to provide the refreshment I prefer in a salad. Perhaps with a touch of mezcal or tequila, the dish would have made more sense, but as it stood, it didn’t freshen the palate after the richness of the restaurant’s other offerings.
Service is efficient, and I felt well taken care of. There’s a feeling here that invites me to stretch out in a booth for the night and enjoy. There’s space, room to breathe, and plenty of good food.
Location: 901 Cole St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 742-5505, www.padrecitosf.com
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays for dinner; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays for brunch
Recommended dishes: Crispy local calamari taco ($12), vegetable tacos ($11), chorizo pot beans ($7), arroz verde ($5), chips and salsa ($4)
Credit cards: All major