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Pancho Villa serves best prawn tacos in a town of good ones

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Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
Not only are Pancho Villa’s prawn tacos terrifically tasty

In a president’s final months in office, he typically pardons his criminal friends, uses his Oval Office discount card at Dairy Queen … stuff like that.

As you may have heard, my time as a restaurant critic is drawing to a close (be strong!). And like a lame-duck president, I’m taking advantage of my final hours in office. For this week’s review, I did a roundup of The City’s best prawn tacos.

Are prawn tacos hot right now? Is it an emergent trend to explore? Nope. They’re simply one of my favorite things to eat. If lobster rolls are my time-tested old flames from New England, prawn tacos are my newfound West Coast passion.

So without further ado:

Pancho Villa

These are the gold standard by which I judge all other prawn tacos in The City. The spicy version comes with a pico de gallo that’s front-loaded with diced jalapenos. Other components include shredded iceberg lettuce, a bit of cilantro and a special ingredient that, curiously, is not gross. Ranch dressing, who knew? Applied with a light touch, it lends a welcome, creamy bit of tang.

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But (as it should be), the prawns are what really matter here. Pancho Villa butterflies ocean-fresh mammoth prawns, then grills them at a low heat so the outsides get a light, crisp char. I have never gotten one that’s fishy, rubbery or overcooked. [3071 16th St. (at Mission Street), S.F.; (415) 864-8840, www.sfpanchovilla.com]

Taqueria Guadalajara

I had passed this place many times without a second glance, until I read a blog post gushing about their “magical shrimp tacos sent from God.” I trust all bloggers, so I immediately paid Guadalajara a visit.

The verdict? A solid B. There were too many raw onions overpowering the mix, and it was a little soupy with salsa rojo. But that two-alarm salsa was forgivably excellent, and the most important taco elements were unimpeachable: fresh tortillas and juicy, abundant shrimp. Bonus: Guadalajara has a great salsa bar, with a cactus salad you shouldn’t miss. [3146 24th St. (at Shotwell Street), S.F.; (415) 642-4892]

Dante’s Weird Fish

I wanted one place on my list that approached prawn tacos from a fish background, without an overall Mexican focus. Neither of my favorite seafood spots (Anchor and Hope, Woodhouse Fish Co.) offer prawn tacos, so I took a gamble on Weird Fish.

These were some hearty beasts, loaded with goopy pico, avocado slices and (unique to my sample set) a layer of melted jack cheese. I liked the generosity and sloppy fun of these tacos, though the elements didn’t cohere into anything remarkable. [2193 Mission St. (at 18th Street), S.F.; (415) 863-4744, www.weirdfishsf.com]


Let’s be real: This place makes Mexican food for gueros. I dined with city Supervisor John Avalos (another goal on my restaurant critic bucket list), and we both admitted skepticism. Tacos for $14 in a place that thrums with clubby Marina energy? Not promising, despite the adulation of other critics.

I overcame my bias. These tiny little tacos, served three to an order, were more like hors d’oeuvres. The plump, achiote-spiced prawns came with watercress, green apple-mango salsa and a bit of pineapple, creating a complex, evocative showcase of flavors. Similar to Tacolicious, I liked these tacos more than I wanted to. [2317 Chestnut St. (at Scott Street), S.F.; (415) 346-8494,  www.mamacitasf.com]

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