ERICA MARQUEZ / SPECIAL TO  THE S.F. EXAMINERThe slow-roasted pork flautas are a menu highlight at West of Pecos

ERICA MARQUEZ / SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINERThe slow-roasted pork flautas are a menu highlight at West of Pecos

Southwestern flavors scintillate at West of Pecos

“Are you vegetarian?” It seemed like an odd question from a bartender. Turns out the Roadrunner, a mezcal-based margarita with thyme, lime and mandarin, is garnished with sal de gusano — a chile salt that also happens to contain ground agave worms. Vegetarians and those with sensitive constitutions beware. Luckily, I was neither.

The worms add a pronounced earthiness which melds well with the cocktail’s spice, smoke and brightness. West of Pecos’ drinks, like the food, are big, bold and scream with southwestern flavors.

Having recently spent some magical times in the southwestern U.S. falling in love with the food (and having gotten stuck with a flat tire near a town called Pecos — though not the same Pecos as the restaurant’s name), I appreciate the authenticity that West of Pecos brings to this regional cuisine while adding its own local flavor to the menu. It’s mostly New Mexico, some Texas, with a little California thrown in for good measure.

The atmosphere, too, is spot on, from the red chiles hanging from the ceiling to the giant rattlesnake skin overlooking the bar. While sitting outside at a private table near a blazing adobe fire pit, I could almost believe I was not in the Mission anymore, but somewhere in the high desert, drinking margaritas and counting the stars.

West of Pecos’ dinner menu, which has been retooled since chef August Schuchman took over last year, consists of many small plates and a few larger entrees. I mostly preferred the small plates, starting with the queso dip — silky cheese studded with crumbles of house-made chorizo and topped with scallions and slices of fresh jalapeno.

The slow-roasted pork flautas are delicious, too, crispy tortillas wrapped around pork that rivals some of my favorite carnitas — crunchy and bursting with fatty flavor with every bite. Crumbles of fresh cheese, a drizzle of honey and a creamy chipotle dipping sauce round out the dish.

I couldn’t stop digging into the rich mac & cheese, served in a cast iron skillet and topped with a dollop of heat-packing Hatch green chiles — a New Mexico staple that brings its uniquely bright kick to lots of dishes here.

I was less impressed, but still intrigued by the egg and pork belly flatbread, with bits of pork belly so soft you could spread them like butter and studs of whole roasted garlic cloves. The egg was sadly overcooked and I missed the runny yolk, which may have tied the dish together.

The hit of the brunch menu was the Dungeness crab chimichanga, a huge tortilla stuffed with crab, eggs, bacon and greens, fried and served over a tangy green chile sauce and topped with crema. The only hitch was the uneven distribution of crab, which made some bites laden with it and others sadly devoid of the tender meat.

If you’d like to ruin regular bacon for yourself forever, get the side of maple-glazed pork belly. Thick-cut slabs of pork glisten with a light, sweet glaze and every bite crunches and melts on the tongue. The light and refreshing michelada verde (cilantro, jalapeno, lime and cucumber topped with Modelo) was a perfect counterpoint, and a welcome alternative to the usual Bloody Mary.

Whenever I need my green chile fix, you’ll find me here, sipping on a spicy, smoky cocktail, dreaming of the southwest.

West of Pecos

Location: 550 Valencia St., S.F.

Contact: (415) 252-7000,

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, 3 to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 to 10 p.m. Sundays for dinner; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sundays for brunch

Price range: $4 to $19

Recommended dishes: Queso & chips ($8), green chile mac & cheese ($9), pork flautas ($10), Dungeness crab stuffed artichoke ($11), maple glazed pork belly ($4), Dungeness crab breakfast chimichanga ($14), Christmas huevos rancheros ($11

) Credit cards: All major

Reservations: RecommendedAugust SchuchmanFeaturesFood & DrinkFood and WineWest of Pecos

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