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PHOTOS: Chloe List

The last thing San Francisco, or the planet, needed was another “upscale Mexican” place that sells $6 tacos and “craft quesadillas” and guacamole smashed next to your table. (We get it, it’s handmade.)

San Francisco, however, did need Cala.

Cala could technically fit into that “upscale Mexican” category (gorgeous space, pricier food, run by a famous Mexico City chef), but the experience there is miles away from the overpriced, fancified stuff most places sling at you. You won’t find chips or deconstructed burritos or smashed-at-your-table guacamole at Cala. Instead, the menu is made up of uncomplicated, vegetable- and seafood-based, authentic Mexican food. And we absolutely love it.

Cala’s food is unlike any Mexican we’ve had in this country. A lot of their dishes are up there for “the best” of that food item we’ve had (like the sweet potato – more on that in the food rundown). Cala’s power is in its simplicity – it’s all about fresh, light flavors and quality ingredients that somehow come together in an unusual and delicious way. The food is so good you won’t even notice that there’s no beef, pork, or chicken anywhere on the menu.

The space is nice too, and the tree in the middle of the room makes the place feel like something that would belong on a “Cool Backyard Ideas” Pinterest board. The crowd is a nice mix as well, with actual adults, parents with little kids, hipsters, and people who definitely are cooler and richer than you, and since it’s a "gang's all here" situation, it feels like everyone is welcome. Even the drinks (ask for an off-menu spicy margarita) are stupendous.

We are very pleased that Cala has brought some legitimate Mexican food to the city, and you should go as soon as possible. Prepare to be surprised and delighted and ready to book a food-focused trip to Mexico City. There are no chalupas in sight, and we couldn’t be happier.

Food Rundown

Sopes With Black Beans, Crema & Ricotta Salata

Bite-sized little cornmeal patties with beans and cheese and some romaine. Simple, but perfectly executed. Definitely get these for the table. The Sopes Playeros (with fish of some kind) are good as well, but we prefer the bean option.

Trout Tostadas With Chipotle, Avocado & Fried Leeks

Best way we can describe this is a Mexican take on lox. Very delicious – and very popular, pretty much everyone orders this.

Camaronillas A La Veracruzana

These are little shrimp empanadas. Awesomely spicy, if a little heavy on the empanada shell. Not a must order.

Albacore Tartare With Serrano, Purslane & Oyster Mushrooms

Rich and earthy due to the mushrooms, this is a great dish. Super fresh tuna is also never something we complain about.

Sea Bass Ceviche

Light and refreshing, the Cala ceviche is good but could use a bit more spice or citrus. We’d steer you to the tartare for your raw fish option.

Nopal & Eggplant With Chile Casabal In Charred Corn Husk

Nopal is cactus, de-prickled, and when combined with chili and roasted with eggplant, it makes for a stellar taco filling. Conveniently, the good people of Cala know that and serve it up with warm corn tortillas. You will definitely eat at least two.

Sweet Potato With Bone Marrow Salsa Negra

This doesn’t sound like much, but hot damn this is a magical potato. Roasting in embers gives it a smoky taste, and the bone marrow salsa negra that comes with it is straight up amazing. The dish comes with very, very good corn tortillas, and you make yourself a little sweet potato taco topped with the salsa. It is fantastic, and shockingly filling.

Ling Cod Salpicón With Tomatillo & Cilantro

Sort of a crispy fish salad with some veggies, the salpicón is excellent, and you can make little tacos with it if you have extra tortillas from the other stuff. Very good.

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