Going to a tasting menu restaurant can be a lot like going to the symphony. You buy expensive tickets in advance, get dressed up, and act on your best behavior while watching the masters at work in front of you. Mr. Pollo is a tasting menu restaurant, but it’s nothing like this. Set up in an old chicken shack of the same name in the Mission, Mr. Pollo serves a four-course tasting menu for $30, to about eight people at a time, and everything is cooked, run, and operated by two people. Mr. Pollo, if anything, is more like a like a kick*ss garage band that makes food.
A garage band, in fact, would feel right at home in this space - there’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty smoking a cigarette, a Big Trouble In Little China poster on one wall, and some Giants memorabilia next to that. Like kids dodging tool boxes and boogie boards to set up their amps, there are two guys working here doing everything by themselves. The kitchen and the dining room are packed into one small space, so when you eat at Mr. Pollo, you’re in the middle of the action.
Then there’s the food. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Mr. Pollo is not a chicken shack (anymore). But the four courses they serve don’t feel like the product of painstaking refinement in pursuit of awards and achievement. It’s more like a food-obsessed friend spent the day experimenting and called you to come eat and hang out - but better. The menu changes regularly, but in general, you can expect to eat a salad of some sort, followed by a gigantic arepa, followed by a somewhat refined entree of something like scallops, and finally, a dessert. It’s all great and you won’t leave any on your plate, which is more impressive because the portions are large. Drinks-wise, they have wine, sake, or beer, including a $2 can of Hamm’s, which fits in perfectly with what’s going on here.
So come to Mr. Pollo (reservations are necessary, so call ahead) for what is, as far as we know, the only $30 tasting menu in town. Maybe the people at the symphony drop by at one point or another.
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This is a simple peach salad with arugula, almonds, and lemon ricotta with truffle honey. Sometimes this has figs, too.
A chicken arepa is a regular fixture on the menu. It’s massive and filled with braised chicken thighs, cheese, and two sauces - tomato jalapeno and garlic cilantro. Eating this whole thing is a gamble at leaving room for what’s left to follow.
This seared tuna served with corn and avocado tomatillo sauce is not the best thing we’ve had here, but we still didn’t leave any behind.
Anywhere else, this dish of seared scallops over corn with black garlic puree would cost the price of the entire meal. You’re in luck if this is on the menu when you go.
Sometimes all you want is a big scoop of ice cream after a meal, and Mr. Pollo’s is great. We’ve had coconut ice cream and a melon sorbet, both of which could only be made better if they were melted down and put into cocktails. There won’t be a dessert stop on the way home.