Have you ever sat down with a new group of friends in the middle of a conversation? Even though you can’t fully pick up on what they’re talking about, you’re having fun, and then someone says something random like a number or an out of place word and suddenly everyone but you bursts out laughing? You didn’t understand the inside joke, but you liked what was happening and knew you really wanted to be in on it. That’s how we feel when we eat at Prairie.
Prairie is a casual Italian place in the Mission that transports you into its own sci-fi fantasy universe the second you walk in. Everything is purple-blue or shiny white like you’re on a futuristic spaceship. There’s a flamethrower propped up behind the bar instead of an antique English shotgun. The art on the walls looks like it was stolen from a Blade Runner storyboarding session. And while it doesn’t follow the larger theme, the bathroom is plastered with posters from the chef’s high school band, Prairie (you’re literally eating inside an inside joke). From everything around you, it’s clear before you open a menu that you’re in their world now, not yours.
The food here is first and foremost Italian, but just like the space itself, there are a lot of other influences at play. Guanciale-wrapped mochi and pine nut miso are as likely to show up on the menu as rice cakes treated like pasta with stinging nettles and mushrooms, along with cocktails made with Aunt Jemima. It may seem odd to see some of these things together, but once you start eating and realize how good the food is, it all makes sense, and you’ll feel a little mad that you didn’t think of mixing mochi with cured meats a long time ago.
The small plates are all solid, but things start to pick up speed when you get to the pastas. From the Cresta di Gallo that you’ll want to take to a loved one when they’re feeling down, to the pappardelle with beef cheeks that you’ll want to hog from them and risk putting them in that mood to begin with, it’s hard to go wrong. But even if you’re usually OK with just getting pastas, you’ll want to order some things from the grilled section too, like the lamb meatballs, or the spare ribs with Calabrian chili XO sauce that are worth risking your dry cleaning for.
You’ll be smiling when you leave Prairie, both from the pasta and from the meerkat statue popping up from behind the bar that you noticed on your way out. It’s a weird space, but you’ll have fun here and the food is both creative and delicious. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to come with a few friends, hang out, and hatch a few new inside jokes over dinner. Or maybe you’ll just finally understand the one that started a few years back that you never really got. 50.
Peanut butter and apples is on our childhood snacks greatest hit list, and this is a really good version of that, but it’s not totally necessary.
Another play on a classic: French onion dip. It’s burrata with spring onion powder that you scoop onto grilled bread. If you love burrata, get this.
You might be a little bummed when these come out since since you only get a few of them, but the chewy mochi slows you down so that eating three of these feels like you’re eating 10. Make sure to order this.
These rice cakes are served with mushrooms, stinging nettles, and pine nuts. It’s as good as it is interesting to think about how these things ended up on the same plate.
This is the best thing we’ve had here. Three meatballs with a lot of cumin served with tomatoes and Sardinian flatbread. Don’t think, just get this.
Thick noodles with smoked pancetta, onion, tomato, and black pepper. This is a great Amatriciana.
This is the recipe we’ll shamelessly take a picture of without buying Prairie’s inevitable cookbook. This pasta with game bird ragu is delicious and it seems arguably simple enough to make at home, but probably with chicken since we can’t get game birds at our grocery store.
Super rich pasta with falling-apart beef cheeks. If you’re sharing this with someone, tell them to look the other way so you can shovel theirs onto your plate when they turn their head.
We wish the stew with fregola had more flavor, but it’s tough to find octopus cooked this well.
These walk the perfect line between falling off the bone and gnawing at for hours, and the XO sauce on top is great. We’d be happy to get these anywhere, anytime.