SFReview

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Zona Rosa image
8.0

Zona Rosa

Mexican

Castro

$$$$Perfect For:Walk-InsLunchQuick Eats

Included In

No one in San Francisco says, “I want Mexican food, let's go to the Castro.” The neighborhood’s proximity to the Mission has always meant hungry people book it down 16th Street to eat excellent burritos and tacos. But Zona Rosa, a family-run taqueria in the Castro, is making stewed meats, smoky salsas, and creamy horchata that aren’t just good by neighborhood standards—they’re worth a detour from other parts of the city.

Focus on the El Jefe tacos, the simplest and most traditional tacos on the menu, with just onion, cilantro, lime, and a choice of meat. While you could fill yours with chewy carnitas, al pastor, or chorizo, the best options are the carne asada drenched in fiery chile de arbol sauce and the chile verde chicken in a tangy green salsa. These tacos are not nearly as messy as the smothered El Mexicano burrito, but they contain just as much, if not more, smoky flavor. And you can always put out the fire with horchata that has a deep rice-y sweetness you can only get from the homemade stuff.

The interior at Zona Rosa SF.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

The exterior at Zona Rosa.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

The rest of the food can be a bit hit-or-miss. Originally opened in the Haight by the owner’s grandparents, Zona Rosa relaunched with a giant menu that seemingly caters to everyone. Purists get straightforward tacos (the right choice), East Coast tourists roam free in search of beans and pico de gallo in a small tortilla (soon they'll see the error of their ways), and San Diego transplants settle for papas locas even if they can’t get their beloved California burritos (we feel for you). With so much range, there are inevitably some flops. Papas locas come with overcooked fries that'll make you wonder why you didn’t trek over to El Farolito, and the kitchen uses sour cream in quantities we did not realize were possible.

So stick to the smoky stewed meats, and maybe a quesadilla, and Zona Rosa will be the ideal place to relax with a few friends. Even if it takes some convincing to get your people to eat tacos in the Castro, soon they’ll be the ones convincing their friends to eat Mexican west of Dolores. Whether you demand credit for the idea is up to you.

Food Rundown

An al pastor taco and a pollo asado taco in San Francisco.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

El Jefe Tacos

There are three taco options on the menu: the behemoth El Chingon with rice, beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole, the El Jefe with cilantro and onion, and veggie. Get the simple El Jefe with the carne asada en chile de arbol and the chile verde for the best of the best, but all of the meats are great. On Tuesdays, they do $3 taco specials, which is nice after trivia at Hi-Tops down the block.
Carnitas quesadilla at Zona Rosa.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Super Quesadilla

When a few tacos don’t fill you up, get this. It's big, unwieldy, and crispy. Just make sure to eat it quickly before things get soggy.

Papas Locas

They love sour cream here. Nowhere is this more evident than in the papas locas. These overcooked fries are drenched in it to the point that it’s almost comical. Try something else.

El Mexicano Burrito

Wet burritos are traditionally messy affairs, like sleeping with an ex’s best friend. That’s not a knock, just know what you’re getting yourself into. Zona Rosa serves theirs with salsa verde or mole, but get it half and half because mixing everything together is sometimes just what you need. We'd advise asking for less sour cream, though.
Agua de horchata at Zona Rosa.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Horchata

Creamy yet fresh, this horchata is excellent. It’s served in a to-go cup with a long straw—the only acceptable way to drink horchata. The texture is thick enough to have some heft, but not too heavy to be a pain to drink. And most of all, it’s got that deeply rice-y flavor that you can only get when it’s made in house.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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