Natural Nibbles: Nopalito
Note: the following reflects the opinions and experience of the writer and not of YSFP.
This Thanksgiving break, I went on a research trip out to San Francisco to investigate the history of Chinese American cuisine in the 1920s. It was short–only two days long, but I managed to see quite a bit of the city and stopped by some usual haunts (dim sum, SFMoMA, the bridge, and Haight). Since the Bay Area, or “Yay Area,” as some like to call it, is known for its enthusiasm and passion for the organic and sustainable table, I knew my visit wouldn’t be complete without a meal at one of SF’s green restaurants.
Without enough balls to spend part of my Summer 2010 savings on a meal at Chez Panisse and with a craving for the Mexican food of my Southern Californian roots, I did a quick yelp search and found Nopalito. Nopalito is in a quiet neighborhood on one of San Fran’s windy, hilly streets, across from a vast parking lot where first-time drivers come to take their tests. The rhyming of slow food with slow lines at the DMV is a little too good. But, unlike the bogged down bureaucracy of the DMV, Nopalito’s employees are upbeat, young, sufficiently attentive, and seem to love the food they’re serving.
Ah the food. The food is good. It’s great. As someone who grew up on authentic Mexican food, I can say that for me, the taste at Nopalito is spot on–the difference being that the pork in my tamale and my dad’s carnitas was grown without anti-biotics and grass-fed, leading, I think, to the incredibly flavorful, tender juiciness of the meat. Their queso fresco is made fresh on site, and they make their own masa flour out of organic corn sold by a San Franciscan wholesaler. The cooked masa of the tamale is a wonderful chocolatey color, which adds to the natural, rustic feel of the dish and of Nopalito’s sustainable and organic Mexican kitchen mantra. Their water is filtered on site to save both plastic and energy. If you’d like to see a full list of their purveyors, check it out here.
The restaurant’s dedication to sustainability extends to its decor. The wooden benches and tables were all made from a single fallen oak tree in a nearby county. The energy-saving lights for night-time dining, the green tiles and walls, and the large windows letting in natural light keep the restaurant’s appearance in sync with its environmentally conscious approach to delicious, satisfying food. Of course, Nopalito is only one example of an organic sustainable restaurant–several of them have been popping up all over the country as our bellies become awakened and our minds become more attuned to personal health and more sustainable communities powered by locally grown food.