Dear Mr. Pollo,
I owe you an apology. No, it’s not for what you might be thinking - I’ve never written unsavory remarks about you or slandered you to my friends. In fact I only had positive things to say in my previous write-up of your business. But I did make one mistake in that first review – one big mistake. I underestimated you.
See, even after publically endorsing your Pork and Cheese Arepa as one of the best I’ve ever tasted, I still wrote you off in my mind as a simple specialty shop – my go-to place when I’m in the mood for no-fuss Venezuelan cuisine. But then, one fateful night earlier this year, I finally opened my mind up enough to look past your arepas and venture into tasting menu territory. Now, after making countless return visits for your nightly-changing menu, it’s obvious that my initial perception of you was wrong. Completely, embarrassingly wrong, and for that, I’m sorry.
I’ve eaten some of the year’s most memorable dishes while crunched into one of your 12, tightly-packed seats. First of all, every soup you serve is incredible. I mean, screw Campbell’s, the next time I’m sick I’m heading straight to your door and begging you for any soup that comes from your stoves. Your Lobster Broth and Seared Scallop Soup is the first that comes to mind, as it has your signature mark of being simple in its appearance, but complex in its execution. A homemade lobster broth filled with seared bay scallop, squid a la plancha, yucca, cucumber radish, fennel frond, potato, English peas, mushroom, carrot, red onion, and fava bean is far from your average, brothy soup and overflows with flavor.
Another stand out from the dozens of dishes I’ve tried is your Confit of Baby Octopus. That night it was served with shaved fennel salad, fish eggs, parsley, burnt spring onion, garlic oil, and papitas, making an amazing balance of toasty, bitter, smoky, and salty flavors. Not to mention the protein was beautifully executed, making it one of the most tender versions of octopus I’ve tried.
More recently I was blown away on an unusual night when your main man, Manny Torres Gimenez, wasn’t behind the stoves – a credit to the talent of the newest addition to your kitchen, former Incanto resident Sean Naputi. Specifically, his Halibut Collar with sweet corn, shaved fennel, roasted eggplant, and crispy skin was especially memorable. Of course the execution and taste were impeccable, but it was the attention to texture paired with the signature seasonality that was particularly notable.
And it’s worth repeating that, in my eyes, your Arepas are still the best in town. While the crispy pork and cheese is consistently one of my favorites, the one time when you unexpectedly swapped fried pork for insanely moist pork loin was the pinnacle of your arepa prowess. I may have initially questioned why you’d change a good thing, but after one bite there was no question that pork loin was king and I had a new menu favorite.
Manny, it’s hard to believe how much you work. I mean, I know you run the show and all, but a four course tasting menu, cooked up spur of the moment , offered for lunch and dinner, seven nights a week, plus regular trips to the farmer’s market, seems like a schedule only a culinary superhero could maintain. How you manage to stay enthusiastic, happy, and smiling behind the stoves every night is beyond me. But it’s your cheerful, easygoing demeanor that makes every person that walks into your restaurant not simply feel welcome, but like they’re a guest in your home.
You once said that your goal in opening a restaurant in that location and charging pennies for the food was to be able to feed any and every person, rich or poor, in the Mission. So finally, I want to say thank you for only charging $20 for your tasting menu. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for serving me so much delicious food for so little money. Because of your beyond-reasonable pricing, I’ve been able to recommend Mr. Pollo to pretty much anyone looking for a good SF restaurant, treat my friends to delicious meals, and make multiple visits in a single week without worrying about how I would afford groceries before my next paycheck. In short, you’ve made your restaurant accessible for almost any occasion, and that makes you a rare gem in a city overflowing with dining options.
Thanks for everything! Your biggest fan,
2823 Mission St
(between 24th St & 25th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110