Classic Tables: La Santaneca

A decades-old destination for serious Salvadorean

Repetition breeds perfection.

For 34 years, the Cárcamo family has operated La Santaneca from an unprepossessing location where Bernal Heights bleeds into the Excelsior. La Santaneca, named for the family's hometown of Santana, El Salvador, is a Salvadoreño's dream and the source of some of San Francisco's best pupusas.

The iconic patties ($1.40 to $2.25) are prepared eight ways. Most use masa as the base and arrive with fillings like chicharrón (shredded pork) or queso and loroco (a sharp-tasting vine traditional in El Salvador). For a lighter pupusa, consider one made with rice flour and teeming with grated zucchini.

Each pupusa bears the mark of griddled greatness: The grease is minimal, and the exterior's deep char speaks to the kitchen's facility with hot metal. A slurp of salsa and a tangle of curtido (pickled cabbage) are ideal complements.

La Santaneca also traffics in rarer Salvadorean dishes. There's thick, refreshing tiste (a corn and chocolate drink; $3.25) and pan con pavo ($6), a substantive sub of achiote-spiced turkey and pickled onions.

Offered on Wednesdays, sopa de chipilín ($7 for a small) comprises a limpid bowl rife with chayote, rice, leaves of the soup's vibrant namesake green, and a chunk of beef short rib.

Should your meal leave you feeling festive, order ayote en miel if it's available. Sweet potatoes are drenched with honey and allspice, then roasted until they collapse–they're like Thanksgiving yams with a brain.

As with so much of the food here, it's a dish we'd happily eat over and over.

La Santaneca, 3781 Mission St. (at Richland St.); 415-648-1034