Dining

Balls of Fire

Nopalito's special meatballs get their flavor from charred chiles
Nopalito
Albóndigas al chilmole

The neighbors complained.

We have them to blame for the disappearance of the albóndigas al chilmole from the menu at Nopalito's Broderick Street location. The grousers complained about the smell of charred chiles--an intrinsic ingredient in the chilmole--and eventually the meatballs were dropped from the menu.

But at the new Ninth Street location, a powerful hood fan has allowed for the reintroduction of this Yucatecan dish ($13 at lunch, $14 at dinner). To make the chilmole, chefs José Ramos and Gonzalo Guzman Gonzalez char ancho, pasilla negro and árbol chiles until blistered and blackened, rinse them in water to eliminate some bitterness, then pummel them into a paste to which oregano, cumin and bay leaves are added.

This jet-black paste is a key ingredient in albóndigas, grass-fed beef meatballs. Pork fat, tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro and epazote further bolster the flavor.

The albóndigas are unique to the new location, but you can have them alongside Nopalito stalwarts like totopos ($6) and torta de chilorio ($9). The latter is Mexico's answer to the hero, built on a house-made roll slathered with refried Rancho Gordo pinquito beans, topped with shredded pork, jack cheese avocado, cabbage, onions and a spicy green salsa.

The neighbors couldn't possibly complain.

Nopalito, 1224 Ninth Ave.; 415-233-9966 or nopalitosf.com

Nopalito 1224 Ninth Ave. San Francisco CA 94122 415-233-9966

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