El Techo de Lolinda (San Francisco)

Overall: 3/5

Landing in SFO the night before a conference, I had budgeted some time to meet up with old friends. Getting picked from the terminal curb just as the sky turned up the dial on the waterworks, we careened towards the Mission District for some after-hour eats.

Through luck, karma, and an assortment of unexplainable cosmic forces, we ended up at El Techo de Lolinda, which my friend eloquently described as a “Mexican place? Tapas place? Whatever, it will be ok.” (Google, on the other hand, provided a more comprehensible description: “Chic Mission hangout with Argentinean grilled meats & small plates plus a terrace & 2 cocktail bars”)

The place certainly was chic. A rooftop terrace enveloped by a transparent tarp to shield the patrons from the pelting rain, this looks like an appropriate place for a good time. If nothing else, the large Hispanic gentlemen hysterically laughing and tumbling towards the elevator as we arrived served as confirmation.

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The wait staff was friendly, enthusiastic, and completely indistinguishable from the other customers. The kitchen was closing as we were sitting down. Thankfully, somebody came around right before last call.

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Guacamole ($7)

Nothing to complain about here in terms of taste. The addition of cotija cheese on top added some salty contrast to the smooth avocado.

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Flautas ($10)

The tortillas were crispy without being overly greasy. The filling of chicken and potatoes within were too dry, although chimichurri layered underneath helped with the moisture problem. The slaw on top was a distraction.

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Empanada de Carne ($8)

Again, a good job with the frying as the exterior of these dumplings was crispy. Unlike the flautas, the mixture inside was moist, probably due to the egg added with the ground beef and potatoes. The menu said the filling also contained raisins, but you wouldn’t know it unless someone told you. The accompanying chimichurri was unnecessary.

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Skewers (6 for $35, with carne (add $1), chicken, and shrimp (add $3)) *Apologies for the poor picture quality*

The carne skewer comprised of flap meat (a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin), onion, zucchini, and panda (mild, sweet pepper from Peru) glaze. The carne skewers were uneven, some of the pieces of flap meat were appealing caramelized and tender. Other pieces, however, were over grilled and were covered with a charred crust.

The chicken skewers were included red onions and an aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper) glaze. The chicken was more consistent than the carne in execution. The pieces appeared to be a combination of breast and thigh meat, and were properly grilled to include just the right amount of char. The red onion added some mild pungency.

The shrimp skewers came with white shrimp, aji amarillo glaze, and salsa criollo (a type of salsa typically comprising of onion, red bell pepper, tomato, vinegar, and oil.) The shrimp suffered some of the same consistency problems as the carne, as some pieces felt mushy from being undercooked while other pieces were firm and had a nice snap. The salsa provided acid which made the skewers taste a bit like ceviche.

For tapas-styled food in San Francisco, the prices are within expectations. Yet, something feels amiss. Perhaps a little more care in the way the food is prepared, perhaps a little bit more generosity in portion size. But all of this is perhaps beside the point. Submerged in a sea of patrons busy consuming margaritas and cervezas to either wind down to relax or gearing up to party, a few friends took advantage of a rare opportunity to catch up and talk about things profound, profane, and everything in between. As to my ultimate recommendation, I defer to my friend’s succinct remark: “Whatever, it will be ok.”

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El Techo de Lolinda (San Francisco)

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