Set in a bohemian area known for its street tacos and bare bones eateries, Californios aims to elevate the Mission district’s south-of-the-border fare to contemporary Mexican cuisine and it more than succeeds. A complex, layered mole here isn’t just likely to please—it’s bound to turn your entire understanding of this nation’s cuisine on its head.
The luxurious space only ups the appeal. Caramel-hued banquettes pop against dark-lacquered walls, while chandeliers and shelves of cookbooks further punctuate the upscale mien of the intimate room. You’ll feel as though you're dining in Chef Val M. Cantu’s very own atelier, made extra personal by the deeply knowledgeable staff, who seem to pride themselves on knowing every detail about the dishes coming out of the open kitchen.
One lengthy tasting menu is served nightly. It changes often, but expect inventive items like squid-ink tostadas heaped with guacamole, Monterey squid and truffles. A wonderfully spicy flauta is filled with duck barbacoa; while butter-poached lobster is tucked into blue corn tortillas and topped with fennel and aji amarillo. Sorbet made from local guavas, nestled in a spread of pistachio butter is an astounding send-off.