Situated in the Mission District on 22nd Street at South Van Ness, Californios recently joined an esteemed list of restaurants receiving four stars from Michael Bauer, the Chronicle's renowned food critic.
Family owned and operated since it opened the doors to its cozy 25-seat eatery in 2015, Californios offers a tasting menu that focuses on contemporary Mexican cuisine "using the bountiful ingredients of the Bay Area," particularly with Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa All menu items can be tailored to accommodate vegetarians.
Cantu's wife, Carolyn, who previously worked for acclaimed restaurant designer Ken Fulk, designed the restaurant's luxurious and inviting decor. Cantu's sister-in-law Charlotte Randolph, who worked at The French Laundry, is managing the global selection of small-production wines and beers, available by the glass, by the bottle, or as a pairing menu.
Before 2015, Californios was a pop-up, where Texas native, chef Val M. Cantu, honed his menu as well as built a following. Cantu began cooking during a 6-month visit to Prague, where he claims the food was so terrible, he was forced to make meals or endure what was served. Upon returning to Texas, he decided to pursue cooking as a career and began working at Uchi, which was instrumental in launching his career as a chef. Over time, he developed an interest in Mexican food and pursued in-depth knowledge of the cuisine.
Cantu's signature dish is Tres Frijoles, three beans. According to Michael Bauer, this dish consists of "a layer of pickled shallots is scattered in the bottom of the stylized bowl, topped with whole Rancho Gordo beans, a layer of marrow bean liquor and a frosting of corona beans whipped nearly as light as cream. In the middle of the bean cloud is a pile of osetra caviar; tiny flakes of gold leaf lightly dot the oversize gray and white plate. Flavors and textures marry flawlessly, creating a dramatic juxtaposition of luxury and rusticity".
The tasting menu at Californios changes on a monthly basis but small adjustments are made each evening. But, the meal always begins a small shot of aqua fresca and a closing alcoholic digestive after dessert.
Just last week, Californios was awarded 2 Michelin stars, the first and to date, the only Mexican restaurant in North America to receive this Michelin designation. Two stars is the second highest accolade.
3115 22nd St. (near South Van Ness), San Francisco
Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.