Nopalito & Contigo

Last week, when I spoke at the Blogher Food conference, positioned on stage between Ree and Elise, I was sure during the moments when I was going on and on, everyone was biding their time, waiting for me to shut my trap, so they could get back to listening to the other two.


Then I made an announcement that seemed to grab a bit of attention: I said that there were about forty-one blog posts started on my computer, which seemed to get quite the reaction from more than a few of the couple of hundred bloggers in the room. A good portion of those posts will never see the light of anyone else’s computer screen. But inspiration strikes me at odd times, and I’ll just start hammering away when I think of something to write about. I’m certain I’ll get back to it a day or two later, only to never get back to it at all. And now, my desktop is littered with half-written posts and other illiterate detritus.

carnitas at Nopalito

When I did a reading in Paris a few months back, someone asked me a good question about what are some of the things I’d miss about Paris if I moved away. Which actually made the to the finish line and became a post.

And last night, at Omnivore Books, here in San Francisco, during the Q & A, someone asked me what was the first thing I ate when I came back to San Francisco. I hesitated for a moment, and then blurted out; “Korean barbeque!” But to be honest, I’m always divided between the banchan, or the burgers.

And the third contender: tortillas.


In France, just about any conversation invariably turns to one of two things: politics, or food. Here in San Francisco, the two things that people always seem to have on their minds are real estate, and food.


At the risk of being branded as a deranged fan (‘fan’ I’ll accept, ‘deranged’…well, I’ve been called worse…), I was at Nopalito twice within 22 hours. Once on Sunday with Elise, where we spent about two hours at our table, basking in the diffused sunshine and scraping our plates clean. And making googly-eyes at each other.

And the next day with Michael Murphy, another friend that I met when I was a junior San Franciscan, who is now a real estate agent. And boy, if someone ever wants to dig up some details about my past, they should get in touch with him, for sure. Although my memory of those days is pretty sharp, so anyone out there who’s tempted to spill any haricots on me, might want to think twice about it.

roasted, spicy chickpeas

Now that’s we’re both older, and presumably more respectable, when I got in his car and he suggested carnitas for lunch, I felt like those long-cooked chunks of caramelized pork were calling my name. (No, I wasn’t hearing voices emanating from a pork shoulder, like those days of yore in San Francisco when inanimate objects could talk…) So he pulled his hybrid into the parking lot next to the restaurant, and we plowed our way through plates of tacos, gorditas, and panuchos, catching up and—of course, talking a bit about real estate prices in San Francisco.

I stay away from the crazy politics here. (Why do you people think I moved away?)

coffee paleta french pumpkin

Anyhow, back in the here and now, it’s a pretty exciting time in San Francisco for food. I had an amazing dinner at Contigo last night. I was still hopped-up from the excitement of my book event and we tried to wend our way through the menu, hitting everything from padrón peppers, to a mini-burger made from spiced sausage, and the tiniest, most delicate little fried potato chips imaginable scattered alongside.

There was jamón Serrano and pa amb tomàquet, the Catalan classic of toasted bread rubbed with tomatoes, which we topped with what were labeled as “the world’s finest cured anchovies”. I can’t say they were for sure, not having tried them all, but I’m certain they were the best in Noe Valley, if not all of San Francisco. For dessert, we sipped their hot chocolate, made with lots of cocoa powder, so it was dripping with chocolate richness, but not so thick that you’d drink it and feel guilty about it afterward. This morning, I had zero remorse.

Today is another heavy-hitter in the food department, with a stop at my favorite hole-in-the-wall taqueria. (I already hit Pancho Villa last week, but need another burrito fix), and dinner tonight is going to be at…well…let’s just say I now see why the pants in America are so much baggier than those in France.

I may take a break from all this eating and do a little clothes shopping, namely for some new pants. And definitely a belt—to hold it all in.

1320 Castro Street
San Francisco
(415) 285-0250

306 Broderick Street
San Francisco
(415) 437-0303


  • Susie
    September 29, 2009 1:08pm

    Super Dave! Can you call me or MJ re: coffee tomorrow morning?!

  • September 29, 2009 1:22pm

    DahVEED, you crack me up. During our talk I kept noticing how much my parents were laughing at all your jokes. See? Lebovitz-love runs in our family. Nopalito RAWKS. As does Contigo, of course. I could live off of those sardine toasts.

  • September 29, 2009 1:33pm

    LOVE Contigo! I’m almost jealous that I live here and don’t have an excuse to splurge like you are. Enjoy!!

  • Steve
    September 29, 2009 1:34pm

    I live all of about three blocks from Nopalito and can’t even recall seeing it. Call me clueless (or preoccupied…or something).

  • September 29, 2009 1:39pm

    Ya just went and made me so homesick I could cry.

  • September 29, 2009 1:45pm

    Oh how I wish I’d had about 7 more days in San Francisco for more food! A friend and I had dinner at Contigo on Friday night and enjoyed every morsel. Really fantastic food, and delicious wine. We couldn’t resist trying so many of the Tapas that we opted to walk back uphill (that BIG one on Castro) to our muni train, just to work off a bit of our incredible (enormous) meal. We had the hot chocolate too, with the spicy, crispy churros.

    We made a quick trip back into the city after our Peak Hike on Mt. Tamalpais (a breast cancer fundraiser) to reward ourselves with some salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite. I may need to rent a second home in San Francisco, just so I can keep eating there!

  • September 29, 2009 1:48pm

    I thought that pan tomate was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. And the Carnitas??? We have some good stuff here in San Francisco, but I may have to get over there the next time I’m in town. That just looked TOO good.

    When are you coming to San Diego??? ;-)

  • juliesf
    September 29, 2009 2:01pm

    Being a San Diego native and moving here to San Francisco, I was the BIGGEST mexican food snob. Pancho Villa cured my cravings after a year of dissapointment. Their carnitas and chile verde are legit! I’ve never been to Nopa but it’s now on my list of restaurants to try as well. Thanks David!

  • juliesf
    September 29, 2009 2:07pm

    Oh I forgot, if you haven’t already been you should check out Suppenkuche. Thier potato pancakes are ridiculous. Plus, they’ve got Octoberfest beer specials if you’re into specialty beers.


  • September 29, 2009 2:08pm

    Thanks for the write-up! I’m spending a few days in San Francisco right before Christmas and was making my list of restaurants to try out and now, Nopalito is on the list. Any other suggestions? What about adhoc in Napa? I was also planning to go to The Ferry Building Marketplace – is The Slanted Door still worth it? I’d love to hear what your San Francisco favorites are.

    P.S. Where did you go for Korean barbeque?


  • September 29, 2009 2:24pm

    Uh oh, David, I hope I’m not the one who put you in mind of deranged fans with my SUPER-BIG HELLO in the hotel hallway on Saturday.

    You and all the speakers put on a great show. Thank you! And no worries—I’m safely across the country by now and won’t come bounding out of any elevators toward you again anytime soon. :)

  • Sara
    September 29, 2009 3:05pm

    CONTIGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a find!!! Love that place. I’m definitely going to Nopalito sooner rather than later after seeing your pictures here. WOW, I’m hungry…

  • September 29, 2009 3:17pm

    There is nothing better than returning to a familar place and hitting up all your favorite food haunts in short order! It is pretty much my idea of heaven. Glad to hear you are enjoying yourself!

  • September 29, 2009 3:22pm

    Enjoyed reading yet another of your posts. Will have to check out your book.

  • September 29, 2009 4:33pm

    Fantastic choices I must say…. but you know that….

  • September 29, 2009 4:47pm

    what are you talking about? It was delightful to listen to you at BlogHer. Except, of course, when you dissed Ree for the spices she uses. HELL-O the women is a genius and makes recipes that a mommy like myself totally appreciates. But she seemed forgiving.

    If you are ever in Santa Cruz area there is this AMAZING mexican restaurant that has the best chiles rellenos in Watsonville.

    enjoy the rest of your stay in California.


  • September 29, 2009 4:51pm

    I work across the street from pancho villa.. a goooood lunchtime spot!

  • September 29, 2009 5:05pm

    I’m a Texan living in Paris and you are making me VERY hungry for mexican food!!! Love the pictures. Yummy.

  • Pamela Gerard
    September 29, 2009 5:39pm

    David–Really enjoyed hearing you speak at Omnivore last night. I missed the part about your shoes! I had been admiring them and as you explained about them someone next to me was talking and I missed what you said….where do you get them?
    Isn’t SF food great? That’s why we have to walk up and down these big hills – to walk off all our great meals (or we’ll be rolling down them)…
    Enjoy the rest of your stay.

  • Jean Marie
    September 29, 2009 5:48pm

    OMG, I am SO hungry right now!

  • Paula Marie
    September 29, 2009 6:19pm

    thank u so much for writing the book @ speaking @ omnivore last nite. had heard of omnivore but hadn’t been there. live in the mission & don’t get to Noe often enough. after reading the previews on google books & hearing you last nite i feel so grateful to live in sf (am from roch, ny). u definitely burst my Paris bubble (haven’t been there) but i think living there would be good 4 me. could stand 2 be tougher & more honest. btw, loved your writing @ how close people stand 2 u. i feel that whenever i stand in line @ the wells fargo @ 16th & mission.

  • September 29, 2009 6:51pm

    Art & Juliesf: The other amazing thing about Pancho Villa is that it’s so clean…the place would put a hospital to shame!

    Roselyn: Click on the banchan link in the post for one place I like for Korean food in San Francisco.

    Pamela: I’m a big fan of Trippen shoes, which are made in Berlin. I have a bit of an incurable addiction for them…

    damaris: I was giving Ree a hard time, and she freely admits to using some products that folks might think are questionable. But as she says, when you live 90 minutes from the supermarket, one must make do. And I did admit to using Lawry’s Seasoned Salt in Chex Party Mix myself, since it just doesn’t have the same flavor without it. I just need to figure out how to get out to her ranch one day…

  • Pamela
    September 29, 2009 7:39pm

    Thanks for the shoe info, David. I was taking some photos for the Noe Valley Voice. I bet you remember our local paper from the days when you lived in Noe Valley. I can email you some shots if you’d like.

  • September 29, 2009 8:26pm

    David, I think Ree expressed a desire to marry you in a recent post, so getting out to her ranch might not be too hard. (Although you’d have to contend with the Marlboro Man.) Glad you quenched your Mexican food cravings! Carnitas are my absolute fave. Especially if they have the little fatty bits mixed in.

  • Sasha
    September 29, 2009 10:43pm

    The photo of the carnitas is indecent!

  • Susan
    September 29, 2009 10:52pm

    It’s refreshing to read about your enjoyment of the SF food experiences while you’re here. I know you love living and eating in Paris, I would enjoy experiencing all the things you get to do and learn there, too. Hearing you appreciate the things that are here in the states is just so reassuring. We do have some great (and diverse) food here and hearing it from someone of your experiences makes it especially rewarding to hear! Thank you for that!.

  • September 29, 2009 10:53pm

    loved listening to the three of you talk on Saturday! The three of you were so down-to-earth and accessible, I just wished I had an intelligent question to ask! :-)

    And I am like you – I have 9-12 unfinished posts in my queue, just random things. And they will either turn into something or not, but I use my blog as a place to hold the ideas. I completely understood what you were talking about.


  • September 29, 2009 11:11pm

    Isn’t Contigo … well, wonderful?!! We are lucky as we live in the neighbor and get to frequent it often. As well Omnivore & Celia are two of our favorite things about Noe Valley, she has every cookbook you could want and if she doesn’t have it, she will find it for you! Glad that you have a wonderful trip back to San Francisco, safe travels back to Paris.

  • September 30, 2009 5:51am

    Maybe I’m amazed…I do not have a single idea for blog post until I sit down in front of the ‘puter unless I’ve done a painting and then something comes to me or if I’m in Paris (gazillion ideas and I just make lists on a scrape of paper) or a reader asks a question.
    Please send a few ideas this way David :)
    I would love some day to plan ahead.
    Gawd these FOOD photos from SF are mind boggling!

  • September 30, 2009 6:33am

    the two pictures “coffee paleta” and “french pumpkin” look really good toguether, those brown/toffee hues are beautiful.

    about the belt, find one with an elastic part on the side: it will suit no matter how many time you go to carnitas, and after you come back here :D.

    I’m SO craving the roasted chickpeas right now… Didn’t you give the recipe here somewhere ? i’ve searched but I did not find it.


  • September 30, 2009 8:20am

    While I’ve never been to Nopalito, it’s THOSE dishes that I would miss the most, if I were in Paris. I love Mexican food – carnitas, cochinita pibil, and that gordita you have a pic of? My mouth is watering. Yum. See, aren’t you glad you were “dieting” a few weeks back? Now the worst you’ll be, after this trip, is even!

  • September 30, 2009 8:34am

    Oh dear gawd how I miss San Francisco. Living in California was only marginally better than living in Seattle. I would even discuss California’s politics for a chance to go back…

  • Elizabeth
    September 30, 2009 9:54am

    I will totally be going to Nopalito next time I’m in San Francisco (who knows when that will be). It sounds fantastic!

  • September 30, 2009 2:19pm

    Looks like SF continues to give Paris a run for its money (culinarily speaking). But have they come up with a rival for Bordier butter yet?

  • September 30, 2009 11:22pm

    I wasn’t really paying attention to what you wrote. haha The tortilla caught my attention first. It really looks yummy!

  • October 1, 2009 10:46am

    sweetbird: California politics are nothing compared to San Francisco’s!

  • October 1, 2009 2:07pm

    Oh, I can so relate! What is it about the Mexican food that keeps us begging for more? Four years of college in New England was delightful, save for those Mexican food cravings that were absolutely NOT soothed by chile rellenos made with bell peppers (!?) Twenty years later, most of them spent in SoCal, it seems that everyone has their favorite places – for the quick taco on the run or the leisurely authentic meal that reminds us why those pants are so stinkin’ big!

  • October 1, 2009 4:49pm

    Glad you’re back David!

  • October 1, 2009 4:49pm

    Last night I finished your book “The Sweet Life in Paris” and have to tell you that it is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Anytime I had a spare moment I would grab your book, curl up on the couch and read. I have to admit, I was sad to read the last page as I felt I had been reading a letter from an old friend. I enjoyed so much how you find humor in your situations and loved reading a book that made me laugh. Thanks for sharing your story with the world.

  • October 1, 2009 10:05pm

    Oh. Your restaurant reviews always make me want to hop on a plane and fly over for dinner!
    I have an award for you over at my blog too.

  • October 4, 2009 3:01am

    Gosh, it looks so yummy. I so overate today but want a bite of everything. As well, along the same lines as Nopalito, when my husband and I visit Santa Fe, we always eat at our favorite restaurant, La Choza, at least twice, and like you, very often within less than twenty-four hours of our previous visit. We’re not stupid!


  • October 4, 2009 4:22am

    So great to hear you speak again – this time back in SF, and I was thrilled to hear my question turned into a blog entry again! (1st time at WHS in Paris: “15 things I’d miss about Paris”) I had a small blog while I was living in Paris, mostly to keep my family and friends satisfied, and found your blog a great resource while I was living there.

    I too am a pastry chef (although not as acclaimed as you!) and second wholeheartedly your praise of salt in dessert for balance. Next time I’ll have to bring you some of my meyer lemon creme fraiche ice cream.

    Happy eating in SF, and ’til next time…I hope I’m not running out of good questions.
    Bon voyage

  • October 4, 2009 7:45am

    Markell: Thanks for showing up—again…I’d like to make you my official muse!

  • October 5, 2009 1:57am

    Wow, David! I happily take that title! Thank you!

  • Kristin
    October 5, 2009 10:13am

    Hi David! I’ve been reading your blog since I moved to Paris in February for culinary school. Love it, you have helped me find so much great food here…Not to mention make an amazing tarte pate. Why oh why can I not find a place with decent Mexican Food? Anahuacali is good, but I just can’t justify 20 euros for a plate of chicken enchiladas. I miss California most when I am craving a burrito. Can’t wait to try your San Francisco suggestions next time I’m home.

  • October 9, 2009 1:18am

    I was laughing out loud tonight looking at my blog 3 blog drafts and thought “am I getting a case of David-itis if I don’t complete them?”
    On another note, I had this huge fear while on the train to meet up with Tea that you’d think I was stalking you…The conference, Contigo the same night, and Tuesday before Burma Superstar. Ahah! It was a real treat anyway and enjoyed listening to your experiences.
    I am now looking at some real estate near Contigo. Or a job there. I doubt either of these options is realistic though. Ah, who cares, thinking about it is good enough for now.

  • Robert Ruiz
    October 11, 2009 4:07pm

    Those pictures of the carnitas have been HAUNTING me. Tonight at 6:00 I’m there! :)

  • Robert Ruiz
    October 12, 2009 2:14am

    Wow, David. I’m a big fan of carnitas to begin with, but everything at Nopalito was stellar tonight. We especially liked the really thick chips we ordered, but the carnitas was the big star.

    I was wondering, what’s the item in the fourth picture? That looks like something I’d like to try next time I go back — and we WILL be going back, for sure.

    I’d been to Falletti’s and Delessio and Peet’s a few years back when the complex opened, but never Nopalito before. It was truly wonderful.

    Funny to see what this looks like now:

    because in 1979 there was a Kathleen Quinlan/Stephen Collins film called The Promise, and you can see the location when it’s the old Bank of America parking lot with the whale painted on the side of the building. It was fun to watch the whale fade over the years since then, and to see they left it when they put the Falletti complex and condos up. (It’s still there, just hidden now.) :)

    The movie’s on this DVD: Danielle Steele Collection, for anyone interested.

    (Danielle Steele had nothing to do with the film, she only wrote the novelization for it — and yes, it’s as silly as the synopsis would have you believe, but I love Kathleen Quinlan in it and have followed her career with pleasure ever since.)

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