Tag Archives: Princeton

Gracias Madre (San Francisco, CA)

After dinner out at Tortuga’s this weekend (which you can read all about here) I could not stop thinking about Mexican food! Rather than going back for a third round of delicious over indulgence in two weeks (you can judge me after you try it) I figured I’d take the lower calorie option of writing about it.

So you’ll notice that the title of this post has nothing to do with Mexican turtles or Princeton, NJ. The delicious little treasure that I’m going to tell you about is from my most recent trip to San Francisco, CA. The little iPad snafoo that occurred during this trip made posting very unattractive to me for a while. I think our relationship is more or less on the mend now though, so here we go 🙂

On Friday, the first day of my trip, Dr. M and I decided to go into SF to roam around without having to battle the weekend crowds of irritating tourists (not that I should be included in this group or anything…)

Note: Friday = weekend in touristville 😦

So, instead of standing in line for the cable cars and elbowing our way through the wharf we wandered our way through the Mission district for a calm afternoon and some good eats.

Enter Gracias Madre.

This cute little joint had outdoor seating, live music and a local, organic, seasonal, vegan, Mexican menu.
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What?!?!

The menu

GM’s menu is seasonal and vegan. It is determined by what is currently available at their local organic farm, BE LOVE Farm, in Pleasants Valley, CA. All of their cheeses and milks and ice creams are made using nuts and their tortillas and tamales are handmade from non-GMO organic heirloom corn. They typically have a selection of antojitos, entradas, sides and postres.
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We ordered three items to share.

1) The quesadilla de camote with sweet potato and caramelized onions folded into tortillas with cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa
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2) Gorditas, grilled potato-masa cakes topped with warm salsa verde, avocado and cashew cream
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3) Empandads, homemade pastries filled with grilled plantains, served on a bed of spice mole sauce and topped with cashew cream
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Now I always get super excited about pumpkin dishes. And they seem to be trending right now – lets put pumpkin in this, lets put pumpkin in that. So, I’m not sure if I was too excited, or if they quesadilla wasn’t totally thought through before it was put on the menu, but there was too much pumpkin! I’m also not the biggest sweet potato fan (which seem to be everyone else’s hottest crush right now) so maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe. Probably. Anyway, the over-pumpkin + sweet potato gripe aside, the food was fantastic.

To be honest/fair/whatever, the flavors and textures were not those of your typical Mexican food. Frankly, I think this should be expected given that the dishes are made from very different ingredients. It isn’t a bad thing, you just can’t expect to taste cheese when use almonds. With this expectation, the food was delicious. It was fresh and rich and filling yet not heavy.

The staff

The staff was great. The waitress was helpful and the music troupe that migrated around the patio (and maybe inside as well) was adorable.

The ambiance

The ambiance was great too. The restaurant is on a relatively busy street in the Mission neighborhood and there are buses and cars and people going back and forth in front of the front patio. This gave it a nice cozy neighborhood feel.

And complementary blessings from La Madre herself!
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Gracias Madre! 😉

The inside is a little bit more done up — nice tables, decor, lighting, etc… It was a great place for an afternoon lunch and I would anticipate that it’s a hot date night destination.

$$

Very reasonable. Main dishes are <$15, sides are <$5 and our antojitos were <$10 each. We had plenty of food and given the quality of the ingredients used (which I am willing to pay more for), I think this is very affordable.

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Tortuga’s (Princeton, NJ)

Not to sound like a broken record (I can’t help it), but this post is way over due. Upon arriving at Princeton in June, one of my top orders of business was to get the scoop on the top eating (and running) and eating opportunities in town, of course. Upon my declaration of love for good authentic Mexican comida, I was directed to the wonderful Tortuga’s. This cozy little restaurant is located off the tourist (and undergrad…but never mind…) beaten path in the neighborhood on the north-west side of town. They don’t take reservations and typically have a bit (it really isn’t bad) of a wait but they start you off with bottomless and fantastic homemade salsa and chips and follow-up with dishes that are well worth any wait. They are also BYOB/BYOW, which I have come to totally love (Come on, I am picky and cheap…a most endearing combination…don’t act surprised…) Anyway, this is where I took Dr. Samia when she moved to town (town = NJ … yes, this is totally fair) and where I have been with my group mates for dinner and where I took Dr. Allison for her first dinner in town (town = Princeton … Why are you confused?) and where I will insist on going with Dr. Maroof next time he is in town (town = your definition of choice).

Tortuga’s is a locally owned and reasonably authentic (as far as this Minnesota girl … with a thing for food and other cultures … can tell) Mexican joint. The menu is big, offering something for everyone, even a diverse set of vegetarian entrees. 🙂 The dining room is often quite crowded, loudish and the service is often a bit slow. Like I said, there is a reasonable amount of authenticity to the place and with the food comes the ambiance. Enjoy it. (I’m not being a smart ass here, for once.)

The menu

La Tortuga is open for both lunch and dinner. However, I have somehow (quite unbelievably) only been there for dinner so far! The dinner menu is large and constant, and I assume the lunch menu is similar. There are a nice variety of single entree dishes (variety in terms of preparation styles – tacos, burritos, chimichangas, tomales, tostadas, soaps, ensaladas, enchiladas… – and types of protein – steaks, pork, chicken, fish, beans, etc… – as well as combination plates. A word of warning is that all of the dishes are big so bringing half home for an awesome lunch is a good mindset to have before things spiral out of control (not that I know this from personal experience or anything…)

So I’m one to enjoy trying lots of new and different food so I have always gone with some form of vegetarian combination platter. The vegetarian burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas and tomales are all fantastic. The combo platters come with both beans and rice that totally hit the spot. In contrast, my dinner dates have always gone with some kind of main meat entree – steak or chicken have been the hot choices I think. I have yet to hear a complaint from any of them.

Additionally, thanks to agreeing to participate in a game of musical tables, Dr. A and I scored free desserts on our visit. It’s probably a good thing that I hadn’t looked at the dessert menu until then because they all looked amazing! In the end we “settled” on the key lime pie and the chocolate tort (when dessert is on the house you don’t split). Damn. Both were super good – just sweet enough for a satisfying end to a rich meal, but not over the top. Again, they were both good-sized (note: this is not a complaint) so in the event of actually having to pay for your dessert splitting might be a good choice.

The staff

The staff are authentic. They are friendly enough but not the speediest. It’s part of the charm though. Your food will come out correct and hot and in the order in which it was received. (I’ve been on hold with customer service too much recently…stupid glove box…never mind.) So, there really isn’t anything to complain about, but just be warned that if you’re on a tight schedule, either let them know ahead of time (this may or may not make a damn bit of difference) or think of doing dinner after the show.

The ambiance

The ambiance is authentic, cozy and busting. Everyone is there for a nice relaxing neighborhood dinner with friends and family. Plan to Do the same next time you’re in the Garden State 🙂

$$

Very reasonable. Entrees are ~$15 and can easily be 2 meals. NOTE: Tortuga’s is cash money only! YES, CASH ONLY! Not a big deal (unless you don’t bring cash and don’t have a particular fondness for washing a restaurant dining room worth of dishes on an overfull stomach of course), just remember to grab some green as you walk out the door. (Not that green…)

Anyway, the chips and salsa to start with are a nice added bonus and the BYO policy really adds to the affordability. Sharing works well too if you’d rather not be carting left overs around. The ingredients are high quality and the preparation is mindful soooo (IMHO of course) you really would be quite stupid not to 😉

P.S. I realize a restaurant review without pictures is a bit bullshit, but lets cut me a little slack and consider this one a work in progress.

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