Mexico + California: The Inventive, Engaging, Stunning Food at Californios [Review + Pics]



Great report and pics @Chowseeker1999, im amazed how much detail you can remember. Looks like chef cantu has really upped his game since my last visit, ill have to try it again.


Glad you had a great time! Excellent report.

The menus at Californios are exciting every time. I love how they switch it up, and there’s a lot of creative energy there plus I always like the vibe. What’s next - Meadowood :grin:?


Californios is amazing! I went recently, well end of May, and had a very similar menu. Missed the Huarache dessert and the Esquites though. I had a version of the Esquites (my favorite dish of the night) on my first visit back in 2015, but it didn’t have the crickets. Newer version looks great.

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Wonderful @Chowseeker1999. I had an urge to lick my phone.

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Thanks @PorkyBelly. :slight_smile: Yah, definitely pleased with the interesting flavors and elevating of many familiar Mexican cuisine concepts but in a new light.

It really makes some of these newer “modern Mexican / alta cocina” type places we have in So Cal seem so disappointing (and laughable) by comparison (like Maestro and Verlaine, etc.).

Like Saison, I wish we had Californios in L.A. There is nothing like them in our city.


Hi @BradFord,

Thanks, and I have to thank you for the great rec! :wink:

Wow, it was such a great time and enjoyable food at Californios. Definitely deserving of their 1 Michelin Star. How often do they change up the menu?

Next? We’ll see. I have a huge list from you, @PorkyBelly @ipsedixit @robert and so many others to make my way through. We probably would’ve gone to Meadowood first if it were closer to SF. :wink:

Thank you for reporting back all the fine details!! Now you see (and totally get) why we like this place a lot.

This place truly shines compared to some of the other 1* places in town (and puts them to shame in comparison)…

I’m long overdue for a return visit too.

Great to hear you are having an great time up here so far, looking forward to where you are going to next!

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SF Michelin went on a generous spree in the last 2 years. Californios is one of the few that really deserves its rating; agreed. What shines at Californios to me has always been a certain smartness with ingredient pairings. I just wish they didn’t switch to TOCK. I really can’t stand TOCK but will make a few exceptions, Californios will continue to be one of them because I’m interested in what they’re doing each time.

I go once every several of months or so, my last visit was in March and before that maybe December? I’m due for a visit but the menus always have something new. The frijoles dish is a staple but it’s evolved - my favorite was when it was just with pickled shallots, and paired with a lacy beer; they key is the mouthfeel, levity, and contrast in the beans’ textures. I’ve had different permutations of most of the other dishes you’ve had. E.g. last year there was a “Cordero” bincho-tan roasted Spring lamb with yogurt and 3 chili mole, ramps charred in the coals, and green onion sourdough. Not too dissimilar to your lamb shoulder Birria, but a different effect, I’m sure. Abalone soup was with tomatillo broth, cilantro, castelveltrano olives, and chayote. The Hokkaido-gyu I had last time was carne asada with chive oil. A previous time had so-called “Swagyu” barbacoa with black garlic mole and spiced flavors of pineapple. I like the ceviche and/or aguachiles, too, always well thought-out ingredient wise. There’s a certainly levity and playfulness to the dishes and whole experience, but also very well-thought out progression of smart flavors.


Nice to see such a good review. Incredible job on getting shots with good lighting.

I am pretty sure I would pick this place as my Last Meal.

Saison is maybe technically “better” but only because they have such a huge budget to buy obscenely great ingredients; there is something more comforting and yet compellling in the crative and inspired cooking Cantu always displays, and it just hits the palate entirely right.

Saison has its own unique perspective (in part due to the hearth) that results in food that’s exciting and interesting for reasons more than just because they ingredients were very expensive. They can take something like a beet, some sungold tomatoes, a radish and butter, some Chinese broccoli, and make them magical dishes. Not just about their expensive ingredients or impressive supply chain. Both Californios and Saison are great, but they’re different restaurants for sure, with different strengths, and they satisfy in different ways. I’m happy that SF has both. In terms of high-end, they are my two favorite in SF proper.

The most technical restaurant in California is probably Benu. The dishes there by and large are completely beyond reproach from a technical aspect.

I never get good pictures at Californios!

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Yes, sorry, I don’t quite know how to say what I have in mind but I think Saison is able to put more effort time etc… into dishes and be even more ultra selective about high quality ingredients. That’s how they can make a dish that is almost literally a beet on a plate one of the most imaginative and utterly delicious things on the planet. There seems to be a reason other than hype that they cost 3x as much as Californios.

Also my top 2 places in SF if I had to pick btw. I just suppose most people would give the edge to Saison. They do have three times the Michelin Stars after all :stuck_out_tongue:

“Bulls blood” beet smoked over the fire for 3 days, reconstituted with bone marrow, pickled rose petal, aged vinegar, peach accents…eats like a steak, but I liked it with a nice riesling with some age.

Now I have had just some meiwa kumquats on ice, but that was an after-dinner palette cleanser.

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Yeah that’s what I mean though. All of that, including 3 dayside labor tending to the beet on the fire. It presents just like a simple beet that indeed eats like steak on the plate though.

Well perhaps I can ask you, why do you think Saison is so much more expensive than Californios ? Just Skenes name carries that much of a brand premium ?

Sorry, not to be dismissive, but I’d rather not discuss pricing here too much. This is a thread about Californios, and the concept of value is largely relative and subjective anyway, so it’s easy for these threads to get bogged down in parsing out the economics of it all. I think it might be more interesting if we share more pics and details of meals we liked at Californios.

I’m trying to dig up pictures of some past meals, but my lighting isn’t nearly as good as that of @Chowseeker1999. I find that I usually take 1 or 2 pictures at Californios, then say whatever this lighting isn’t going to work for me!


I have the same issue of pictures at Californios. I’ve been eating there since they opened. And to me there has been a clear progression in creativity and enhancement of flavors as their prices increased.
Not really a question of relative value. Chefs can just literally here more staff with more revenue… that’s an objective fact isn’t it?

I’ve actually been hoping Californios might raise prices again soon seeing how they have used the increased revenues from the past price hikes.

I’ve never questioned the value of the meal for the price.

But if you’ve also been eating there since they opened, you haven’t found this progression to be true?

I was going to comment on Chowseeker’s great photography and ask whether smartphone flash lighting assist was used for the photo taking. I have done this in the past at other places, though I worry sometimes it can be bothersome to nearby diners and either minimize or avoid it.

I did the wine/beverage pairing sometime last year and really enjoyed it. Mostly whites but very well thought out and far better interaction with the food than some of the other pairings in town (e.g. Quince’s beverage pairing, which did not impress me).

Benu, I actually very much enjoyed. Their signature items which are also often overhyped, were the least interesting to me. But kudos to master sommelier Yoon Ha for some very creative pairings (e.g. a very light bodied Pinot Noir with uni and fermented crab sauce, and a Niigata sake Kiminoi Yamahai Junmai Ginjo to go with some of the initial plates).

I have yet to encounter a wine pairing that tops Meadowood for SF Bay Area.

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Thanks @SFDiner! Glad you also liked Californios. I’m jealous you have such a great restaurant in your backyard and can go whenever. :wink:


Thanks. The next time you’re up in SF definitely consider this place and Saison.

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Hi @BradFord,

Wow, your menu from last visit sounds like it had quite a few different items (which is great).

Green Onion Sourdough sounds incredibly delicious! :slight_smile: