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Elena’s San Francisco Restaurant

A new restaurant in San Francisco, brought to you by the Duggan family, the third-generation co-owners behind North Beach’s 1937 Italian-American restaurant Original Joe’s, is now open in West Portal. Elena’s, named after Elena Duggan, opened its doors in February and serves fresh Mexican-American dishes paying homage to her family and their favorite elements of authentic Mexican food.

The concept, inspired by her two oldest daughters and their time spent in Mexico, is an elevated and modern take on a family-style sit-down Mexican restaurant with a California flair. A large, open-air and brightly lit bar for a date, a celebration or for a night of light-hearted fun is what diners can expect at Elena’s. Through floor-to-ceiling glass panels, passersby can see dozens of families and couples in booths and tables enjoy their meals together without a worry, simply basking in the joy with those who they’re breaking bread with.

The team’s attention to detail in the layout, decor, glass and flatware, service and, most importantly, the food and drink focuses on the welcoming, vivacious, flavorful styles of authentic Mexican culture and cuisine.

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The Food

The menu, abundant as one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, is filled with all the traditional plates you would imagine: chile relleno, pozole, house-made tamales, ceviche, empanadas and more.

For starters, don’t pass on the salsa; it will set the tone of the evening. It’s a perfect blend that’s not too spicy but sharp in its zest and has a kick of salt and herbs that make its taste unique. Nothing is basic about the guacamole on the menu. It’s the most ordered appetizer, but this one is not because it’s a habit for people to order one for the table. This mountain of fresh guacamole, with fresh cotija cheese layered like freshly powdered show, is fantastic. The empanadas and shrimp appetizers are also classics recommended by staff. They note that the coctel de camarones, served with diced shrimp, avocado, cucumber, white onion, cilantro and cocktail sauce, is underrated because it’s a classic dish. Don’t skimp on the shrimp.

For a full plate, the fajitas, offered with your choice of chicken, skirt steak carne asada or sauteed shrimp, come sizzling with sautéed peppers and onions with your choice of protein. The dish is served with rice, refried pinto beans, salsa, sour cream, choice of corn or flour tortillas. The slow-braised carnitas are nothing but flavorful with citrus-marinated slow-cooked pork shoulder, served with rice, refried pinto beans, avocado salsa, choice of corn or flour tortillas.

If you’re trying to decide what to get, the two- or three-item combination platter comes at high recommendation from Elena’s servers. Served with rice and refried pinto beans, you choose between enchiladas (shredded beef, shredded chicken, classic cheese or Dungeness crab), a crispy taco (ground beef or shredded chicken), chile relleno or the house-made tamale (in pork or rajas).

(When you’re visiting, take note of the table. Missing anything? No salt or pepper shakers. Chef’s view is that the foods are seasoned so well that there is no need to have salt on the table.)

There is no doubt that you will assume you’ll be too full for dessert with these hearty plates, but when visiting Elena’s there has to be an agreement that you try at least one of the desserts. One cannot go wrong with the classic warm house-made churros with a sugar layer so thick each bite will be crisp from the cinnamon sugar alone. A similar sentiment applies to the tres leches sponge cake and cafe de olla cheesecake made with Zanze’s Mexican spiced coffee sprinkled with chocolate shavings.

However, like its sister restaurant Original Joe’s, known for a classic dessert, newly opened Elena’s is already known for its Carlota de Limon Mexican icebox cake with galletas Maria and lime cream. The best way to describe this multi-layered chilled key-lime-pie-like layered cake? To die for.

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The Drinks

Elena’s has a robust selection at its bar, open for any type of occasion and level of alcohol preference including a selection of tequilas and mezcals, house-made margaritas, classic cocktails with a Mexican-inspired twist, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages such as agua frescas and horchata.

Elena’s margarita is made with Cimarron Blanco Tequila or Unión Mezcal, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, fresh lime and agave. It’s a fresh and crisp refreshing way to start your meal, also offered with a skinny option. A refreshing frozen Aperol margarita is also in order, blended with Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila, Aperol, Giffard triple sec, Greenbar Hibiscus Liqueur, fresh lime, agave and orange. Special mentions include the sweet coconut margarita and Oaxacan Old Fashioned for those wanting to sip on something more on the smoky side.

Elena Duggan leaves her legacy in San Francisco with her namesake restaurant and the recipes and culture it is bringing to the Bay for generations to come.

Elena’s is open Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For more information about Elena’s, visit www.elenasmexican.com.

255 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94127

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