These days Tijuana food culture is sweeping across the Bay Area. First, Instagram street-food hype beasts became obsessed with the consomé-dipped tacos known as quesabirria, which spread from Tijuana by way of LA, propelling several pop-ups and food trucks to tremendous success. Then the East Bay got a taste of Tijuana’s other best-known taco style — featuring the holy trinity of handmade tortillas, flame-grilled meats, and guacamole — courtesy of a buzzy new taqueria in Richmond.
Now, a new restaurant and brewpub in the Mission is introducing San Franciscans to a more playful, contemporary side of Tijuana cuisine. Open for three weeks at 2243 Mission Street, Lupulandia is an offshoot of a brewery-restaurant in Tijuana called Tras/Horizonte, both businesses co-owned by Mission resident Anthony LaVia in partnership with Oso and Pablo Campos, the two brothers behind Tijuana’s popular Kokopelli taco chain. (LaVia’s wife, Marisol Gonzalez, is also a partner on Lupulandia.)
Oso is the chef who designed most of Lupulandia’s menu, a wild mishmash of thoroughly modern, hybridized dishes that lean into Tijuana’s status as a border city — crispy menudo tacos, fried chicken and churros, and even a nod to San Francisco’s iconic sourdough bread bowl chowder.
The overall inspiration is the term “pocho,” which LaVia explains is a term used, often as an insult, to describe a Mexican person who has been Americanized. Because of Tijuana’s physical proximity to the US border, Mexican culture and American culture have always intermingled there, LaVia says — and that gets reflected in the food as well. He calls the approach, “Spanglish if it was a cuisine.” “In Tijuana there’s all this cross-border mixing up,” he says. “No one there is scared to try something new.”
Lupulandia’s food menu takes that cross-border approach and gives it several San Francisco–specific twists. There is, for instance, a grilled cheese sandwich made with San Francisco sourdough, but with the addition of pickled chiles and a kind of cheese crisp they make called mala costra. There’s smoky, spicy fried chicken that’s paired with churros instead of waffles. There’s slow-simmered tripe that’s served inside a crispy fried tortilla — menudo in taco form, basically, with the soup on the side for dipping.
Perhaps the kitchen’s most ingenious creation is one LaVia says was inspired by a trip the Campos brothers took to Fisherman’s Wharf, where they joined all of the other tourists lining up for clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. Lupulandia’s variation on that theme features the same bread bowl, only with a chile-infused tuna chowder. “Oh God, it’s fucking delicious,” LaVia says.
In general, the restaurant places a larger emphasis on seafood than most Mexican restaurants in San Francisco. Another featured item is the Kraken, a braised octopus taco that is probably the most popular dish at Kokopelli and Tras/Horizonte, down in Tijuana. On the drinks side, LaVia says they’re hoping to start serving cevicheladas — essentially a michelada with ceviche added to it.
Since it’s also a brewery, Lupulandia serves several of its own beers on tap. There isn’t necessarily a distinct “Tijuana style,” as far as beer goes, LaVia says, but the brewpub still pours a number of distinctive offerings — a brown lager that’s equivalent to a more flavorful, “craft” version of a Negra Modelo; an India pale lager; and a sour blonde that LaVia says is especially good in cocktails and micheladas.
As for those cult favorite Tijuana-style quesabirria tacos? LaVia says he plans to serve them too — but perhaps only as an occasional Sunday brunch special.
Lupulandia is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. until at least midnight every night, and until 2 a.m. on Thursday–Saturday.