Taking Leland Wong's tip about the roast pork at Mariposa Cafeteria off of Third Street, I decided to venture on over there today to see what all the fuss is about.
Waiting for the number 15 bus was somewhat of a challenge since it doesn't run that often on weekends and it was frickin' cold outside.
Cold? Yes, cold.
You have to know something about San Francisco and San Franciscans. We don't do under 50 or over 90.
In fact, we don't even do sunlight all that well either. Show me a San Franciscan who does and I'll show you a drifter or, at the very least, an absentee voter.
I live in San Francisco precisely because I grew up in the moutains of North Carolina, where it would snow every year, and then moved down to Florida, where it was so hot I often received 2nd degree burns on the palms of my hands just by touching the steering wheel of my 1970 Super Beetle.
So get away from me with all of these extreme temperatures already!
The number 15 bus is, other than the 14, perhaps the most racially diverse, predominantly lower working class bus in the city. The riders consist of those historically pushed out of the downtown, by race and class, and those who are new arrivals from Asia and Latin America, all headed towards the areas of the city known as Dogpatch, Hunters Point, and the Bayview.
As the bus speeds down the long and lonely stretch of Third Street just after crossing Mission Bay, one actually feels if one is being transferred out of San Francisco and into the ghetto. Of course, all of that is about to change with the construction of the new UCSF campus, the Third Street lightrail, and the development of the China Basin area. But as it currently is, there remains very little, other than industrial warehouses and the small neighborhood of Dogpatch, in between the projects of the Bayview and the baseball park.
There is, however, the Mariposa Cafeteria.
Had Leland not of told me about it, I could've passed it by for years and never known it existed. While it is officially on Tennessee Street, just past 25th and off of Third, it seems to sit in the middle of one huge industrial warehouse district. In fact, this place seems to never have existed as a neighborhood nor a destination restaurant. This place obviously exists to feed hungry dock loaders, truck drivers, machinists, and industrial supply sales reps.
Though you wouldn't know it from the outside, this dive is a Chinese restaurant.
To figure that out, one first has to walk through the front doors which lead into a sparse "dining room" strung about with rickety old tables and plastic/metal chairs that are falling apart. Actually, you have yet to enter the main dining room which, to do so, you first must walk further in and around a wall, whereupon you see a typical cafeteria steam table.
On the right side of the room is a chalkboard with the daily specials. Hum, let's see. For Monday, the special is roast pork. Tuesday, roast pork. Wednesday oxtail or roast pork. Thursday and Friday, fried chicken...just kidding! It's roast pork!
I didn't bother looking at any of the other items on the menu, though I probably should have. Still, if someone mentions that the restaurant is known for a certain dish, chances are I'll go for that and try other things later. It's in this one respect that I am a diehard conformist; in other words, I swear by what's popular.
As it was, I did get the roast pork plate, which is a large mound of white rice, a pile of cooked lettuce that is topped with the roasted pork and, if you like, gravy, which I do.
Oh man! I could just tell this was going to be hearty. For $7.75 it wasn't dirt cheap, but it was also enough food for two! In fact, being the big boy that I am, I almost never walk away from a plate with food still on it, but this really was just too much food.
Let's talk about the pork. It was hot and freshly roasted. Tender and perfectly cooked until it was just slightly underdone. It was moist and had a rich meaty flavor. There was just enough fat to get your chewy fat thing on, but not so much that it made you sick. There was no gristle or bone. It was a bit salty, but the plain rice and gravy balanced it out.
The roast pork at Mariposa Cafeteria went beyond being mere roast pork and reach upwards to the hallowed halls of Southern barbecue. In fact, I dare say that this pork could beat the barbecued pork found at many notable Bay Area BBQ joints.
The gravy covering the pork wasn't necessary, although it did go well on top of the rice. And I really like the hot, cooked lettuce they bury underneath the pork since it gives you that mandatory vegetable requirement.
This is dive food at it's finest. And let's not kid ourselves, Mariposa Cafeteria is 100 percent, pure-bred dive. How do I know other than the fact that everything about the looks, the location, the patrons (haggard old men, lonely workers, and the occasional large family with screaming kids running around), and the service screams dive? Uh, let's talk bathrooms.
Just as I was about to finish up and leave, I decided to step into the restroom for a quick "number 1". After flipping on the light, I was hit (beaten, more like it) by a large, vile, and most rank bathroom odor, so much so I literally began dry-heaving right on the spot. After my eyes stopped tearing up and I was able to hold my nose with one hand while desperately trying to breath through my mouth, I took care of business (though not very well, and yes, I know that's too much information but I'm trying to convey something here).
I noticed on the wall besides the toilet….
mmmwaa....mmwaaa.....(cough).....(sniffle)...."breathe Kevin, breathe".
….anyway, I noticed this amusing graffiti.
Not white power, not black power - barely even Mexican or flower power - but God's Power.
Can I get an amen?
Oh, God, please give me the power to finish my business without losing my lunch.
As I finished up, I grabbed my coat and took one last picture of the sleepy cafeteria lady who was ready to close up at 2 PM.
This actually caused a little bit of a stir since the flash accidentally went off (I always try to keep it off so as not to draw attention) and left me with several nasty and confused looks from both them and the table of young Chinese dudes sitting next to me.
The thing about taking pictures of food and the insides of dives is that a.) people don't understand why you're taking pictures of the food and b.) of the restaurant and c.) don't like it because d.) are you a health inspector or e.) here to cause trouble or f.) what exactly is your problem?
Would they believe me if I told them this was all for you, dear reader? Probably not.
Because I've experienced this before, I usually try to save my pictures for last and in the case of the food, I try to be as sly as possible (often I sit with my back facing the staff and other customers).
But sometimes you've just got to be bold, and that goes beyond simply walking into the bathroom.
Open 10 am to 2 PM on Saturdays
Other times I'm not sure.