26-year old chef and restaurant owner Juve Carrillo grew up in the Yucatan, where from an early age he learned to cook the Mayan-inflected cuisine of his home country. When he began working in San Francisco, however, it was for an Italian restaurant, the well-regarded Bella Trattoria in the Richmond district.

After spending nearly nine years there, this Summer he left to open his first restaurant, Panuchos, with partner Morgan Anderson. At his location on Broadway in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach, he prepares the recipes his father taught him and his brother back in their hometown of Dzan (pronounced t-zom), where the men would take over the kitchen every Sunday to prepare traditional meals.

taco at Panuchos

A Poc Chuc Taco At Panuchos

Once you look past the humble setting, Panuchos rates with the very best Mexican in San Francisco. Click to Tweet

Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to sample most of their fare, and I’ll say it:  once you look past the humble setting, the Yucatecan food at Panuchos rates with the very best Mexican in San Francisco. Why? Because Carrillo is not only a gifted chef, he has recruited an all-star team for his busy little kitchen. Roger Manuel Ayala works with Carrillo to perfect their stellar lineup of salsas; Victor Navarette is his second in command; Jose Antonio does a little bit of everything. They are all from the state of Yucatan with the exception of Renaldo Muñoz, who hails from Mexico City (naturally, he’s the one responsible for their impeccable al Pastor).

Panuchos just introduced a revamped menu, and for a restaurant that is only four months old, they are hitting all the right notes. I recently had the chance to speak with Carrillo about the place, and asked him what it was that drove him to create this unique restaurant.

“I was tired of working for someone else,” he told me. “I was running an Italian restaurant, but I felt I had an opportunity to do something with my  food, my  culture. My friends would always tell me I should, and that gave me the confidence to finally do it.”

And do it he did: Carrillo came up with the most authentic Yucatecan menu in San Francisco, and put it smack dab in the middle of a Mexican food desert. And he’s getting ready to do it again: his new spot Los Mayas at 4th and Clement Streets in San Francisco’s Richmond district seats 48 diners, and is due to open in early January.


A Colorful Platter Of Fresh Panuchos

In the meanwhile, we can enjoy the North Beach location (on Broadway, right next door to the venerated Sam’s Burgers). Don’t miss the empanadas, which are made to order, and truly superb. And you have to try their namesake item: the panucho. These are what tacos were before tacos existed, the tacos that the Mayans ate hundreds of years ago (no, I’m not making this up): a handful of fresh corn masa is grilled, pinched around the edges so that it puffs up slightly, then carefully sliced open, stuffed with refried black beans and fried. The crunchy result is topped with whatever you like, and folded and eaten like a taco. Truly, words fail: just go eat it.

Their lineup of meats is impressive: cochinita pibil (stewed pork), poc chuc (beer-marinated pork), carne asada, chili verde, al pastor, and mole all grace the regular menu. If you’re skipping the meat, you’re not out of luck either: there’s fish of the day, shrimp, tofu achiote and grilled vegetables to choose from. They’ve also got the best breakfast burrito anywhere, and the other day I had something I thought I’d never try: let me tell you, turkey tacos are the business.

cochinita pibil Panuchos

The Cochinita Pibil Taco At Panuchos

They have specials of this sort every day, and true to form, they’ve got the offal hardcore Mexican fans search for: cabeza (beef head), lengua (tongue) and tripa (intestine) all make appearances at Panuchos. And if you’re a burrito lover, get ready for a doozy. It really doesn’t matter what you choose for your filling, just go with the cilantro rice and black beans, and you’re in for one of SF’s finest food tube experiences.

I’m always curious about chefs’ eating habits, so I asked Carrillo: What is your favorite comfort food? “To be honest with you, panuchos,” he says with a grin. “I can eat tacos and panuchos every day.” Ok, good answer. But where does he go when he wants to mix things up? “Since I moved to San Francisco, I really love the Asian food,” he says. “And if you want a good ceviche, go to La Mar. I like Chapeau for French food.” He also can’t help but give a shoutout to his old casa: “Plus, I still like Bella a lot,” he says with a serious face. “The food is really good.”

I can’t vouch for Bella, but I can tell you this: Panuchos is one of the top five Mexican restaurants in San Francisco, and pretty soon everyone will know it. While you can still just walk in, head over to see Juve and the guys, and tell them Joe Content sent you.  Buen provecho!