The real ‘Mexican pizza’ is in the heart of the Mission

Nothing gets people excited like Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza. In April, fast-food chain Tex-Mex announced the item would return for a brief period after a two-year hiatus from the menu. But the company, which is owned by Yum! Brands, lacked a coveted snack just weeks after returning.

SFGATE’s Joshua Bote wrote a love letter to what he considered “Taco Bell’s best item,” which basically consists of beans mixed with ground meat layered between two tostada shells, then topped with melted cheese and cut into four sections, making it more of a pizza-sandwich combination. There’s even an FAQ page on Taco Bell’s website dedicated to educating the public on all things Mexican pizza. Much to the delight of all Taco Bell stans, the late-night snack is set to return to the menu permanently on September 15, 2022.

But there’s a better “Mexican pizza” right here in San Francisco’s Mission District: the Oaxacan specialty known as tlayuda. It can be found in some of the restaurants in Oaxaca throughout the city. The version in La Oaxaqueña at 2128 Mission St., however, holds a special place in my heart, like a first love, as it was my first time tasting a “Mexican pizza.”

La Oaxaqueña, on Mission Street, in San Francisco.


Charles Russo
A view through the entrance to La Oaxaqueña, on Mission Street, in San Francisco.

A view through the entrance to La Oaxaqueña, on Mission Street, in San Francisco.


Charles Russo
A bright interior view of La Oaxaqueña on Mission Street in San Francisco.

A bright interior view of La Oaxaqueña on Mission Street in San Francisco.


Charles Russo
The sign in front of La Oaxaqueña on Mission Street in San Francisco.

The sign in front of La Oaxaqueña on Mission Street in San Francisco.


Charles Russo


(Charles Russo/SFGATE)


In the winter of 2013, I was in the Valencia Street hallway, most likely in the Elbo room, with friends visiting the house one last time as the final semesters of college approached. We desperately needed some good food to sober us up when we came across La Oaxaqueña. My first instinct was to order tacos or a burrito, but the “tlayuda” on the menu caught my eye. The cashier described it as a large tostada and it immediately reminded me of my mother’s tostada, one of her specialties.

The cashier underestimated exactly his height. To my surprise, the tlayuda was gargantuan. The edges of the circular, flat, thin, crispy masa shell spilled over the edges of an extra-large white plate. A smooth layer of refried pinto beans covered the entire shell of the tlayuda. Shredded green lettuce, milky white Oaxacan quesillo, sliced ​​avocado and chicken in a sour red chipotle sauce topped the giant edible disc. I was so mesmerized by the tlayuda that I neglected to share it with my two buddies.

SFGATE reporter Nico Madrigal-Yankowski searches through a tlayuda from La Oaxaqueña, at the Mission, Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

SFGATE reporter Nico Madrigal-Yankowski searches through a tlayuda from La Oaxaqueña, at the Mission, Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

Charles Russo

In the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, the tlayuda is usually found on the street. At night, vendors pitch their tents and heat their comals, hand-shaping the tlayuda shells, which are made with higher-starch corn so they can stretch wider than a corn tortilla. ordinary. A clay comal is used, specifically to extract all the moisture from the masa while bringing it to a masterful state of crunch but stiffness – strong enough to hold all the ingredients without breaking. As famous Los Angeles food writer and Mexican food historian Bill Esparza has said, tlayuda “is a symbol of Oaxacan culture.”

On a recent return to La Oaxaqueña, and my first time since that fateful night of mate neglect and tlayuda worship, the restaurant was exactly as I remembered: a narrow, but cavernous space with a high ceiling, yellow walls edged in red and adorned with paintings. of a woman in a floral dress offering food on a platter and another commemorating the day the Mexican army defeated France in what became the Battle of Puebla (also known as Cinco de Mayo ). I ordered the exact same thing I ordered eight or nine years ago, so I could try and relive one of my most treasured food memories.

SFGATE reporter Nico Madrigal-Yankowski searches through a tlayuda from La Oaxaqueña, at the Mission, Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

SFGATE reporter Nico Madrigal-Yankowski searches through a tlayuda from La Oaxaqueña, at the Mission, Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

Charles Russo

Much to my delight, the recall powers brought me back to my very first bite of tlayuda; this second first bite was a close rejoinder. It was just as I remembered it: the warm plating of velvety brown beans was offset by the crisp, moist lettuce; the stringy, creamy specialty cheese from Oaxaca balanced out the spiciness of the orange-red sauce that smothered the pulled chicken meat. Of course, the firm and crisp shell withstood the pressure of a professional photographer taking pictures and didn’t break for the camera. It’s all in the workday of the emblem of Oaxacan cuisine.

On La Oaxaqueña’s own website, it says, “Think of it like a Mexican pizza.” But don’t distort it. (How could you? All the masa water evaporated, leaving her adamant). A tlayuda is not a “Mexican pizza”. He is a tlayuda and should be respected as such. Alternatively, this symbol of Oaxacan culture can be erased by changing its name to something more familiar, something more Americanized.

So many of the best things I’ve ever eaten weren’t whitewashed, and they helped shape my worldview. History and culture shine in the kitchens. One can perhaps begin to understand the story of diaspora, migration, amalgamation, colonization and the atrocity that shaped a place and its people into what it is today. . The tlayuda is no exception.

La Oaxaqueña staff members, from left: owner Alfredo Ramos, chain cook Roxana Chicas and chef Harry Persaud, pictured inside their restaurant on Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

La Oaxaqueña staff members, from left: owner Alfredo Ramos, chain cook Roxana Chicas and chef Harry Persaud, pictured inside their restaurant on Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

Charles Russo

Taco Bell lovers can have their Mexican pizza. There’s no shame in that. I’ll be in La Oaxaqueña, though, devouring a tlayuda.

La Oaxaqueña, 2128 Mission St., San Francisco. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.