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SF Chef

Thomas Pena of Regalito Rosticeria

Ask Chef Thomas Pena of Regalito Rosticeria about the changing state of the Mission and he’ll describe the two faces of his gentrifying neighborhood. There is the “Latin Mission” of 24th street, where Mexican families and businesses line along every block, and taquerias are as prolific as fixies. Then there is the “New Mission,” the neighborhood of 2010 on the brink of resurgence.

Thomas is part of both these worlds and Regalito (Spanish for “little gift”) wears both faces. Because a third of his customers are Latin, Thomas requires all staff to speak Spanish and pulls on traditional Mexican influences for the authentic cuisine. He conjures the forward-stepping “New Mission” with the clean, modern look of Regalito and a commitment to quality, sit-down Mexican food.

Although raised in San Jose, Pena experienced a childhood infused with Mexican flavors. He embraced the unconventional role of “Mexican boy in the kitchen,” watching his mother and grandmother chop, stew, and cook from the counter. Thomas pursued his passion at the California Culinary School, following up his studies at Il Fornaio. After running a catering business, he decided to open Regalito.

Regalito differentiates itself by serving Mexican food with more depth than your traditional burrito house. Thomas hopes Regalito transcends the idea that Mexican food stops at taquerias.

Regalito’s menu flexes to the seasons and tastes. It pays homage to local quality ingredients, with Niman Ranch meat, free-range Rocky Jr. chicken, handmade masa from local markets, La Palma and gelato from La Copa Loca. If you eat gluten-free, Regalito should be on your list, as only a couple dishes contain wheat.

Walk into the small green and yellow-walled space and smells beckon you to the counter, where you can watch the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Large metal pots bubble, meats sizzle, and tostadas fry on the griddle. For a more intimate meal, grab a table seat with bright, Mexican-inspired art from artist Julian Faulkner as your backdrop.

Chef Thomas Pena walked us through two delicious recipes, Regalito's Costilla de Puerco and Pozole dishes. Visit the link for details:

Inner Mission
Reservations necessary? No