Friday, September 26, 2014

Gluten Free Review: Pica Pica Maize Kitchen in San Francisco -- Must Do for Celiacs

I find it difficult to travel, thanks to my debilitating celiac disease. The last thing I want to happen is to be in a strange city and suddenly black out and go into painful convulsions because I got contaminated by gluten. Recently, I traveled to San Francisco for a friend's wedding (which, p.s., was full of gluten free options and amazing, so thanks for that, Pat and Molly). I knew that I needed to do a ton of research on gluten free options before I left.

Most people have said to me "why would you need to do that? It's San Francisco, the land of gluten free trendiness!" Yes, this is true. However, because most places are catering to those who are gluten free out of sensitivity or trendy fad diet, they're not equipped or trained in dealing with severe allergies or celiac disease. This makes me very nervous when traveling -- it's a scary prospect to go to a restaurant that assures you it can handle gluten free but doesn't wash the pans or change their gloves. So I needed to make sure that I was safe.

I discovered that there was a restaurant that didn't even have regular flour or wheat in its kitchen -- Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, located in the Mission district. An authentic Venezuelan restaurant, it keeps only masa and corn flour on hand. The restaurant is completely gluten free, though not for the sake of celiacs. It does it for the sake of authenticity, which means the chefs are really intent on making sure the food is delicious. And they achieve this.

We went straight to Pica Pica from the airport, and we were on a plane for 7 hours, so we were starving. They had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and I was intent on trying it. I also love Venezuelan food, as does my husband, so we knew this was a must-do while in San Francisco.

The menu is cheap, and the portions are big. This is the kind of place where you order at the counter, then they bring it to you, so it can be hard to get a table. Over the course of three days, we went back twice and tried everything on their menu.

My favorite was the pulled pork pernil on the white arepa. It had this spicy aioli that burned just right, plus very tender pulled pork. They also had extra sauce in squeeze bottles at the table, in case you wanted more sauce love. The arepas are freshly made, so they crumbled perfectly and also held up to the filling. Most arepas I've had have been fork dishes, but this was something you could pick up with your hands and eat.

The cachapas and sweet yellow arepas had the perfect balance of sweetness without being cloying. We had the beef pabillon cachapa and it was the perfect vehicle for the shredded beef and queso fresco. Everything else was just perfect -- the yucca fries, the nachos, the desserts (beignets!!). Look at this photo! Yes, this is professional photography from the restaurant, but it really did look like that when it arrived at our table.

Like I said, we went back twice. We tried everything and were blown away by the quality of the food and the prices. If you are in the San Francisco area and need a place to eat, run, don't walk, here. This is not just for celiacs -- this goes for anyone who just likes delicious food.

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