On El Camino and 17th Ave in San Mateo is a gigantic Safeway with a Starbucks just across the street - two ubiquitous establishments that you'll find on the corner of Anytown, USA. What's behind that Safeway is much more interesting, however. If you turn on to 17th, go past the Safeway, and hang a quick left on Palm Ave, there's a hidden gem lurking behind the supermarket that is completely off the beaten path. El Sinaloense is the Mexican restaurant you've been dreaming of, but never found because you couldn't actually see it behind all that corporate advertising. It's in a completely bizarre part of town that few locals ever frequent - a forgotten pocket off of El Camino that existed in San Mateo's former life.
As you can see from the painting above, Sinaloan cuisine is married to the sea. Located just under the state of Sonora, Sinaloa is a northernly province that lies along the Pacific Ocean with comida that focuses on fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, and oysters. El Sinaloense operates very much in that tradition. You can get a quick burrito, some tacos, or a plate of tomales if you want, but you'd be missing out on what this restaurant does best. Unless, of course, you get the machaca.
Machaca is a finely shredded (and often dried and sold in plastic bags) type of beef that is rehydrated when its cooked with vegetables and oil. It is also known as carne seca and is a specialty of northern Mexico, just like flour tortillas. Because I'm married to a Sonoran, I've learned that flour tortillas, while very popular in American burrito culture, are not the norm in most of Mexico. My father-in-law, who is from Colima, had to emigrate to the U.S. before he ever tasted a tortilla de harina. Only Sonora and Sinaloa use flour, whereas the rest of the south uses corn. Luckily, the guy who makes the flour tortillas at El Sinaloense is actually Sonoran, so you get the real deal when you eat here. The machaca is not nearly as fine as some of the dried specimen I've had in the past (which have been like hair), so don't worry about getting something totally foreign. My wife stuck with the Sinaloan tradition and got the Mazatlan: a giant plate of seafood sauteed with spices that you scoop up with the flour tortillas. Amazing stuff. I could have eaten both plates myself.
There's a decent amount of good tequila at El Sinaloense including Sinaloa's own Los Osuna, which we carry at K&L. There are some great beer cocktails as well like the Cerveza Preparada: beer with shrimp juice on the rocks with lime! You can drink well while you eat, no doubt.
The Michelada is the way to go, however. A bottle of beer (your choice - I did Dos Equis) with tomato juice, spicy seasoning and lime. Deeeeeeeeelicious!
The salsa and chips at El Sinaloense are super dangerous as well. The roasted flavor of the tomatoes has a very home-made character that makes you feel like you're in someone's living room rather than a restaurant. Overall, this place is one of the best Mexican restaurants I've ever eaten at in the Bay Area. Granted, I've only ever had two dishes from the menu, but I would come back over and over again to eat those two things - and drink five more Micheladas. Most dinner options are in the $15 to $20 range, which means two can eat well for about $50.
More adventure awaits off the El Camino strip! Seek this place out.