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Michelin Bib Gourmand Mexican Restaurant Flores Opens in San Mateo

Mercury News

December 6, 2023

Hankering for handmade-masa tacos and Old Fashioned cocktails with a carnitas-fat wash? Then head to San Mateo’s new Mexican joint Flores, an expanding Bay Area restaurant chain whose San Francisco location has a Michelin Bib Gourmand award.

This newest iteration of Flores opens Dec. 8 in the Hillsdale Shopping Center. It’s the second Flores to debut in recent months, with another having opened in Emeryville in November, and marks the fourth location of the business (another is in Corte Madera).

Flores specializes in casual but elevated hyperlocal Mexican cuisine – it features dishes from many states of the country that emphasize punchy flavor and lesser-known ingredients. Dishes on the smaller side include sikil pak (Mayan pumpkin-seed hummus with jicama), quesadilla de hongos with sauteed mushrooms and Oaxaca cheese and ceviche mixto campechano with burnt-tomato aguachile, corn fritters and ono (a fish popular in Hawaii that also goes by the name of Wahoo – exclamation mark optional). All the masa in these dishes is made by hand, of course.

On the heartier side of the menu are bowls and tacos with fillings like slow-roasted carnitas, carne asada, pollo adobo and a vegetarian melange with oyster mushrooms and kale. There are a couple of salads with the meat addition of your choice (one with an interesting-sounding epazote dressing) and pozole verde, the zingy yet comforting tomatillo soup with chicken and hominy. A mole negro is made with a braised leg of chicken and cacao nuts and chili, and “platos fuertes” that are meant for sharing include a whole grilled branzino with ayocote beans and salsa macha and a 2-pound ribeye adobado with creamy roasted poblanos and crisped potatoes.

San Mateo is the largest of Flores’ locations, with seating for more than 250 diners indoors and out and a bar that runs the length of the restaurant. At that bar, you can get a simple margarita (or a pitcher) or something more intricate like a Sueno Tropical with jalapeno-infused tequila or a Mariachi Old Fashioned with agave and a carnitas-fat wash. The ample beverage list has small-batch mezcals as well as wines and beers from biodynamic producers in Mexico and South America.

Adriano Paganini, the CEO of Back of the House, the restaurant group that owns Flores, said in a statement that the time was ripe to expand to the “suburbs,” which, in case you’re wondering, includes the 100,000-plus population city of San Mateo.

“As more people have moved out of the city in the past few years, we’ve been seeing a desire for more city-like experiences in the suburbs,” said Paganini. “Previously, we thought a more authentic and esoteric restaurant concept like Flores would only work in San Francisco, but we are willing to take a chance and bet that communities like San Mateo are ready for something new.”

At Hillsdale, the restaurant takes over the large space that formerly housed Belcampo.

Details: Open 11 a.m-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday at the Hillsdale Shopping Center at 60 31st Ave., San Mateo; floressf.com

John Metcalfe, the Mercury News