No. 76: Chicken Pepian at San Miguel

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Jonathan Kauffman
San Miguel Restaurant's pepian.
SFoodie's countdown of the 92 best things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.
Dishes labeled "pipian/pepian" usually indicates a stew flavored with ground pumpkin seeds, but the pepian at San Miguel Restaurant in the Outer Mission is nothing like the nutty, spicy moles many Mexican restaurants serve. Its Guatemalan pepian is thinner and more subtle, a stew that soothes without lulling the eater to sleep.

If you're entering San Miguel for the first time, you're likely to kick yourself for not knowing the place was so freakin' adorable? The exterior doesn't even hint at the bright yellow walls, the strings of toys and miniature sombreros that hang from the ceiling, nor the broad smile of Juana Gomez, who has run this restaurant with husband Justiniano and her children since 1994.

"My mom learned the recipe from her mom," the couple's son, Justin, told SFoodie when we called the restaurant to ask about the dish. "Her mom had a comedor in Guatemala. Our style of pepian is the version from a northern region of Guatemala called San Marcos." He says the stew is made with pumpkin seeds and another seed called aruwashte, which neither he nor Google can translate.

Large pieces of braised chicken float in the pepian, as well as carrots, potatoes, and chayote, each simmered just until the crispness fades. A tuft of cilantro leaves floats on top of the bowl, the herb's floral scent melting into the steam. A high stack of fresh tortillas shrinks as it is used to scoop up shreds of meat and vegetables and soak up the liquid. And the flavor of the pepian is deep and gentle, not so much toasty as rich, bolstered by bay leaves and peppercorns. It's not a bowl you can leave easily, either in body or spirit.

San Miguel Restaurant: 3263 Mission (at 29th St.), 641-5866.

Dishes in our series so far:
92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tart
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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