If any eatery can be considered the culinary soul of Alkali Flat, it’s 524, the 12th Street restaurant near F that has served tasty Mexican fare for four decades. The food hasn’t changed in the slightest over the years, although the restaurant has: It was damaged by fire and closed for several years – much to the sadness of the regulars — then finally reopened in 2007 in a completely remodeled setting. The wait seemed interminable for the restaurant’s fans, who cruised by on 12th looking hopefully for the opening.
The new 524 is more comfortable and spacious, the food is fine but here’s something that’s missing: the awning over the entrance.
The awning, which grew increasingly tattered over the years, was a magnet for diners, the iconic symbol of good eats. It was never replaced – there’s probably a city building code blocking it – but the impact of its absence is profound. That stretch of 12th Street is busy and nondescript, and the awning was a beacon for potential diners. The restaurant opened in 1969.
The rock-bottom prices have risen of late, but the food is still well worth it. Carne Asada, Chicana and Carnitas are about $12, a daunting platter of nachos is $9, and the a la carte side dishes are $3 to $4. The ground-beef and chicken tacos are perfect ($3.50 each, or $9 in a combination that includes rice, beans and salad). There’s the usual assortment of egg dishes – Huevos con Chorizo and Huevos Rancheros ($9) – but they also serve an enchilada with an egg on top with sauce, which we haven’t had elsewhere. The Chilaquiles – sliced tortillas covered with beans, sauce, egg – are tasty.
The guacamole appetizer is first-rate and plentiful, as is the albondigas (meatball soup), Mexican classic. I like the albondigas far more than the standard veggie-broth-pasta shell soup that reeks of health. When I eat at a Mexican restaurant, I don’t want to reek of health.
The 524 has a sister 524 restaurant on Northgate. But that restaurant moved further north to Northgate at I-80, and when we tried to locate it, we couldn’t even find it. We drove around Northgate for 15 minutes and couldn’t spot it. We finally gave up. Maybe this one needs an awning, too.
524 12th Street
Hours: 10AM – 9PM, Sun-Thurs
10AM – 10PM Friday, Saturday