San Francisco prides itself on its Mexican food, so when chef Gabriela Cámara moved from Mexico City to open Cala in 2015, it was both a show of confidence and a nod of respect. The celebrated chef behind Mexico City’s legendary Contramar, Cámara opened her first American restaurant in a warehouse-like former sound studio just off the main commercial thoroughfare in Hayes Valley. The restaurant’s abundant greenery—creeping kangaroo vines and a statuesque fiddle-leaf fig tree—makes guests feel as if they are dining on a patio somewhere decidedly more tropical than San Francisco. Cámara’s food uses ingredients familiar to Mexican food devotees, but she prepares them in unexpected ways, to extraordinary results. She serves a whole fire-roasted sweet potato, for example, with a stack of warm, house-made tortillas and a scoop of salsa negra—an extra-rich mole infused with bone marrow. Pro tip: Do not miss the trout tostadas with chipotle, avocado, and fried leeks. One order probably won’t be enough, so put in for two as soon as you sit down.

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