Restaurant Review: Pena Pachamama, San Francisco, CA

Peña Pachamama -- gluten free raw eats and treats; vegan live-raw Bolivian fare

In San Francisco, the air is wicked warm compared to the Northeast, the streets are steep, as are the prices, and the eateries are strewn with "GF" markers -- sometimes celiac-safe, sometimes bandwagon-fad-only. But the famous Bolivian bungalow on Powell Street, a favourite of Robin Williams, Pena Pachamana is no fad. This family-owned restaurant, dim-lit and featuring flamenco and live-music daily for special dinner shows, also serves a fully gluten-free menu -- and its owners take food and the enjoyment and safety of their diners personally.

I love Peña Pachamama, and my visit this last January only highlighted its strengths.

The spot serves all organic fare, altogther gluten free (except for small traditonal salteña cakes brought in, segregated in the kitchen, and served with one sampler plate on request). Also vegan -- which while no necessity for the sensitive celiac crowd -- Pena makes wicked good traditional Bolivian fare, with some raw Italian offerings as well. (The Raw Ravioli and Marinara-Topped Zucchini Spaghetti is quirky and fresh, with a creamy-sweet cashew ricotta.)

When I travel, I plan to eat canned tuna and canned beans, assorted vegetables and crisps. It is the budget-kind option, the safe option, and not at all painful when one has access to plastic flatware, a microwave or a stove. (As you can see -- it looks like a prince's platter.)

But to be able to eat out safely? Pena makes it possible in SF.

If you drop in, celiac, vegan, or a mixture of the two, know that you'll be served well, eat well, and leave without a belly-ache.

If you're looking for a highlight on the menu, I can't pinpoint one in particular off the general dinner variety. Our work cohort ordered the Cashew-Cheese Pizza, both the Raw and Cooked Sampler (great fare, plantain chips, potato crisps, lentil dip, macarons, salads, tacos...), Lasagna (cooked), Ravioli/Spaghetti (raw), and the Veggie Burger.

But dessert! Highlight of highlights: Brownies, Dairy-Free/Gluten-Free Ice Cream, Coconut Creme Pie, Cheese Cake...Cacao Taco Crepes. Oy. As a kid with celiac, the dessert menu is a moment to pull out the ancient meme: EAT ALLZ THE DESSERTS.

....which we almost did.

I appreciate deeply the care of the chef, the quantity and quality of the food  (could use a bit more protein...), the ambience, and the variety. My only distress was the pricing. But then, this is San Francisco: prices and streets are steep.

Tumbling Free,


At least Pena gives one a good amount, a brilliant level of quality, and a safe dedicated kitchen prepped meal for the price tag.


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