La Mar just may be one of the best GF destinations I’ve discovered in SF thus far. With loads of fresh fish and veggie-heavy dishes, La Mar doesn’t have to try hard at all to be an instant NOBREAD best friend. Even if the food here wasn’t good, I’d probably come back anyway for the views and atmosphere alone. But quite the contrary, this is one of those prime destinations that gets just about everything right, from its vast menu to its unbeatable waterfront location, and not to mention, its impeccable service …
Sure, the embarcadero is tourist-ville. Yet on a warm and sunny Sunday morning, a friend and I were able to sit in peace on the beautiful waterfront patio here, which is just far enough removed from the swarms of people milling about along the Embarcadero. By 1 pm the patio was pretty full, but La Mar’s indoor and outdoor dining areas were spacious enough to not feel overcrowded, making this the perfect spot to sit, relax, and take in the views of the bay while you sampled an array of Peruvian specialties including ceviches, Peruvian style sashimi dishes, “anticuchos” (grilled skewers), and classics like lomo saltado.
After ordering a couple cocktails (I chose a Peruvian version of the Moscow mule, made with pisco), a basket of plantains chips arrived at the table with two different dipping sauces, both basically good enough to drink. The chips are fried at the beginning of each day, before anything else touches the oil, so no need to worry about cross contamination here. From there we took our waiter’s suggestion and started with the most traditional ceviche, the clásico, made with California halibut in a classic leche de tigre with red onion, habanero, Peruvian corn and yam. This was incredibly fresh and bursting with flavor, and may have been the best dish of the meal (it was a tie between this and the rice for me). The “Peruvian style sashimi” dishes are prepared in a similar fashion to ceviches but with thinly sliced fish, and from this section we chose the ahi tuna, which was also amazingly delicate and fresh tasting. From the “causas” we ordered the causa limeña: Dungeness Crab atop whipped potato with avocado puree, quail egg, cherry tomatoes, ají amarillo sauce and basil cilantro oil. If you know Peruvian food at all, you are likely familiar with the gorgeousness that is aji amarillo sauce. Definitely order this. Next up was our first warm dish, grilled octopus anticucho, served over another whipped potato concoction and then garnished with aioli and chimichurri. While at this point we were definitely beginning to lose steam, we had one last dish on the way, which turned out to be the one that stole the show. Arroz la mar, the eventual crown jewel of our lunch, is a risotto-like dish made with shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, and of course, more aji amarillo (there’s no such thing as too much aji amarillo). All the flavors of the sea combined with the perfectly cooked rice, and garnished with just the right amount of shaved raw onion and fresh cilantro, made this a positively memorable dish, and one that I’ll likely not be able to come back here again without ordering.
While the sandwiches and empanadas here are off limits, the vast majority of the menu otherwise is already GF, no modifications necessary. If you have a special request however, the super friendly staff is likely to do whatever they can to accommodate your needs.
Tucked in at Pier 1.5, you might never know that this haven exists, just waiting for you to retreat to when you’ve had enough of the weekend crowds. Upon walking through its doors you’ll begin your mini journey to Peru, instantly feeling far away from the commotion of the city.