Limones blends the foods of Mexico with modern sensibilities and tastes. Having dined at some of the finest restaurants in Mexico, I can tell you without hype or bias, that Limones is right there with the best of them. Americans have been so spoiled (in a good way) with Mexican street foods—tacos and burritos—that they don’t realize Mexican cuisine is so much more than that. Mexican cuisine is as refined as French, as complex as Italian, as diverse as Mexico itself.
To be fair, Limones refers to itself as “Mexican and Californian Cuisine” and you can see the California influence in the menu choices. This brotherhood of cuisines comes naturally. Chef/owner Hugo Ramirez learned to cook from his mother in Mexico City, then took his love for cooking to San Francisco where he raised his skills to the next level at some of the finest restaurants in the city.
Limones doesn’t impress from the outside. Step inside and you’re greeted with warm colors, the narrow space emboldened by high ceilings adorned with authentic pressed-tin tiles. Mirrors along the side walls increase the sense of space without a garish display of reflection. Mexican masks and other assorted ornaments (tortilla presses) hang along the upper walls. Tables and chairs line the side walls, allowing generous space that keeps the restaurant from being cramped.
Chef Ramirez is dedicated to fresh and local purveyors, which means the menu at Limones changes frequently. He has been known to shop without a plan, to buy whatever’s fresh, then decide what to make as the mood inspires him. Still, some favorites, such as the lobster nachos, remain on the menu due to popular demand.
The blend of Mexican and California cuisines at Limones is perceived in the use of such meats as beef, pork, and chicken commonly found on Mexican food menus, with such uncommon features as lamb and duck. Just as in Mexico, seafood appears in many forms, from the ceviche appetizers to entrees.
The chile pepper in all of its colors, shapes, sizes, and intensity, is the most recognizable element of Mexican food. It doesn’t have to be hot like a habanero, it can be mild like a serrano, or sweet like a poblano, but used in the hand of a master, these peppers (and dozens of others) are the basis for many of the distinctive sauces used in Mexican preparations. And Chef Ramirez is a master.
The daily menu consists of side dishes (entremés) and entrees (platos fuertos). It’s not unusual for guests to order several of the sides and share them like one would share tapas, rather than ordering individual entrees. Entrée portions are plentiful, though a side dish would ensure that you leave fully satisfied.
Probably the most raved-about side dish at Limones is the ceviche. Limones offers several varieties, which change depending on the freshest fish available. On some days you’ll find red snapper, salmon, halibut, shrimp, or a mix of seafood. The ceviche sampler with its three types of ceviche is sublime.
Lobster nachos are another guest favorite. Here you get a boat dish laden with crispy corn tortilla chips, topped with seasoned lobster meat, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. Two can share this, but they’re so tasty, it’s hard to keep from ordering another dish for each to enjoy.
Frequently seen on the menu in either a side dish or entrée is the three-cheese chile relleno. Throw away anything you’ve ever thought about chile rellenos before ordering here. This relleno is not a gentle Anaheim pepper bathed in egg batter and fried. Instead, it’s a poblano, bare-skinned and blistered, then stuffed with three types of cheese.
Some recent entrees worth crowing about are the tequila shrimp flambe with poblano peppers and roasted tomatoes; braised adobo pork enchilada topped with pepita-epazote sauce; seared sea scallops with roasted mushroom-bacon ragout, and slowly braised short rib wild mushroom sopes.
Limones serves brunch on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Like their dinner menu, the options offered for brunch change with the season. Currently offered is smoked chipotle chilaquiles, which is a tortilla casserole with eggs, queso fresco, bacon, and crema fresco.
We can’t discuss Limones without commenting on their outstanding cocktails—particularly their creative line of margaritas. My favorite was the tamarindo Margarita, a specialty I’ve not seen outside of Mexico. Those who love the picante heat of chiles rave about the carrot-habanero Margarita, while the blood orange Margarita gets rounds of applause, as well. Another spicy cocktail to consider is the jalapeno martini made with jalapeno-infused Grey Goose vodka. You’ll find a wide selection of exquisite tequila, too.
A dinner for two with a starter, two entrees, and two cocktails will tip the check over $100. Like all upscale restaurants with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and innovative cuisine, you get what you pay for at Limones.
Be sure to make reservations, walk-ups may have to wait for several hours if seated at all. By all means, try one of the creative Margaritas. Check out En La Calle, Limones sister spot next door, for cocktails or a quick bite if you’re waiting for a table