Ramirez, for his part, leans into that activist, political aspect of his Chicano identity. For him, creating space in the San Francisco food scene for Chicanos like himself means a good deal of at-times-awkward pioneering. It means making the movement more inclusive of what it means to be Mexican and Indigenous, and opening up a dialogue through food.
Born in Pasadena, Ramirez grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He remembers eating tacos at midnight with friends at one of what felt like two billion taquerias. For the past four years, though, he has found himself in a much less overtly Mexican area: the Outer Sunset.
Food was not always an obvious career option for the former engineering major. But when Ramirez was growing up in Los Angeles as the oldest of three siblings, cooking was always integral. Sincronizadas, a sandwich-style quesadilla consisting of two tortillas jammed with ham, bacon and Valentina hot sauce, was a particular favorite. “I’d make this preteen, greasy grub,” Ramirez laughs.
The women in his life taught him a lot, Ramirez says. In high school, he even spent a day at his aunt’s San Bernardino ranch fully processing a chicken from slaughter to platter. As a college student in San Francisco, he would have loved to work in a restaurant kitchen, but without a resume in cooking—and with COVID hobbling the economy—no employers were interested. Instead, Ramirez side-hustled his van into a moving business and started doing cooking tutorials on Instagram Live.
While helping Sunset Mercantile co-founder Angie Petitt-Taylor move last year, Ramirez discovered she was opening a new farmers market on 37th Avenue. It wound up being just the opportunity he’d been looking for. By this time, he had become a business major, but even before graduating he’d already gotten his business license for Molcaxitl Kitchen. In October, he bought a tent and started selling tacos every Sunday.
A Tool for Social Change
At the same time, Ramirez’s classes at SF State were teaching him about what it meant to be Indigenous in California. He sent for a genetic tracing kit from “23 and Me.” The results said he was 40 percent Native American.
“That’s when I realized ‘Oh, I’m Native American,’” Ramirez says. “I had never felt connected as this Chicano kid from L.A.”
A sense of validation mingled with the perennial identity crisis that often afflicts mixed and displaced people. For Ramirez, it all pointed toward the plate. He saw that creating food with a reverence for Indigenous people could not only be edifying for his own sense of self, but that it could also serve as a tool for social change.
“I live in the Sunset and I’m dried out of all that Mexican shit that I grew up with,” Ramirez says. “Five years ago I wouldn’t have even thought my own family was Native. I want to bring fluidity to being Mexican.”
Every little detail about the taco stand is part of Ramirez’s effort to create space—to recreate the feeling of stepping into a Mexican grocery store. The feeling of cleaning the sauce off your plate with a tortilla (which Molcaxitl makes on the spot). The feeling of home.
Ramirez says, “I’m half Mexican. I’m half American. But I want that space to be a feeling of unity.”
Toward that end, he also launched a live event called “To Be Latino,” held on Tuesday nights in the same location as the Outer Sunset Mercantile. Local businesses like La Reina Bakery and Mixcoatl Arts and Crafts, have a chance to showcase the beauty of Mexican cultura. Musicians like Chris “L7” Cuadrado keep it lively.
As a Mexican who looks not even a little bit Mexican, I had a hard time not hyping Nomar up throughout our conversation. His work means the world to a multiethnic multi-hyphenate like myself.
The food, meanwhile, speaks for itself. The produce is sourced from local farmers on Saturdays for the food Molcaxitl sells on Sunday. The corn for the tortillas is heirloom blue, shipped from Mexico. The nectarine pico de gallo goes hard—it’s made with red onion, firm tomatoes and nectarines from Ponce Farms. “You can go up this block and buy from the people who grew this,” Ramirez says.
Ramirez likes to tell customers that plant-based food is the future, just as it was in Mexico in the past, during pre-colonial times, before European colonizers introduced so much meat into the local diet. And he’s happy to push those vegetable-forward dishes along in the Outer Sunset.
The chiles gueros, named for the light color of the pepper, really struck me. My brain anticipated chile rellenos, but instead I was served crisp, fresh peppers with coarse sea salt sprinkled on top. In another dish, a tamarind, cumin and pecan salsa worked to bring out the flavor in the squash flower. The dish was affordable, abundantly floral and frankly genius.
“The squash flower is super Mexican,” Ramirez says. “The zucchini is indigenous to North America. It’s used a lot in quesadillas, roasted with cheese. It’s big L.A. stuff, plus the Mexican roots.”
He’s received all kinds of reactions to his food. Some white people treat it as exotic. Some Mexican folks raise their eyebrows at those turkey mole tacos (though Ramirez is not the first San Francisco spot to serve the traditional Indigenous dish).
“They’re judgmental,” Ramirez says. “I’ve overheard people say ‘Nah, I want real Mexican food.’ They don’t speak to me like I’m Mexican.”
He’s found that fellow Chicanos, on the other hand, are more open.
Magaly Ramirez (no relation) joined the Molcaxitl team as soon as a job for a tortilla maker popped up on Instagram. She had frequented the new farmers market during the pandemic and was drawn in by Molcaxitl’s vegan options and its delicious horchata. “It’s funny because it’s just kids under a tent,” she says. “They’re all 20-year-olds.”
As a first-generation Mexican American from Los Angeles, she was inspired by how the food stall had brought its own particular take on Mexican cuisine to the Outer Sunset. “There’s always this push and pull of being Americanized and being in touch with your own culture,” Magaly says.
Dontaye Ball, owner and founder of Gumbo Social, is another fan. As the vice president of the Bayview Merchant Association, he gave Ramirez feedback on his ideas when he was first setting up his farmers market booth. Recently, coming off a 45-day vegan cleanse, the first thing he ate was Molcaxitl’s turkey mole. “Slow-braised in a fantastic mole,” Ball says. “Hit all the right notes.”
Xitlali Soto Ryan is another follower who found the Sunset Mercantile through Instagram. As a Latina and the daughter of artists, she finds the ambiance of Ramirez’s stall familiar: all of the colors, the flowers and the Jarritos on the table. She loves a drink made with cherries and tunas, a cactus fruit similar to dragon fruit.
“I know the importance of having to support your people,” Soto Ryan says.
Sharing the Vision
Ramirez says he enjoys being on the street. If Molcaxitl were to go brick and mortar, however, he would want the food to feel fancier than it does right now.