Bang for your BURRITO Buck: the hunt for the best burrito in San Francisco

Tacos/ Mexican
July 25, 2018

It is a daunting task, trying to anoint one taqueria that serves the best burrito in San Francisco. It’s almost a mission meant to end in defeat when one thinks of the sheer volume of celebrated taquerias in the famous Mission district alone. Even as I posted a teaser on Instagram about my San Francisco Burrito Quest, suggestions started to come in from Oakland . . . and the East Bay is its own beast, worthy of a separate “best burrito in San Francisco” piece, though some may consider those environs a city in its own right. But all I’m doing is anticipating the slings and arrows of detractors when really I’m trying to tell you that if you are coming to San Francisco for a burrito, you may well want to single out the best burrito in San Francisco because these burritos aint cheap. The average price was in the $13 range. For. A. Burrito. I know, I know . . . but you are eating a celebrated local food icon and they are all damn filling too. So grab a napkin for the impending drool factor because we are gonna find you some Bang for your Burrito Buck!!

The Vitals:
the spot: Taqueria El Farolito 2779 Mission St. San Francisco CA 94110
the eats: Super Burrito “mixto” with carne asada(steak), cabeza(beef cheek) and tripas(tripe aka beef intestine)
the bucks: $13.25
the full nelson: a meal for two wrapped in one single flour tortilla 

Once I posted the pic of the burrito from Taqueria El Farolito, everybody was asking “what’s inside that thing?”. The responses I got ranged from breakfast burrito to Bengali chicken curry with rice. I guess when one orders everything and the kitchen sink, the reaction can be downright baffling, at least on social media. For the record, the burrito you are looking at from Taqueria El Farolito is a go to of mine from a meaty standpoint. Years ago I discovered the power of eating braised Mexican meats in a burrito laced with rice. The rice soaks up the rich liquid and in certain cases, with the right seasonings, it was like eating Biryani, the classic Indian rice dish, inside a tortilla. I even made a video about the experience on Tastemade. The key is using a mix of textures and flavors, so I went with carne asada(grilled beef), cabeza(braised/steamed beef cheek) and tripas(fried beef intestine). Now I know some of you might pull back from ever ordering offal, let alone beef intestine. But unlike liver or heart, both of which have an intense mineral flavor, tripas/tripe are mild in comparison and when cooked on a flat top resemble a richer version of fried calamari. Even if you say no to the tripas you must get the cabeza and asada. The combo is killer, like a poor man’s version of “duet of beef”, although your final burrito tab is far from cheap. A burrito with one meat from Taqueria Farolito will run you $7.25. I opted for the “Super” which adds sour cream, cheese and avocado to the standard meat, rice, beans and salsa which brings your total to $8.25. Add two more meats and you are looking at burrito in the $13 range.

Now a word about the whole “SF Mission style burrito”. Some may grimace at the thought of sour cream and cheese in Mexican food. I too share some of this aversion but getting these fillings are traditional to the San Francisco Mission way and so I went with them here, as well as every other taqueria on my quest for the best burrito in San Francisco. If I’m gonna crown a burrito the “best burrito in San Francisco” then it should be prepared in the indigenous style.

The plus side of going super and dropping an extra $5 for the double hit of meat is you get a burrito the size of your forearm. Well, my forearm anyway. The “overstuffed” factor is seen as a detractor down south(I’m talking to you LA) but I ain’t mad at a big meal if it is also a good meal. You know this burrito was large, but was it the very best? Close . . . but no cigar. I would give Taqueria El Farolito a well earned silver. A massive meal no doubt and easily enough for two people. But despite its size, this burrito was not a whole lot better from one I could find at a good taqueria in LA. Albeit larger, it was also far more expensive. I loved that they had the mix of meats I adore, hardcore on the offal front for some but downright real deal Mexican. Still for the intrepid burritophile, not the best Bang for your Burrito Buck when similar burritos can be found elsewhere. And the final dagger . . .

The salsa was nothing to write home about either. And that is a near fatal blow to any taqueria looking to become king of the hill. Still, the hype is real: Taqueria El Farolito can be considered a contender in the conversation of the best burrito in San Francisco.

The Vitals:
the spot: La Corneta Taqueria  2834 Diamond St. San Francisco CA 94131
the eats: Super Steak and Prawn Burrito 
the bucks: $12.50
the full nelson: a taqueria that comes with locals approval but they might be grilled chicken fans

The intel for La Corneta Taqueria came from trusted locals in the know so I happily jumped a Bart stop over to Glen Park to sink my teeth into what could potentially be the best burrito in San Francisco. Perhaps in anticipation of crowning the King of SF burritos, I got a little carried away with my ordering and went with the steak and prawn. Again I was faced with going for the SF Mission style fillings of sour cream, cheese and guac but at La Corneta they also serve up lettuce and tomato, to which I had to say no to. I mean, I don’t like Iceberg on my burgers  people . . . Now I suppose it serves me right for ordering surf and turf in a burrito and then coming around to the idea that this is certainly not Bang for your Burrito Buck, but this burrito just wasn’t all that. First off the ratios favored the filler by a mile. This was more a bean and rice burrito with chunks of steak and shrimp slipped in. That steak was tender though and a notch above many down home taquerias. Though I ordered sour cream, they seemed a bit heavy handed with it. Now you could say “why order rice and sour cream in the first place Ali?” Fair point for sure but like a sandwich, EVERY ingredient should be placed with purpose and care. It’s not that sour cream and rice can’t add to a burrito experience but one needs a deft hand as well. Every taqueria I visited on my trip to SF was packed, and La Corneta was no different so I could chalk this up to a random dud experience. But at these prices, you would be wise to find your Bang for your Burrito Buck elsewhere. Still I wonder why this place was packed and I have a theory:

. . . La Corneta has a very clean and appealing interior. And I gotta say it again: the steak in my burrito, the few bites I had, was indeed tasty and of quality. I also peeped some quality char grilled chicken breast as well. So know that say unlike El Farolito, which is by far more gritty as far as interior goes, there might be some draw for you to try La Corneta. But know that going there means your Bang for your Burrito Buck is being spent on white meat chicken options and a frequently replenished napkin station. If you do go, try the habanero salsa, by far my favorite of the taquerias I visited in SF.

The Vitals:
the spot: La Taqueria  2889 Mission St San Francisco CA 94131
the eats: Carne Asada and Chorizo super burrito
the bucks: $14.60
the full nelson: an SF burrito makes the case for sans rice and wins

Even a casual dig into the internet’s answer for the best burrito in San Francisco will take to you to La Taqueria and for good reason: La Taq isn’t just a legend in the Bay Area, but carries a national rep including appearances on food tv. The biggest difference between La Taqueria and the rest of the taquerias in the Mission is that La Taq doesn’t put rice in their burritos. Now earlier I made a case for how rice in a burrito with the right meats can create a transcendental experience connecting Mexican street food to the Ultimate South Asian rice dish: Biryani. I still stand by that but I also remember my first true Los Angeles burrito experience to be “pura carne” or an all meat affair. Much like arriving to a concert just in time for the main act, I also like to get straight to the point of my meals. I also like to get some advice on what and how to order, which is exactly what I got at La Taqueria. Unlike the other taquerias I visited where service bordered on the indifferent, the man behind the cash register at La Taqueria understood my enthusiasm and pointed me to the direction of a carne asada and chorizo burrito, done dorado style. What is “dorado style you ask? Well let me show you:

The finished burrito is placed on the flat top and griddled till golden. Beyond the looks, cooking the tortilla to a golden brown adds a savoriness to the overall flavor profile. And I liked that they threw some griddled jalapeños to munch on too. As far as fillings went, as mentioned the call was carne asada and chorizo; the latter being a family recipe at La Taq. Now I don’t care if you are in LA, SF or San Diego, the best case for your carne asada is a gas grill, as was the case at La Taqueria. Not exactly the hardwood charcoal grilled arranchera one finds in Mexico, or my backyard, but sometimes you gotta take what you can get. And getting carne asada grilled, even on a gas grill, is a score. Add to that this absolute truth in meat matchmaking: carne asada and chorizo go great together. In fact down in Austin the combination has a name: “Campechana”. La Taq also gets points for having a signature chorizo recipe. Many a taqueria can sleep on the chorizo and that is a missed opportunity. As was the case in every taqueria I visited, I did all the “Mission style toppings” available including sour cream, guacamole and cheese. Compared to the other burritos, La Taqueria’s is far lighter due to the lack of rice. It also means one stands a good chance of finishing it. After several burritos I suppose I got used to having rice in the mix but filler is filler and me thinks this is pretty damn filling on its own:

The prettiest burrito of the bunch would end becoming the king of them all. Yes my friends, La Taqueria’s Asada and Chorizo burrito, done dorado style, was indeed the best burrito in San Francisco. In the end, attentive service, even in a taqueria, would lead to a bespoke burrito and yield this kind of smile on my face . . .

And that is after I forked over the $14.60 for this piece of burrito legend. Yeah, the most expensive one of the lot was indeed my favorite. So how do I justify the Bang for your Burrito Buck for a burrito that carries a price tag of just under $15? Is any burrito worth that much, even if it carries the title of “Best Burrito in San Francisco”? Well beyond being oversized, burritos in the Mission district of San Francisco are dare I say . . overpriced. Blame it on gentrification I suppose but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that the Mission district in San Francisco is the most famous neighborhood in America for burritos and the best of the bunch is at La Taqueria. Yeah, sometimes the internet gets it right. Just make sure you bring a $20 spot.

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One response to “Bang for your BURRITO Buck: the hunt for the best burrito in San Francisco”

  1. […] dunk. Sure, Southern California is the birthplace of the fast food burger and up in San Francisco, a whole style of burrito awaits you. Still, North or South, big city or quiet surf side town, tacos rule in California and […]

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