The majority of dishes served at Mexican restaurants, including the fajita, chili con carne and the ever-popular nachos, are technically “Tex-Mex” fare. Tex-Mex cuisine is a uniquely 20th century invention that features Americanized-Mexican dishes, with one notable exception. If you’ve ever gorged yourself on a tortilla wrapped treat the size of your forearm that featured rice, beans and salsa, you were unwittingly consuming a San Francisco-style burrito. Learn about the history of Mission style burritos, how to spot a fake and some of the best places in San Francisco to dine on this uniquely American food.
The History of Mission Style Burritos
The majority of Tex-Mex foods were prepared over campfires and inside kitchens throughout Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Idaho. The burrito you normally purchase in your neighborhood “Mexican” restaurant originated in the Mission District of San Francisco during the 1960s. More specifically, the “La Cumbre” Taqueria is the fabled birthplace of a meal that has fed many hungry college students and bike messengers alike, although the Mission Style burrito’s origin still remains shrouded in mystery. Many burrito-loving history buffs believe the true beginning of this massive, compact meat treasure can be traced back to the area’s 19th century mining camps. Whatever the case, most agree the Mission Style burrito is an excellent meal, and a great way to feed a family of four on less than $10.
How to Spot an Authentic San Francisco Burrito
There are many imitators, but there is only one, authentic San Francisco Burrito. Save yourself from the disappointment of dining on a diminutive wannabe by discovering how to spot a true Mission Style compact meat bullet:
- Many restaurants get it wrong by not offering you a choice of beans: black, pinto or the real impetus for many a divorce, re-fried. The beans should be moist, chewy and never runny or stale.
- The rice should be crisp, not crusty and the salsa should be thick and act like a glue. If you pick up the burrito and the contents quickly run down your arms, you need to have the wannabe-Mission Style burrito wrapped by a pro.
- Once again, the wrapping is the key to an authentic SF burrito. The burrito should take on the appearance of a delicious, tortilla log that is completely portable and edible in even the most harrowing situations.
- Finally, the burrito should at least feature guacamole and sour cream. You can personalize the meal by including whatever tickles your fancy, but no self-respecting taqueria would leave out the basics. The one ingredient you’ll notice that many taquerias eliminate is lettuce, which is considered an unnecessary filler by many a burrito purist.
The Best Taquerias in San Francisco
Like a New York City cup of coffee, many San Francisco restaurants claim to have the best foot-long burritos in town. Here is a sampling of the taquerias that can stand behind this popular claim.
- Aquaria San Francisco – Many super-burrito lovers make a pilgrimage to this bay area institution every day. This classic offering features a griddle-warmed tortilla, cilantro lime rice and the right combination of meat, cheese and beans, which is the key to producing a fine burrito.
- La Corenta – Many a taco joint has attempted to copy La Corenta’s version of the Mission Style burrito, and each was surely an epic failure. Although you’ll notice the majority of taquerias shy away from the use of lettuce, La Corenta breaks the proverbial mold by boldly including this controversial topping on their SF burrito.
- Taqueria El Farlito – If you’re in the mood for a little kick, and a burrito rolled so tightly you’ll worry about chipping your veneers, then rush to Taqueria El Farlito. This taqueria distinguishes itself from the competition by providing their burrito with a little flaky goodness courtesy of a warm grill. Consider skipping the chicken in favor of the steak burrito, but both will provide too formidable an opponent to finish off in a single sitting.
You can also attempt to create your own version of the Mission Style burrito in the comfort of your kitchen. This allows you to personalize the meal to your family’s specifications, and you don’t have to feel embarrassed when you finish off the entire super burrito in a few bites.
Barry Harris has a black belt in burritos. He grew up in the Southwest, but now explores any and all varieties of burrito the world has to offer.