15 Rounds Against a Mission Burrito

24th and Mission. Learn it. Love it.

I love burritos. I don’t know if they’re my favorite food (I haven’t had a fois gras burrito… yet), but I once ate burritos for six meals in a row without realizing it until finishing the sixth one. That should give you an idea. I’ve always been firmly entrenched in the camp that burritos are better in Southern California than anywhere else in the world, and when I saw the FiveThirtyEight burrito bracket last summer, I was shocked to see San Francisco was home to the top-seeded burrito. After all, they are 500 miles from the Mexican border, right? Three months after that article came out, I was living in San Francisco, working at a winery for harvest, and building an appetite after occasional twelve to fifteen hour days. There are three notable taquerías in the Mission District of San Francisco: El Farolito, La Taquería, and Taquería Cancún. I decided I would try each of them in my two months of living in the city, and started with El Farolito, the number one burrito according to FiveThirtyEight’s Value Over Replacement Burrito metric (statisticians are the new rock stars, people). I’ll admit that I went in with a chip on my shoulder, scoffing at the notion that Northern California could do something better than its Southern twin. But a few bites into my carnitas super burrito, I was eating crow and proclaiming it the best of the many, many burritos I’d had. It lived up to and surpassed the immense hype surrounding it.

Over the next few weeks, I tried quite a few other burritos in San Francisco, including the famed ones at La Taquería (which went on to be the overall winner of the burrito bracket) and Taquería Cancún (which upset El Farolito in the first round). Taquería Cancún is a really close second to El Farolito in my opinion and La Taquería fails to live up to its championship reputation for being overpriced and not having rice. It’s not that a burrito can’t exist without rice—I love bean and cheese burritos—it’s the arrogance to call it a “super” burrito without one of the cornerstones of the food. The only thing weirder is an experience I’ve had multiple times in San Diego where I order a “name-of-meat-here burrito” and am served a warm tortilla wrapped around that meat and nothing else. There are givens that go with certain foods; only a child would expect solely meat and cheese on a bun when ordering a cheeseburger—the rest of us understand that it also comes with lettuce, tomato, and some sort of spread, without being expressly told so. Yet, at various taco shops in San Diego and La Taquería in San Francisco, this common sense does not apply.

“You had me at ‘meat tornado.'” – Ron Swanson

Needless to say, upon my return to the City by the Bay last weekend, El Farolito was at the top of my culinary wish list. So after a long day of beer and wine tasting, I was ready to satisfy my craving. But before I left, I snacked casually on H.K. Anderson’s Peanut Butter filled pretzels from Costco. These salty crack-bites are completely delicious and quietly filling. My brother and I drove into the Mission District and magically found parking across the street from El Farolito on a busy Friday. Our luck continued as we entered the small building to a relative lack of a crowd. I was intoxicated by the aromas that swirled in the air: steamy rice, sizzling meat hitting the parilla, and warm, inviting tortillas. I ordered my old friend, the carnitas super burrito and took a seat in anticipation. A trip to the salsa bar and a refill of water later, the burrito landed in front of me. I say landed, but a better verb might be “cratered” because this monster had some serious heft to it. In a recent display of their knack for hard-hitting journalism, BuzzFeed posted this investigative report into the weights of Mission burritos. El Farolito’s offering weighed in at 1.63 pounds by their metric and I doubt mine was even one gram shy of that number.

Peanut Butter filled Hubris

The beauty of this burrito lies in its careful construction. Each bite manages to include all the ingredients that make burritos great. You don’t get a pocket of sour cream in the lower third of your burrito, or a heaping of unmelted cheese right when you bite in. A cross section from any length of the burrito will match up with any other. So I munched away in foodphoria, a word I just invented but I’m sure other portmanteau-loving neologians have discovered before, when a sudden feeling came over me. The creeping specter rose from my stomach into my subconscious, before materializing into a single, formed thought: I might not finish this burrito. It couldn’t be. I’d been craving this for months. It was all I wanted. But hubris has been the downfall of many great men, and in my conceit, I’d eaten too damn many of H.K. Anderson’s Peanut Butter filled pretzels from Costco. Now, I was in the fight of my life.

I’d gone about ten rounds with this burrito with all the swagger of an undefeated prizefighter, not realizing it was waiting for the opportunity to get in a good body blow. And it did. With half a pound of carnitas, beans, cheese, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and tortilla still left in my hand, the wave of satiety hit me. I didn’t need the rest of this monster, but a fire burned in me to beat this thing, to conquer it. If not just for me, the burrito needed to be vanquished for all mankind, for you, dear reader. The voice of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn came into my head and paraphrased, “A day may come when the hunger of men fails, when we forsake our meals and break all bonds of gastronomy. But it is not this day! This day we fight!”  With my heart swelling with pride and my stomach swelling with Mexican food, I chomped away again until there were only two bites left. I stood up and paced, attempting to will the food down to make more room. I whispered a small invocation to the muses: Adam Richman, Joey Chestnut, and Takeru Kobayashi. I had the burrito against the ropes, but it managed to get in one last jab before I delivered the knockout blow. Note the following facial progression:


I had won, but it was a pyrrhic victory. Only time will tell whether the groans I made in agony the rest of the evening were worth it. I was too full to stand, too full to enjoy cocktails at the amazing bar Trick Dog down the street, and too full to smile. But inside there was a quiet satisfaction under all that dyspepsia: I’d shown up ill-prepared and still managed to succeed. Sadly, I feel my victory undermined the lesson I should have learned: don’t eat unnatural amounts of food in one sitting, and don’t do it after snacking on H.K. Anderson’s Peanut Butter filled pretzels from Costco.


Are there better burritos out there, in the Mission or otherwise? Should I have a limit? Some shame? Let me know!

SARA: More than just a great Fleetwood Mac song

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, or SARA, is a small brewery in Capitola, CA, that makes some of the most sought after beers in the United States, with the beer trading community ravenously watching every bottle release. The reason for this is simple: they make some of the best beers in the country, or any other country for that matter. This isn’t just an opinion–according to BeerAdvocate users, their average beer rates 4.19 out of 5, behind only a handful of breweries like Cantillon and Hill Farmstead. While some could argue ratings are skewed, inflated, or otherwise flawed, it’s hard to argue with the notion that what’s brewed at SARA is nothing short of exceptional.

We all Grin for Lupulin

One of these things is beautiful…

I sojourned north to the Bay Area for a long weekend in which I would be pouring wine for an open house event at my friend’s winery in Sonoma on Saturday and Sunday. This left my Friday wide open to take the trip to Santa Cruz I’d always wanted. In the morning at Bluxome Street Winery (where my brother is the Cellar Master and I worked last Fall during harvest), I collected an empty growler, Ty (the associate winemaker), and my aforementioned brother, Kyle, and hit the road. The roads were clear and with an hour to kill before Sante Adairius opened, we stopped at a restaurant in Santa Cruz called “burger.” for, you guessed it, burgers and beers to whet our appetite. The burgers were nearly as awesome as their beer list, and I tried a double IPA from a local brewery called Hop Dogma. That beer (We All Grin for Lupulin) was an unfiltered hop bomb with no shyness about showcasing the citrus fruit flavors and aromas we’ve come to expect from West Coast IPA’s and Double IPA’s. As an added bonus, they give you a celebrity mugshot instead of a number when you order. It’s fun. After lunch, and a short drive down the scenic West Cliff in Santa Cruz, we were finally heading to Capitola.

Arriving just after the brewery opened, we had plenty of time to soak in the environment without other people there. It’s kind of surreal to know that in that moment, we could have been the only three people in the world drinking Sante Adairius beers. With such limited bottle releases, it being noon on a weekday, and their virtual lack of keg distribution, this definitely wasn’t unthinkable and made me feel rather privileged, to be honest. I had a two ounce pour of their most well-known beer, West Ashley, a sour saison with apricots, a few months ago at the Shelton Brothers Festival and was really impressed. It goes without saying that the experience set the bar rather high for my expectations, but the first whiff of their four grain saison, Little Quibble, assuaged any hesitation that I might be let down. It smelled of banana chips and toasted oats, and even though Kyle and Ty didn’t agree with me, I smelled lanolin as well. The flavor was malty, spicy, and yeasty, typical of a saison, with a hint of the banana found in the aroma. Light in color and body, this saison was incredibly complex for its drinkability. In addition to the tasting notes I have here, there were plenty of other aromas and flavors I couldn’t pin down, and I think that’s a good thing.

Little Quibble

Complexity gives beer character, and while I can appreciate beers that do a single thing really well, it’s far more interesting to me to drink something that’s not easy to unpack and figure out right away. It’s the reason a brewery like Jester King eschewed only using hermetically-sealed yeasts made in a lab for the ones floating around their farmhouse in Austin. To do things completely by the books is often safe, but it’s rarely interesting. Native yeasts impart nuance and originality to beers, making them unlike other beers of the same style or even offering variation from batch to batch. Subtlety is often lost in an era dominated by Double IPA’s and Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts, but is something to be appreciated. Flavor doesn’t always have to punch you in the tongue to be awesome. In wine, the same thing often happens when people refuse to drink reds that aren’t big, bold tannin assaults or won’t drink white wine because they “might as well drink water.” I use direct quotes because someone told me this once–someone who will never appreciate the beauty of a delicate Chablis or light-bodied red wine from a thin-skinned varietal. To me, this is nearly as sad as it is frustrating; if these people dug a little deeper, they’d probably like what they found. But back to beer, and the people who acknowledge a finely-crafted one.

After the saison, I switched gears to the 831 West Coast IPA. It poured a golden, hazy, almost orange color with white grape and tropical fruit notes begging to get out, with light but noticeable honey undertones. The flavor of this IPA complemented the aroma, with juicy citrus and hop dankness on the palate. It finished cleanly with a lingering bitterness that left me wanting another sip. I was really pleased to see how well Sante Adairius handled such radically different styles, and that pleasantness extended the my next beer, Brandy Palimpsest, a Flanders Red Ale aged in brandy barrels. Flanders Red Ales were the first sour beers I encountered and remain one of my favorite styles. This beer further entrenched me in that philosophy. The aroma was mainly honey and molasses, with a bit of tart funkiness, but not much. I was amazed at how much sweetness the brandy barrels imparted, with the flavor seeming full of honey, but with detectable sarsaparilla and pluot. I was happy to arrive at pluot after a few moments of thinking out loud; oftentimes it can feel silly or like guesswork describing a beer (or wine), but the “A-ha!” moments like this make it worth it. Being a sour beer, the Brandy Palimpsest had delicious tartness and a mouth-watering juiciness to it as well, with no discernible alcohol. In case you are curious (like I was), a palimpsest is a scroll or piece of parchment that has been washed of ink so it may be reused, much like the wine barrels Sante Adairius repurposes to hold beer.

Brandy Palimpsest: Hard to Say, Fun to Drink

After this, I didn’t order more beer because we planned on wine tasting at two or threes wineries after visiting the brewery. I did, however, enjoy multiple sips from Kyle and Ty’s beers, the Human Kindness milk stout and Vanilla Joe porter with local coffee and vanilla. We all agreed that Vanilla Joe was a truly exceptional porter full of depth, with a flavor that we described as undulating because it moved from roasted barley, to sweet vanilla, to roasted coffee, with a hearty finish and a vanilla aftertaste. I enjoyed the tasting room’s atmosphere more as I knew our time there was fleeting. The natural wood tables and bar help to emphasize the “Rustic” aspect of the name, and the empty bottles of other amazing beers that line the bar and the shelves let you know that they are serious about quality beer. There was a dog named Rooster who was running around the tasting room and the parking lot outside, occasionally letting us pet him. I was actually left with the same feeling that I get when I finish a really good book, which can best be described as “that was perfect and now I’m happy to be alive.” Not a lot of places can offer that experience, but if you want to know what it feels like and don’t feel like reading East of Eden, just take a trip to Capitola.

Get to Know: Alpine Beer Company

Note: This is my first post in the “Get to Know” series, which will provide you with enough knowledge to walk into the breweries I’ll be featuring like a pro. Enjoy!

Thinking of San Diego usually conjures images of palm trees, ocean breezes, beaches, and the Chargers underachieving year in and year out. However, if you are in search of the Holy Grail of San Diego beer, you must put these notions out of your head and set your sights to the East. Nestled in an old building 33 miles inland from the nearest beach, Alpine Beer Company quietly makes some of the best beers in the country in a chaparral environment more likely to remind you of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly than The Endless Summer. But that’s fine with the folks who populate the brewpub, who are either thirsty locals or beer aficionados who have made the pilgrimage in order to try the world-class ales.

Alpine Beer Company, usually just called Alpine, currently has eight beers on the BeerAdvocate’s user-rated list of the Top 250 beers. They have limited distribution; kegs sometimes make their way as far as San Francisco, but bottles are hard to come by outside of San Diego county, and when they are, they go fast. Alpine is known for their IPAs, Duet and Nelson, which are each excellent in their own respects. Duet is a quintessential West Coast IPA, employing Simcoe and Amarillo hops, which are outstanding individually but have a synergetic effect when combined. This hop-forward beer has crisp, fresh pine notes complemented by the zesty citrus flavors that the Amarillo hop provides. Nelson, so named for the judicious use of the Southern Hemisphere Nelson Sauvin hop, is on the other end of the spectrum as far as IPAs go. It pours a hazy golden-orange color and the aroma is bursting with tropical fruit—a hallmark of New Zealand hops. It is brewed with rye in addition to the standard barley malt, which adds a slight spiciness and a more delicate mouthfeel. These beers alone warrant a trip to East county San Diego if you’ve never tried them before.


She’s not much, but she’s home.

Such a trip becomes even more worthwhile when you arrive at the brewery, which might look more like a motel if you didn’t take a good look at it. The combination taproom/restaurant and the brewery are separated by three other businesses that rarely seem to be open, and the space between them is often populated with people waiting in line to fill growlers. By the way, growler fills and bottle sales must take place at the brewery itself while it is open; after hours, bottles are available at the pub. The pub, which is nearly always packed, has about a dozen tables, a bar with eight stools, and an outdoor terrace with a handful of tables. Waits for tables regularly exceed 30 minutes, but space at the bar or outside can usually be found. Alpine keeps eight to ten taps flowing most of the time, including one guest tap that seems to be a surprise every time. In addition to the two standout IPAs, beers to look out for include Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale, Keene Idea Double IPA, Good Barleywine (and Great, the Barrel-Aged variant), and their sour beers, which are usually gone in a flash.

The menu is barbecue centric and most of it fits into the categories greasy, cheesy, or spicy. This isn’t to suggest that it’s not tasty, but be prepared for red baskets and squeezable sauces, not narrow rectangular plates and aioli drizzles. The strong presence of hoppy beers complements the overall spiciness of the menu, and the ability to order half pints of beer makes trying many of them simple and affordable. Just remember to bring a designated driver, because after visiting the brewery, it’s a (relatively) long way back to San Diego.

What are your thoughts on Alpine and their best beer(s)? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments!