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.
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.
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!