Nate Silver Ruined My Burritos in San Francisco

Voted best burrito in the country

I love burritos.

That’s pretty much how I introduce myself to strangers. Some friends have asked me how long I could go without feeding my addiction and I don’t like to even entertain the idea of limiting my burrito consumption. Some friends of mine in med school expressed concern for my well-being and cholesterol, to which I questioned their happiness.

In a given week, I typically get Mexican food once and I’ll put some food in a tortilla at least twice. That isn’t a horrible addiction. Previously, I have written odes to tortillas, even embarking on a self-imposed tortilla challenge where I tried to see how many ways I could use the circular carbs.

During a work trip to San Francisco, the promise of not just burritos, but NEW burritos was beyond enticing. Studying more than I had for some exams in college, I researched the field. Thanks to Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight, a lot of that research was done for me in their gastro-exploration of the Best Burritos in America.

There were a few high seeds from Chicago, but several of the best burritos in the land were from that city by the bay. On a previous trip west, I had eaten at El Farolito. That burrito was good, but I wouldn’t say it was the best I ever had.

On my culinary quest for the best burritos in San Francisco, I ate as many tortilla offerings as my stomach would allow. My first night started with a Yelp search and led me to Tropisueno near Union Square (and my hotel). The place was packed and I was looking for a table for one, possibly one of the most depressing things to ask for as an extrovert. But, Tropisueno had a community table, so I needn’t eat alone. The waiter was extremely friendly and helped fill my need to talk to someone while eating. Eating alone did allow me more time to bond with my meal. I ordered a salsa verde dish, which had chunks of pork braised in a mildly spicy salsa verde. Sadly, I wasn’t able to finish it and I didn’t have a fridge at my hotel. Moment of silence for the leftovers wasted.

The next burrito was from a food truck near the office. Curry Up Now tasted great while I wolfed it down before afternoon meetings. You can read the full review of the aftermath here.

My girlfriend joined me toward the end of the week and we headed to Tacolicious in the Mission area. If you weren’t aware, there is an entire area of SF full of Mexican spots. You’ll never hit all of them. Tacolicious was highly recommended by a friend who lives in SF. He makes my adoration of burritos seem like an amateur effort. To quote Gary when asked for his recommendations, there are burritos for all different occasions and moods. Tacolicious was also crazy crowded. We skulked around the bar waiting for a spot to open. Eventually some women left for their reservation and we pounced. Taking Gary’s advice, we got an array of tacos and an appetizer. The app was a spicy meatball dish with a tomato sauce that made me crave some noodles. The spice level was higher than I think is legally permissible for a pasta dish, but it’d be worth the pain.

The next burrito stop was Garaje, also near my office. I opted for a surfer-inspired offering that had fried fish, guacamole and french fries. The french fries overpowered the flavor of the fish, but added a bacon flavor. I found a park in between the restaurant and the office to soak up some sun while inhaling the cylindrical sustenance.

Our penultimate stop was the Mexican-food mecca and winner of Nate Silver’s burrito showdown, La Taqueria, also in the Mission District. I went with my standard al pastor burrito. With all the build up, all the hype, all the expectations, I found the burrito fell short.

The very last destination was at SFO. We debated directing our Uber to drive through the Mission District for one last burrito prior to returning to the tundra, but we ran out of time. So, I settled for the airport’s burrito and chips offering.

I blame you, Nate Silver, for ruining my burrito experience.

As the piece mentioned, and scholars somewhere stated, expectations can ruin experiences. Labeling something as “the best,” elevates it beyond attainability. We each have our own perception of what that pinnacle is and, often for me, those expectations are unreachable. If a friend tells me a movie was superb (you don’t have friends who use “superb” in conversation?) and I go to see it, I’m going to the theater with a heightened expectation, ready to be wowed. Compare that with your own discoveries: your favorite hole-in-the-wall or the place you stumbled on when visiting a new city. In my travels and dining at taqueria’s, I have found I get more enjoyment and satisfaction for those finds versus taking a friend or hotel’s recommendation.

So, if you find yourself in San Francisco, ignore where I went. Ignore the burrito bracket. See which place is the most crowded. Let your nose guide you. Use the bracket as a guide to get you in the vicinity and neighborhoods. Then, find your favorite spot and savor that delicious burrito.

I may never find the best burrito, but I will certainly enjoy the search.

You Doing the Wiggle?

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These days have been full to the brim with non-stop movement. Each morning it becomes more and more difficult to recall what I did the previous day, partially because I have an odd condition where it’s incredibly difficult for me to sleep somewhere other than my home bed.

Each night we’ve slept in a different room. Students are now back on campus and start classes today. Quite a difference from our arrival night where the casa was a ghost town. The Synergy house has some policies that would’ve really changed my collegiate years. Rather than have the housing office choose your roommate (ulcer giver) for you, they have a meeting where everyone shares their bugaboos and you pick your roommate(s) and room. Then, plot twist, you have another meeting next quarter to establish if you want to irritate/live with a new group of people.

Yesterday started with assisting making breakfast for the students in the house. The house is an interesting place. There are elements that I wish I had during my college years: a legit, restaurant-caliber kitchen, gorgeous views, friendly inhabitants, and an attitude that can only be described as Californian. Someone plugged in their iPhone and started bumping some Gretchen Parlato. I was on pancake duty and learned how to use a 12-burner stove. The house has a well-stocked kitchen and several cast iron skillets. It took some time to master the heat and not make “hella burnt” cakes. I confirmed that when I cook for others I become what some call “an ass.” It isn’t my best self. I’m not a perfectionist in many ways in my life, often asking myself “what difference does it make?” But when preparing food for others, whether it’s a date, family or friends, I ditch the niceties and work toward making a stellar product. In the end, the motley crew of five made scrambled eggs, hash browns, and chocolate-nut pancakes. I heard rumors of mimosas.

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After we finished cooking, we met the inhabitants of the commune. Annie, the ever-friendly RA, had sent an email the previous night asking if anyone had bikes Michelle and I could use. A bunch of students volunteered theirs. Two kind kiddos stepped up and gave us keys to their wheels. Loaded up with water and some protein bars we rode off for the Caltrain to San Francisco.

The train dumps you in SoMa (South of Market street). Michelle and I looked around, then at a map near the station. Next thing you knew, we’re cruising along the Embarcadero, pier after pier, stunning vistas of bridges. I stopped a few times to take it all in and snap some pics.

Our first stop was Codmother’s Fish and Chips for a baja fish taco. Pretty tasty snack.

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Next we faced a hill. A very large hill. A hill you wouldn’t see in Chicago. A hill that will haunt your dreams. Staring up towards the heavens I looked at Michelle and she looked at me. Vamos! I’ve never taken spin class. I wish I had, but I dont think any class can prepare you for the hills of San Francisco. They are alive with the screams of the out-of-shape. I managed to make it about half to two-thirds of the way up the hill before waiving the surrender flag. I walked the bike another block closer to heaven before taking a few moments to let my heart come down from humming bird tempo to that of a normal human. The flip side of these monstrous hills is the complete joy of speeding downhill.

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We wound our way through the city, up and down some more hills and made our way to Golden Gate Park for Lindy in the Park. An institution in the Bay area. For the past 17 years, they have had swing dancing every Sunday. The only force that can stop the momentum of swing being heavy rain.

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We caught the tail end of the dance and spotted Jeremy, a man we met while swing dancing in Toronto! He invited us to join him for lunch at the De Young cafe.

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After an espresso, the second in my life, we chatted about the joys of dancing before Jeremy offered us entry to the museum. I’ve seldom turned down checking out a museum. They had an exhibit on Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953–1966. I’d never seen Diebenkorn’s work. His early work leaned toward Modern, while his later works were more portrait and landscape based. His work seemed incredibly solitary. The portraits were of a single woman, often faceless, often wearing horizontal stripes, a common motif in the work on display.

20130923-075605.jpgI wonder if I’d appreciate art more if I viewed it through circular-rimmed spectacles.

Often the people watching at an art museum surpasses the canvases on the wall. After the museum we walked through the Japanese Tea Garden adjacent to De Young.

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Before we parted ways with our lindy-loving friend, he shared “The Wiggle” with us. “The Wiggle” is a route to cut through San Francisco without crushing your quads on the hills. Luckily for us, Jeremy is an artist and always had pens and paper with him. Empowered with some caffeine and culture, we pedaled toward the mission district. As we exited the Haight Ashbury we asked a man on a bike how much farther Pierce Street was. He asked:

You doing the Wiggle?

“Follow the green arrows,” he said as he disappeared into the hills.

Right, left, right, left. We made the 3-mile trip to the Mission area in 15 minutes. Objective today: Find a t-shirt about The Wiggle.

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Our next stop was El Farolito–pitched to me as the best al pastor in San Francisco. This was the only Mexican food I’ve had so far on the trip–not counting the baja tacos–so technically it was the best. However, I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve ever had. Delicious nonetheless. Perhaps i’ll have my leftovers for breakfast today. You read that correctly. I didn’t finish a burrito.

Michelle popped into an Asian bakery for some treats for the house. We snacked on a cookie before soldiering on toward the train. I promptly spit the cookie onto the street. It was a mixture of sandpaper and cardboard, with an oakey finish.

We made a few wrong turns en route back to the Caltrain, but made it back with time to refuel Michelle on caffeine at Philz. She was in heaven. The coffee shop specializes in pour overs. I’ve had less than 10 cups of coffee in my life. The majority of those coming after I started dating Michelle. Philz has custom blends of beans from all over the world to make a unique flavor creation. Michelle doesn’t often express wanting things, but before we left for the last train out of the city she said of the local coffee chain, “Andrew, I want it.”