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.