San Francisco Mission-Style Burritos
The American burrito was essentially invented in San Francisco’s Mission district, which is a colourful Mexican/Latino neighbourhood that has a ridiculous amount of taquerias per capita. A burrito is really a whole meal wrapped in a tortilla, and was originally an effective way to sustain farm workers for a long hard day. When the burrito met the American belly, it adapted by becoming humongous! First, 12″ tortillas had to be invented. Next, corn tortillas had to give way to the sturdier flour tortilla, in order to aspire to this bloated glory. Flour tortillas have a high concentration of gluten (i.e. wheat protein). When steamed, the gluten in the flour is activated, giving the tortilla elasticity superpowers. The tortilla is able to stretch around the meat, rice and beans without ripping or tearing. But just in case, the burrito is tightly wrapped in aluminium foil.
American burrito ideology originated in San Fran, and the Mission-style burrito is truly distinctive of this neighbourhood.
Upon my arrival at the San Francisco airport, I immediately hopped on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and unloaded myself in the Mission district to explore while I waited for my Californian friend to get off work. I was delighted as I ascended the escalator to street level and was greeted by the sunshine and colours of a bustling intersection. This warm welcome would quickly give way to cold and fog as I ventured into other neighbourhoods. The Bay Area is composed of insanely steep hills and mini-valleys, producing a variety of micro-climates. The Mission district is one of the sunniest areas of San Francisco, as it is sheltered from much of the dampness that comes off the bay. A word of warning to my fellow travellers: San Francisco is COLD! I’m serious. Bring a sweater.
I love that feeling of being in an entirely new place, with absolutely no idea as to my exact whereabouts. But I was on a mission for Mission Burritos! First stop was El Farolito.
So I’ve got a thing for veggie burritos. I don’t know why, but the addition of meat just doesn’t add anything to my delight. I am a bean paste enthusiast, lover of avocado, slurper of salsa, and an unlikely advocate of vegetarian Mexican food. El Farolito is best known for their carne asada burrito, but they had a vegetarian burrito with a roasted poblano pepper, and this simply won my heart. There was a complementary salsa bar, where we stocked up on salsas and hot (read: HOT) peppers.
You eat a Mission burrito by unwrapping the foil as you go and applying the salsa as needed. We ate our burritos at the BART station, despite the finger wagging of concerned citizens who informed us that “In San Francisco, we don’t eat at the BART station”. Who knew? Anyway, this burrito was immensely satisfying. The texture of the steamed tortilla was quite different than the cheap, cold-rolled wraps that pass for burritos here, which we struggle to improve by grilling. The flavours and layers were perfectly balanced, not a haphazard smorgasbord of choose-your-own-adventure.
This is the burrito that ruined me for other burritos.
On my last day in San Francisco I had a burrito at Taqueria Cancun, and it was decent despite my Napa-valley-induced hangover. I really appreciate just ordering my choice of “meat”, and not having to fuss over this topping or that topping a la Subway. A Mission burrito has any meat, rice, beans, onions, cilantro & salsa. “Any meat” could mean al pastor (marinated pork), carne asada (grilled beef), pollo (chicken), chorizo (Mexican sausage), and even lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (beef head meat), and sesos (beef brain). I felt adventurous on this hungover morning and tried a lengua taco as well.
While it was refreshing to eat an authentic taco (See ya later cheese, lettuce and sour cream! Hello corn tortilla!), I can’t say I’m a big fan of tongue. Shocking, I know.
While I’m at it, I’ll just mention another fantastic Mexican eating experience I had while in San Francisco. Gracias Madre is a vegan Mexican restaurant with terrific food. I barely missed cheese, and I definitely didn’t miss meat as I enjoyed the ingenuity of the vegan menu. I would totally eat here all the time if I lived in San Fran. What a lovely spread:
Sigh… I have been spoiled by delicious Mexican food and now stand jaded and critical in humble Halifax. Is anyone else having the same problem? Where do you go for your Mexican fulfilment?
Menu & Locations
2211 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA