Archive for the ‘Cuisine: Mexican’ Category

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El Burrito Express on Taraval (Ed Jew Edition!)

June 21, 2007

These days, Short Exact can’t get enough of the scandal surrounding Ed Jew, the recently-elected supervisor for San Francisco’s 4th district. This district consists of the Outer Sunset and Parkside neighborhoods, so it’s all the more surprising that this usually quiet, mild-mannered section of the city has been taking the forefront in terms of local politics. If you haven’t been following along, it’s not too late to get started. Local news blog SFist has done a ridiculously thorough coverage of this story, in their series “Oh No, Ed Jew!”, which typically receives a few updates each day.

Ed Jew claims to live in this bungalow on 28th Avenue, just south of Taraval,

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but neighbors who have been parking in his driveway because it’s always empty are pretty sure that isn’t the case. And of course, it makes perfect sense that very little water is being used in this house, since Ed Jew showers at his Chinatown flower shop!

Even sketchier are the shady business dealings between Ed Jew and Quickly,

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a chain of tapioca milk tea shops that generally serve milk tea which is decidedly mediocre, at best, or in the worst case, essentially inedible. In this case of “Bobagate”, SFist-dubbed “Tapioca Ed” required $40,000 in exchange for help solving a problem relating to permits. Now, Quickly is a huge chain of stores, and their tea is often rather poor. Not only that, but their insistence on distinguishing between “large tapioca” (i.e. standard issue tapioca pearls) and “small tapioca” (a horrible perversion of the first order) is completely misguided. Under no circumstances should we have to utter the words “large tapioca” just to get tapioca pearls. Anyway, sorry for the digression; we do not feel especially sorry for Quickly, but, to say the least, Ed Jew probably could’ve handled this more gracefully. Just to be clear, the above picture is of the Quickly store on Taraval Street, which Ed Jew — “living” as he does on 28th Avenue right off Taraval — no doubt visits quite frequently. However, the specific store exploited by “Tapioca Ed” is actually on Irving.

Given the preponderance of evidence against him, it seems pretty clear that Ed Jew’s house on 28th Avenue has been completely unoccupied, and that the supervisor of District Four has been living with his family in Burlingame — a completely different city, and nowhere near District Four. Anyway, you’ve probably been wondering why we’re talking about Ed Jew instead of a restaurant. To be honest, we really just wanted an excuse to check out this mysterious 28th Avenue house, and also to make fun of Quickly (an activity we like to indulge in semi-frequently). A blog post seemed like just the ticket. Still, this post would be incomplete without mentioning a restaurant in “Ed Jew’s neighborhood,” the Parkside district.

Had Ed Jew actually spent any time at “his” 28th Avenue house, he would have certainly run across El Burrito Express,

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a charming little taqueria at 26th and Taraval. This restaurant is mostly a take-out operation, since it only has a few cramped counter seats. There is often a line here, as it is a popular choice for residents in this not particularly burrito-laden neighborhood. The menu is a little cumbersome in terms of the terminology (regular burrito, super burrito, bronco burrito, super bronco burrito, and “expresso burrito” — to say nothing of tacos and the specials), but it all comes down to choosing the combination of ingredients you want. Rather than describe all the details, we figured it’d be easier to just provide a photo of the menu,

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and, as usual, you can click the photo for a larger, more readable version. On this Ed Jew-instigated visit to El Burrito Express, we ordered the grilled steak bronco burrito,

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which included the grilled steak, tomato, cheese, onion, avocado, and pinto beans; the regular bronco burritos do not include rice — making them somewhat more reasonably sized than the monster super burritos, and a good deal at $3.85 for a bronco burrito with meat. The beans and vegetables here were good (with several chunks of fresh avocado), and the steak was quite flavorful, but there was an abundance of excessively chewy pieces. We would have appreciated more uniformly and thoroughly melted cheese, but at least the tortilla was nice and flaky-grilled. The biggest strike was that in spite of our request for heat, this burrito almost completely lacked all spice and heat. All in all, this burrito was certainly not bad, but it lacked punch and a unification of flavors. In an excellent burrito, the combined effect of the interior ingredients is greater than the sum of its parts, but that was just not the case here. Still, you could do worse, and El Burrito Express is a decent choice for the neighborhood. If you come here with high hopes to find Ed Jew, though — well, let’s just say you may want to catch the next train to Burlingame instead.

RATING:

COST:

1601 Taraval Street (at 26th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94116
Phone: 415.566.8300
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm. Closed Sundays.

Credit cards accepted. Takeout available.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Parkside/West Portal

How to get there: Muni lines 66 and L.

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La Castro Taqueria

April 2, 2007

Once upon a time, Short Exact attempted to keep track of Bay Area taquerias just by personal experimentation, and while that led to the consumption of some great tacos and burritos, it also led to the consumption of some rather poor ones, as well. Thankfully, one day, a website was brought to our attention that, once and for all, obliterated the need to consume any inferior burritos ever again. That website is none other than the glorious compilation of the Burritoeater. The Burritoeater uses a numeric rating scale that is an ever so appropriate blend of science and pure taste. We won’t go into any details here, as you can read all it on the site, but we will say that it was a surprise in the Burritoeater’s recommended taqueria list that led to this review you’re reading now.

It was not surprising to see that the mythical Papalote, one of our favorite taquerias in town (though not reviewed here on Short Exact yet), maintained the hefty rating of 8.71 even after being scrutinized on eleven separate occasions by the Burritoeater. What was surprising, however, was that it was not in first place! In an unexpected twist, that honor was given to La Castro Taqueria, once a member of the El Castillito chain. True, the score difference between Papalote and La Castro Taqueria was only 0.01, and the Burritoeater has only visited La Castro Taqueria four times to Papalote’s eleven, thus indicating that Papalote’s rating is the more trustworthy of the two. Still, this upset was enough to convince us that a trip to La Castro Taqueria was definitely in order.

La Castro Taqueria is a pleasant little place. Although the lighting is a bit dark, the seating area is laid out in a more inviting way than what one often finds at similar establishments. A note, though: if you’re squeamish about bathrooms, you may want to use one before coming here, as the bathroom is rather squishy and has a leaky toilet — watch out when you flush! It’s probably best to just leave it at that, but the big question here is: did the food deliver?

The Burritoeater’s very complimentary reviews of the burritos here led us to have quite high expectations going in, and while our burrito was quite good, it did not not live up to our expectations. We ordered the super al pastor:

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As a general rule, one of the most common frustrations we experience with burritos is segregation of the ingredients. If we get five bites of rice, followed by three bites of vegetable, and then four bites of beans, then something is definitely wrong. Thankfully, La Castro Taqueria excelled on this point, as the ingredients were thoroughly integrated, and each each bite we took contained all or a majority of the ingredients used, including the pork, rice, refried beans, fresh chunks of avocado, and pico de gallo. Our primary complaint with the interior of the burrito was the uniform mushiness. Of course, getting refried beans instead of black beans certainly contributes to this, but even so, this was mushier than your average refried bean burrito. Ideally, we would like to pick out the different textures contributed by each of the ingredients. Unfortunately, the textural diversity was missing, as all textures were replaced by mush. The meat was decent, but not extremely flavorful, and while the pico de gallo was solid, it did not furnish quite the level of bite and kick we were hoping it would.

This burrito had some great points though. Fresh avocado chunks scattered throughout added an extra dimension to this burrito, as did the uniformly melted cheese. As you can see in the picture, the tortilla was thoroughly grilled, giving it a flaky texture. In addition, the interior ingredients were quite juicy, and it’s worth noting that despite the juiciness, eating the burrito was not the least bit messy, even though we cut it in half first to take a picture. It held together very well: good, solid construction here.

At any rate, a hearty thanks to the Burritoeater for alerting us to a very promising taqueria that was not on our radar screen. We have only visited La Castro Taqueria once, so it’s best to take this review as just our initial impressions. The Burritoeater’s reviews suggest that this taqueria is capable of some fairly substantial burrito magic, and although we were quite satisfied with our meal, we don’t think we quite experienced that magic yet. You can be sure we’ll be returning to try again, though.

RATING:

COST:

4001 18th Street (at Noe St.)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: 415.621.6940
Hours: Daily, 11:00 am – 9:45 pm.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Castro/Duboce Triangle

How to get there: Easy access via Muni lines 24, 33, 35, 37, F, K, L, M, and T. The restaurant is two blocks from the Castro Muni Station and one mile from the 16 Street Mission BART station.

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El Tonayense Taco Truck

October 12, 2006

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El Tonayense is a taco truck planted at the intersection of 22nd and Harrison in the Mission. In addition to a standard restaurant located in a building, the El Tonayense folks have a slew of trucks scattered around the Mission (and we think Potrero as well). Other locations include 16th/Shotwell, the Best Buy at 14th/Harrison, and 19th/Harrison, but somehow Short Exact has latched onto the 22nd/Harrison truck as our favorite.

On our most recent visit, we ordered two tacos, a carne asada and a veggie,

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which featured fresh veggies, cilantro, jalapenos, and lime, with all the taco contents generously heaped atop two corn tortillas. The meat in the carne asada taco was perfectly seasoned. All in all, these were two fresh, delicious tacos, that were also very friendly on the wallet at only $1.50 each.

In addition to the vegetarian option, which features rice and beans, El Tonayense carries all the expected meats: pollo asado, carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, lengua, sesos, cabeza, and so forth. These can be enjoyed as a taco, burrito, or torta. We’ve never had the tortas here, so we couldn’t vouch for those. On one occasion, we had a burrito, and found it to be certainly acceptable, if somewhat on the dry side. Short Exact is not willing to jump to conclusions after just the one burrito, but we can wholeheartedly recommend their deliciously addictive tacos, which we have enjoyed for a quick bite on many occasions.

For those who might be squeamish about eating street food, we’d just like to mention that El Tonayense is actually quite clean for a taco truck. The one negative point about the 22nd/Harrison location is that while (obviously) there is no seating area, there also isn’t really any immediately convenient park area or bench, where one could enjoy one’s meal. This is a relatively minor consideration, though, since it’s really all about the tacos. With these authentic, filling, delicious delights sold at such reasonable prices, who can resist?

RATING:

COST:

22nd Street and Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours: Daily, 10:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: The 22nd/Harrison location of El Tonayense’s taco truck is one long block from Muni lines 12 and 27, two long blocks from lines 9 and 48, and three long blocks from lines 14 and 49. The 24 Street Mission BART station is about 1/2 mile away.

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El Taco Loco

August 24, 2006

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El Taco Loco is one of the Mission’s many taquerias, located right next to the 24th Street BART station. There is another location of El Taco Loco on Mission Street in the Bernal Heights area (located at 3306 Mission Street, cross: 29th St.), but it’s both inferior to the 24th St. location and less conveniently located, so we likely won’t review it here. While we wouldn’t call El Taco Loco San Francisco’s best taqueria (hopefully this will not infuriate its most loyal followers), it is certainly a solid choice, in an area that has many solid choices.

On our most recent visit, Short Exact ordered the carne asada burrito:

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We’d like to first observe that Short Exact is not in the habit of opening the foil on our burritos and cutting it in half prior to eating. In general, we don’t like to do this at all, since it undermines the structural integrity of the burrito, and the foil is a great way to keep the burrito together and encourage the mingling of the interior juices. However, an image of a burrito wrapped in foil is not particularly interesting, so we sacrificed structural integrity to take a photograph. We did it for you: our loyal, devoted readers.

On this occasion, El Taco Loco definitely delivered the goods. Our burrito featured a nicely grilled tortilla, with thoroughly melted cheese. There was a good amount of meat — enough to make a substantial burrito, but not so much that it overwhelmed the rice and the vegetables — and the meat was well spiced and packed with flavor. The cilantro balanced well with the other ingredients, and the pico de gallo combined nicely. All in all, we really enjoyed all the interior ingredients of the burrito with the exception of the guacamole, which was hardly noticeable. However, even though the interior ingredients were generally good, they were not integrated as well as we might have hoped. Rather than having a perfectly uniform mix, in which each bite combined all the delicious ingredients equally, certain bites contained too much meat, while other bites had not enough. Better integration of the ingredients, with stronger guacamole presence, and this would have been excellent.

The final verdict? Well, like we said: not San Francisco’s best taqueria, but you could do much worse than El Taco Loco. It is definitely a respectable burrito joint, even in the taqueria-saturated Mission District.

RATING:

COST:

3274 24th Street (between Mission St. and Capp St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.282.7018
Hours: Daily, 7:00 am – 12 midnight.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: El Taco Loco taqueria is located very conveniently around the corner from the 24 Street Mission BART station, and is no more than a couple blocks from Muni lines 12, 14, 26, 48, 49, and 67.