Judged a Mission Burrito Blind Taste Test

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It’s not a secret.  I love burritos, especially ones that come from the Mission District of San Francisco.  Back in 1996, I worked at two awesome thrift stores in the Mission (called Nu2u and Nu2u2 that’s no longer there) for some time.  So, I got to know several taquerias in the area, and I definitely have ones that I prefer to go to over others.  Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, like my good friend William “if you bring me a burrito, I’ll tell you where it’s from” Kendall, but I have eaten quite a few items with meat, rice, beans, and cheese wrapped in tortillas.  J thought it would be an awesome idea to do a burrito blind taste test of some of the taquerias, so I went and picked the ones I thought were candidates for the best.  These were ones that are considered institutions in the district:

  • -El Farolito
  • -La Taqueria
  • -Papalote
  • -La Corneta
  • -Taqueria Cancun
  • -El Toro
  • -La Cumbre
  • -Pancho Villa
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So, we had eight.  For standards, we decided every place should be judged by their Carne Asada Super Burrito with black beans, whatever their definition of that was, and if they asked, I’d say I wanted it spicy.  I mapped it out on Google Maps, and you could pass every single one in a car in about five minutes.  For this task, we invited our friend Aaron to join us, J drove and I ordered.  Along the way, we tried to get menus from every place we went to and place them in the bag with the burrito.  This would help us keep track of which burrito was from which place.  This is the route we took followed by my top tips from my experience at each place:

  • -If you’re looking for yuppies and/or hipsters in the Mission, you’ve found them.
  • -The base price for a burrito is higher than most places.
  • -Be prepared to wait whether it’s a to go order or if you want a seat.
  • -Be sure to pick up a jar of their orange sauce.  It’s the best thing they have here.

La Taqueria
  • -They don’t have black beans.
  • -If you want a super burrito (add sour cream, cheese, and avocado), it’s expensive ($2.20!).
  • -They accept cash only.

El Farolito
  • -You can watch them cook from the outside window.
  • -There is always a line, often out the door, even late at night.  Don’t worry though; it moves fast.
  • -They accept cash only.

La Corneta
-They didn’t have a line. -They were fast.  My burrito was ready before I realized it was. -There was lots of space to sit, and the decor was friendly and brightly lit.

Taqueria Cancun
  • -These guys always have a line too, but it moves fast.
  • -This can be an intimidating place at night.  It’s probably the most ghetto place on our trek.
  • -They accept cash only.

El Toro
  • -This was a quick in and out.
  • -They had the most impressive salsa bar we’d seen of all of them.
  • -I noticed they were owned by the same people as Pancho Villa.

La Cumbre
This was the biggest disappointment of the night.  When we got to La Cumbre, they were closed.  They closed at 8:30, even though their posted hours clearly said 9pm.  Considering they call themselves the “original” Mission burrito, I was extremely displeased with this outcome.  Real Mission taquerias stay open late.  When I knocked on the window, the “friendly” guy behind the counter just gave the hand at the neck gesture.  No explanation, just closed.  So, we decided to call an audible and add another spot (see below).

Pancho Villa
  • -They had long lines here at well, but they were managed well.
  • -My dad used to take me to this place when I was younger.
  • -I noticed they were owned by the same people as El Toro.

Zapata (Late Non-Mission Addition)
  • -This place is in the Castro (one block up on 18th Street).
  • -They stay open late.
  • -Surprisingly, they didn’t have a take-home menu.  It was the only place we couldn’t get one.

We went back to our place, and J and A got them all lined up and randomly numbered while I finalized my judging criteria.  I chose a few different categories to rate each burrito from 1-10:
  • -First bite impression: Take a bite from the top and judge my impression of it.
  • -Salsa: How much does the salsa add to (or take away from) the burrito? 
  • -Meat distribution: What are the chances you’ll get meat in every bite?
  • -Center composition: We cut the burrito diagonally across the middle.  Did it look appetizing?  Are the ingredients well distributed?  Do the ingredients look fresh?
  • -Overall taste: In the end, how does it taste compared to its rivals?

I also kept track of size and whether it was wrapped in one or two pieces of aluminum foil. 
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Largest size (by weight):
  • 1.El Farolito  (1 pound, 11 ounces)
  • 2.Taqueria Cancun (1 pound, 10.4 ounces)
  • 3.La Corneta (1 pound, 9.3 ounces)

Best first impressions:
  • 1.Papalote
  • 2.Taqueria Cancun
  • 3.El Toro

Best salsa:
  • 1.Taqueria Cancun
  • 2.El Farolito
  • 3.El Toro

Best meat distribution:
  • 1.El Farolito
  • 2.La Corneta
  • 3.Zapata

Best center composition:
  • 1.El Farolito
  • 2.Taqueria Cancun
  • 3.La Corneta

Best overall taste:
  • 1.El Farolito
  • 2.Taqueria Cancun
  • 3.El Toro

Highest total scores:
  • 1.El Farolito
  • 2.Taqueria Cancun
  • 3.El Toro

There were a few observations I made tonight:
  • -La Taqueria does not use rice at all in its burritos.  It suffered a lot because of this.  A Mission burrito has rice.
  • -El Farolito and Taqueria Cancun both used sliced avocados instead of guacamole.
  • -Half of the places wrapped double their burritos, while half just single wrapped them.
  • -El Toro and Pancho Villa were the only ones that tasted spicy.
  • -Ironically, the two least expensive (El Farolito and Taqueria Cancun) scored best and were the largest by weight.  These two were the best value by far.

Before I started this taste test, El Farolito was the taqueria I frequented.  I was relieved when it ended up being the winner.  I was also relieved that Cancun was a close second because it has always been one of my favorites as well. 

I was most disappointed by La Cumbre because they decided to close early and disqualify themselves from the competition.  Seriously, what respectable taqueria closes at 8:30?!  In my opinion, La Taqueria (the only place I had not tried beforehand) was also a disappointment.  The flavor of their burrito was pretty good, but again without rice, you are not a Mission burrito.

Any of these places would make a good lunch or dinner.  However, if you’re anywhere near 24th and Mission (Papalote, La Taqueria, and La Corneta), there’s no reason to go anywhere but El Farolito.  It’s more delicious and less expensive.

Updated: Here is the video with all of the first impressions:

Also, available for download is the Mission Burrito Cheat Sheet with scores by category for all the taquerias tested in this event:

Cool Stuff:
Build a Burrito (English and Spanish)
Burrito Lovers Cook Book: Fantastic Flavorful Fillings
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