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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best Practices for Eating a Burrito in San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 7:49 AM

click to enlarge JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall
click to enlarge JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall

A happy man once said, "The best burrito in the city is the one you are eating." He said it while cradling a ruptured super whose mass had burst through its tinfoil housing and was flowing, lavalike, down his forearms and plopping onto the sidewalk. We caught sight of lettuce and corn. There was no rice to speak of. He didn't comprehend his disaster. Corn.

He was a fool.

Step One: Ordering the burrito.

Say "No fucking lettuce!" as you walk into the shop. Scream it for everyone to hear, even the owner buying bulk iceberg out of a van. If given the option of a marjoram tortilla you're probably in Carlsbad or something so don't worry about that. Worry about the rice: Are they shoveling it in like insulators filling an attic? Will you haul it out like a ship emptying its ballast? Worry about the refried beans, which are alarmingly soupy, yet pinto beans are so bland, and black beans are for fools.

Try not to think about the flap of cheese. When did they stop shredding cheese? (Swear you'll order the super quesadilla once they figure out how not to charge $7.99 for just cheese and meat and a spoonful of fucking crema.) Lastly (and GOOD GOD) did someone just plonk down a snowball of salsa and not spread it around so now you've got one-to-three mouthfuls of snowball salsa?

A guide to some burrito meats:

Carne asada: Grilled steak. We don't know when it was grilled.

Carnitas: Succulent braised pork or shredded shoe leather. depending on your demeanor.

Al pastor: Barbecued pork, though it's nothing like Big Nate's.

Chile verde: Green chicken, beef, or pork. Probably pork.

Chile colorado: This is a bit of a secret.

Sesos: Oh my God.

JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman

Historical aside Number One: Some people say the burrito was invented by Americans, as if in the great history of Mexico no one thought to roll up a few of the most popular foodstuffs in a largish tortilla, instead of merely laying them on top of a smallish one. These people are idiots. Stay away from them. San Francisco can, however, lay claim to the Super Burrito, invented after a Mission restaurateur bought a Lincoln Fresh-O-Matic tortilla steamer and took his obsession with pearlescent neck goiters to the kitchen in 1969.

Historical aside Number Two: Some people also say the difference between NorCal and SoCal burritos is one pound of rice, which is shoved into the former like alginate paste into dental molds — which is perhaps true. But the difference you should be paying attention to is that in SoCal, your chef may insert French fries into your burrito. Nearly 20 of them. There's also less steaming, more guacamole, and more sun-blasted burnouts dabbling in online college trying to put together enough nickels to procure dos tacos.

Step Two: Eating the burrito.

First, cherish those exploratory moments toying with the tinfoil, testing avenues of entry and tensile strength. Take it all in. You're about to eat a burrito in San Francisco. This is like sitting down with Iggy Pop and a pizza in early-'70s New York. It doesn't get any better than this, but gets a lot worse, just like whenever Iggy Pop started eating his pizza.

Keep in mind that during the eating of any burrito from any shop you're going to wish you had another thing from another shop. It doesn't matter if you've gone aging heavyweight (Cancún), Hollywood (Papalote), scary at night (Farolito), strangely culty (Tonayense), a few more blocks down there somewhere (Metate), sans rice (La Taqueria), what are you doing in the Sunset? (Gordo), gloriously named (El Gran Taco Loco), honestly named (Taqueria San Francisco), just terrible (Tortilla Flats), have you been drinking? (Cancún in Mid-Market), overrated (El Faro), great for shareholders (Chipotle), or just full of little jars and a new name (SanJalisco, née Los Jarritos). There are just too many variables working against a burrito to allow you to eat every pound of it without wishing you were eating something else (super quesadilla), somewhere else (Farolito?), at some stage (final third), usually after you take a deep breath, suppress a fart, and resume thinking about how you are conducting your life.

JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall

Now rip the tinfoil to reveal the pale heel. Think about how the bulk feels in your hands. Consider the structural integrity. Does it feel like a water balloon about to pop?

Step Three: How to respond to a rupturing burrito.

1. Pretend you're a dog.

Inhale the food in canine gulps, first attacking overflow and then burrito itself. Note that your communion with the burrito supersedes any table conversation, even on first dates. Act like you're Luke Wilson and this is a funny bit in one of his shitty romantic comedies. Focus on removing all trace of the burrito and then finding other burritos around it.

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Michael Leaverton

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