Within five minutes of arguing with any San Franciscan about the best burrito in town, it becomes clear that what makes a great burrito is different for all of us. For some people, greatness is impossible without girth. For others, the quality and quantity of the meat is most important, and a few stalwart taqueria regulars refuse to eat a burrito unless the tortilla has been griddled.
SFoodie doesn't really care about size or tortilla heating method. For us, the most important factor is flavor. And not just the flavor of the meat and salsa: The beans must be well cooked, and the rice can't be just filler -- seeing as how you're carbo-bombing your body, the bulk of the wrap should taste like more than starch. A great burrito stacks six or seven good components on top of one another, so that even when you get a bite without cheese, or salsa or meat, you want to keep eating the thing.
Here are our 10 favorite right now:
10. Papalote Mexican Grill (24th St. location)
We love the fact that Papalote cooks most of the meats in its burritos to order, but the results can be pretty generic, until you drip on Papalote's magic potion: that roasted-tomato salsa. Smoky, tangy, and deep, it electrifies everything it touches, and for us, that means spooning more into the wrap with every bite. You could eat that salsa by the jar -- hey, now you can.
9. The Little Chihuahua (Divisadero location)
Lil' Chihuahua may be the only taqueria on this list that buys sustainably raised meat. And that's probably a good thing, on the whole. But SFoodie actually goes there for its black bean and plantain veggie burrito. Most of the Mission's veggie burritos fail because they make a direct substitution of tofu for meat. Tofu will never be meat, no matter how long you simmer it in ranchera sauce. The plantain and black bean burrito starts from a different point altogether: The burrito brings together slices of creamy, sweet fried plantain with roasted red peppers, enough cheese to contain the sugars in the fruit, and black beans, which don't need a hunk of smoked pork to taste meaty.
8. Gordo Taqueria (Clement Street location)
There are a number of Gordos in San Francisco and Oakland, but SFoodie had long written off the chain because we hadn't eaten at the right one: The farthest west location, a tiny takeout joint that looks like it dates back to the San Francisco burrito's earliest days, with prices we haven't seen in Mission taquerias since the 1990s. Here, it's all about the carne asada super burrito; almost every bite hits you with that flash of the salsa, segueing through the char on the steak, the buzzy sub-base of beans and rice, and ending in creamy guac and melted cheese.