In June 1998, my family had a mini-reunion in Portland, Oregon. The Parental Units flew out from the East Coast, whilst I traveled up from San Francisco to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and she whom I like to call Her Majesty the Granddaughter. One night the family agreed upon Mexican takeout for dinner, and as my brother-in-law fetched the appropriate menu from the kitchen, Mom suddenly turned to me.
MOM: We don’t want to hear it!
(VONN sits silently, puzzled.)
MOM: We know that San Francisco burritos are the greatest in the world! You’ve told us that a thousand times and we don’t want to hear it anymore! You don’t have to tell us that no one has burritos as good as San Francisco’s!
(VONN sits silently, stupefied.)
DAD: You know, I don’t think he was going to say anything this time.
VONN: Do I always say that no one has burritos as good as San Francisco burritos?
MOM, DAD, SISTER, BRO-IN-LAW (Perfect four-part harmony.): YES!!!
OK. Lesson learned.
It’s not really my fault, though. I mean, look at this Burrito Movado from Tacqueria Cancun:
Can you blame me for bragging? Wish I had my ruler with me, but since I didn’t, 10 inches long, almost 4 inches wide at its widest. I go to Cancun for their “wet” burrito, as opposed to the standard non-sauced variety which normally comes wrapped in aluminum foil, hence the sometimes nickname “Silver Torpedo.” When I compare this edible depth charge stuffed with grilled shredded steak with the pathetic little hamburger burrito I had in a “Genuine San Francisco Style Tacqueria” in New York City (where the “San Francisco Burrito” was vegetarian–egads!), well, I ask again: can you blame me for bragging?
The San Francisco (or Mission) burrito, whose origin dates back to 1972, 29 September 1969, 26 September 1961, the 1950s, the 1930s, some time during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), and northern Sonoran miners of the 19th Century–which origin is correct? Probably all of them–will always represent the city as our contribution to the world of dirt-cheap darn-good red-blooded true-blue American food, proudly taking its place beside the Chicago deep-dish pizza, Philadelphia’s cheesesteaks and New Haven, Connecticut’s “white clam pie,” amongst many others. The above meal, including tax and tip, cost $USD 8.34.
As far as I’m concerned, you could easily spend a week in the Mission alone exploring the world of burritos. Like planets rotating about binary stars, most of the great tacquerias cluster around one of two intersections: 24th & Mission Streets and 16th & Valencia Streets. Tacqueria Cancun (a rogue planet) sits roughly in between at Mission near 19th Street. The restaurants have ways to distinguish themselves. La Cumbre (Team 16th & Valencia) is the home of the first San Francisco burrito, dated 29 September 1969; El Faro (Team 24th & Mission) is another home of the first San Francisco burrito, dated 26 September 1961; Pancho Villa has a huge free salsa bar and a once-white wall now multicolored with the ribbons their salsas have won in state competitions.
I’ve never had the opportunity to ask any of the employees if any serious rivalry exists amongst the restaurants; they’re always too busy caring for their customers. I do not make bets but I do make predictions, and I predict that of the 100 or so new fancy-pants restaurants that have opened in the Mission District in this decade, maybe 2 or 3 will survive until 2020; but almost all of the tacquerias that have been around for decades will still endure and prosper.
The San Francisco Burrito will outlast any balsamic mozzarella ball.
By the way, did that Burrito Movado look too big to finish in one setting?
Vonn Scott Bair