May 19, 2024


Built General Tough

Our in-depth, super serious guide to S.F.’s favorite food

Critic Soleil Ho’s best burritos, the tale of a super-long burrito, an update on the controversial burrito bracket and more

Photo of Serena Dai

Glo Wan / Special to The Chronicle

There’s something inherently delightful about the burrito. It is, of course, a perfect food: Inside a flour tortilla, the best burritos contain the fibonacci sequence of meals — a golden ratio of fluffy rice, tender beans, smoky protein and punchy, acidic salsa. Better yet, you can carry the whole thing in one hand.

But you don’t need me to tell you the virtues of this Mexican delight that’s turned decidedly Mexican-San Franciscan. It’s arguably the Bay Area’s favorite food and, as the birthplace of the Mission-style burrito, its most famous, too. That’s why when critic Soleil Ho set out to determine her list of the best burritos in the region, the rest of the food team couldn’t stand by and let her have all the fun. As it turns out, though the burrito has inspired national brackets, historical deep dives, sonnets and even songs, there is more to explore about this food of gods.

Did you know that Oakland has its own version of a super burrito? It’s not extra fat; it’s extra long. Like 15-inches, two-tortillas, size of an infant long. Reporter Elena Kadvany went on a deep dive of its mysterious origins. Also in this issue: a very serious investigation into what the ideal meat is for a burrito. Reporter Janelle Bitker talked to 15 of the Bay Area’s preeminent burrito experts to get to the bottom of it.

We have interviews with the writer of FiveThirtyEight’s legendary national burrito bracket from 2014 (which still comes up today) and with a man who went home with a burrito (and then fell in love with the guy inside the costume). We spent a night at La Taqueria, finding a snapshot of who’s still lining up for its burritos, and we mapped the favorite burritos of S.F.’s local celebrities.

And for burrito fans who want to express their love in less edible ways, we have a guide to inedible burrito products to buy. Yes, you can get a blanket that wraps you (or your pet lizard!) into a burrito.

It’s possible that there’s even more to excavate about burritos; we reserve the right to investigate further. For now, join us in this celebration of all things burrito.

Top Burritos in the Bay Area

These are critic Soleil Ho’s picks for the best of the best

Al Pastor Papi food truck's garlic shrimp burrito

Al Pastor Papi food truck’s garlic shrimp burrito

Andria Lo/Special to The Chronicle

This list is no joke: Critic Soleil Ho ate burritos at more than 50 taquerias throughout the Bay Area before determining these restaurants serve the crème de la crème. Mission-style burritos are of course featured, but they’re far from the only kind; dark horse candidates include seafood burritos and one vegetarian burrito with a velvety mole sauce poured over it. Go ahead and discover a new favorite — or, fight her on why she missed yours. 

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The mysterious tale of Oakland’s absurdly long burrito

They’re a whopping 15 inches

A giant super burrito from Tacos Sinaloa in Oakland weighs nearly 3 pounds.

A giant super burrito from Tacos Sinaloa in Oakland weighs nearly 3 pounds.

Photos by Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

The Oakland super burrito is a different species entirely than those with the same name just a few miles away or across the bridge in San Francisco. They’re extra long beasts and a fixture on many Fruitvale taco truck menus. But where, exactly, did this style of super burrito come from? Reporter Elena Kadvany looks into these giant beauties.

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Once and for all: What’s actually the ideal meat for a burrito?

Carne asada, carnitas, pollo or al pastor – only one can be king

Ozi Magaña, who runs an Instagram reviewing burritos, bites into a burrito at Al Pastor Papi's food truck.

Ozi Magaña, who runs an Instagram reviewing burritos, bites into a burrito at Al Pastor Papi’s food truck.

Andria Lo/Special to The Chronicle

When venturing out for the ritual of eating a burrito, one key element is left up to choice: the meat. It seems like the prime option should be a simple answer, and yet a quick Google search pulls up recipes that indicate the 100% wrong answer of ground beef. Reporter Janelle Bitker embarked on a quest to find out which of the most common burrito meats — carne asada (steak), pollo (chicken), carnitas (fried pork) and al pastor (marinated pork) — is actually the right choice, for texture, flavor and more. See what she discovered. And if you disagree, by all means, vote in our poll about what you think the correct choice is.

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She made one of the most controversial decisions in modern burrito history. Now what?

An interview with the writer of the famed FiveThirtyEight bracket

Anna Maria Barry-Jester jots down some crucial burrito notes during her time as FiveThirtyEight's burrito correspondent. 

Anna Maria Barry-Jester jots down some crucial burrito notes during her time as FiveThirtyEight’s burrito correspondent. 

Courtesy Z.Z.

It’s been nearly seven years since FiveThirtyEight published its nationwide burrito bracket, and yet people still bring it up, sometimes angrily, sometimes with reverence. Its writer, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, continues to get questions about it and her number one pick, La Taqueria in the Mission District, though she now works as a healthcare reporter. Does she have any regrets? What did she really learn about burritos? Reporter Janelle Bitker catches up with Barry-Jester. 

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Making out with a burrito, then falling in love with the man inside

Sometimes one wacky night can turn into something more

Steven Boyle / The Chronicle / Getty Images

On a regular night at a regular house party in 2015, a man brought home a paramour who was dressed as a burrito. He’s yet to live it down from his friends. But what happened next surprised even him: He fell in love, having what he called “the most formative relationship of my life.” The Chronicle interviewed him on how it all went down.

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Where notable S.F. folks buy their favorite burritos

Find out Chesa Boudin’s shocking pick

Alex K. Fong / The Chronicle

Burritos are appealing in part because they’re democratic: Often big enough to make two meals, the burrito is affordable and decidedly a food of the people. Yet even the most powerful eat them. Since 2018, columnist Heather Knight has been asking San Francisco’s newsmakers about their favorite burritos on the Total SF podcast. Here, writer Peter Hartlaub puts those picks on a map. It’s worth looking just to see district attorney Chesa Boudin’s controversial selection.

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Incredible, inedible burrito gifts

The burrito-themed decor, clothing and toys guide you didn’t know you needed

A burrito blanket

A burrito blanket

True burrito devotees do not limit themselves to simply eating burritos: They fill their closets, their walls, their beds and their floors with reminders of their passion. If you’re not yet at this level, fear not. Just look through our guide of inedible burrito products for you and your burrito-loving comrades — including your dog, who can munch on a charming stuffed burrito toy.

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One night at the Mission’s most famous burrito spot

La Taqueria is still drawing long lines

True romance? Phil Gene and Janice Kwan share a burrito at La Taqueria.

True romance? Phil Gene and Janice Kwan share a burrito at La Taqueria.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The Mission District’s most famous restaurant just might be La Taqueria, which has been slinging burritos and tacos for nearly 50 years. Though many locals have their own favorites, this is the spot that continues to draw crowds, no matter the night. So who’s willing to wait these days? The Chronicle spent one evening at the famed Mexican restaurant, snapping photos of the scene along the way.

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Serena Dai is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior editor of food & wine. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ssdai