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Looking for Best Mission Burrito in SF.

My Significant Other The very Mexican "Dommy!" of the LA board does not like the mission style steamed Burrito as is evidence from this Post about us aquiring a Fresh-o-matic Steamer for a friend:


As luck would have it we are going up there for Labor Day Weekend, Yeah it will suck with the bay bridge closed. Though I would like to give Her an example of a great Mission Burrito in the City. To me the steaming creates a solid mass which becomes better than the sum of its parts. My local one for lunch when I worked out of KQED was on Bryant at 18th street, Torrtilla Flats but I am not sure that will pass muster with her.

Any Suggestions?

Also on the trip we will be going to some Old haunts for Me
The Taco Truck On Harrison.
King Of Thai Noodles
Good Luck Dim Sum
The Tamale Lady [Virginia, I hope you are where I think you are going to be
]Frjtz Fries

And something which wasn't around while I was there and I can't wait to try on the drive up Old Port Lobster Shack

We also might try and get in a fancy dinner or two somewhere.

Take Care

- P.

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  1. I'm confused. I've seen the tortilla heated in a steamer before rolling (with or without a pad of cheese applied), but are you saying that some places steam the entire burrito after construction? That seems very strange to me, as though their steam table isn't hot enough to keep the ingredients at the proper temperature.

    I personally prefer the places that smear a bit of fat (melted lard?) around the griddle and heat the tortillas that way. In Mountain View, Taqueria La Bamba does that. I haven't been for a long time, but the Taqueria Cancun on Mission near 19th used to do that.

    1. El Farolito and Can-Cun are both tortillas-on-the-griddle shops, so you
      might find shared domestic bliss at either of those.

      After all the years, remodels, and price changes, I still rank La Cumbre
      up at the top: Regular steak, black beans, plus cheese. In 20 years I
      don't think I've ever eaten anything else there.

      The most reliable way to find the Tamle Lady is to to be hungry and
      drunk in a Mission bar. She will come.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

        Actually, the carnitas I had at La Cumbre last year were pretty good. Try a taco along with your steak.

      2. La AlteƱa warms their tortillas on the griddle instead of a steamer. Excellent al pastor. The one on Mission @ about 30th is a bit better (mainly the salsa is better), but the one on Mission @ 22nd is also very good. I think La Cumbre's time has come and gone; if you really want good carne asada just forgoe the burrito and get a combo plate of it at La Corneta. Speaking of La Corneta, if you want a pollo asado or carnitas buritto, I like their's the best. Plus they have oustanding guac and chips. They steam, but if you ask nicely (especially in Spanish), they'll throw it on the griddle for you. I speak of the Mission branch, not Glen Park which isn't as reliable.


        1. Gosh, you leave your SO and laptop alone for a few hours and you see what happens... ;)

          Anyway, I just wanted to make clear that SO meant the Steamed Tortilla style, not an actually steamed burrito, to which I would TOTALLY have to put my foot down...

          Anyway, thanks for the recs, please keep them coming! I'll be sure to report back on our vacation, I really can't wait for it! :)


          1. The steaming method, from what I understand, makes the tortilla easier to work with. Old time burrito places like La Cumbre in S.F. have been using the steam method since the early 70s and they've done fine. Yes there definately was a dip in quality at LaCumbre for many years but I was back a couple of times in the past 6 months and it was a good as it use to be. The Carne Asada was as good as back in the day.

            If you're looking for non-steamed, Taqueria Cancun (La Parilla Suiza way back when), 19th/Mission.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              Way back in the day there was no carne asada! Nor any black beans, either.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                > Way back in the day there was no carne asada!
                La Parilla Suiza had carne asada when it first opened, as it was an integral element of their Quesadilla Suiza. If I recall correctly, their chorizo burrito, my usual order, cost $1.80 back then, and chips with a salsa verde were on the house. With an order of salty grilled scallions (cebollitas), it was an amazing combo.

                > Nor any black beans, either.
                Most definitely a recent innovation.

                1. re: Jefferson

                  Back in the day at La Cumbre, I mean. I'd been eating there for years before they added the carne asada station.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    A close friend grew up in the Mission, a few blocks from La Cumbre. He would have been 10 in the early '70s and they had carne asada then. I guess you must have been eating there in the '60s.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      When La Cumbre reopened as a taqueria in 1972, there were only steam-table meats. I'd been eating there for some years before they added the grill station at the back. At that time they also added whole pinto beans to the menu, before that it was refried only.

              2. OK, first of all, where have people been taking this poor girl previously? She mentioned something about lettuce on her "mission style" burritos...

                Regardless, I would strongly suggest you take her to one of two places. Which you choose will depend on what you want. I seem to recall that Dommy likes meat, so my principal rec would be for a super burrito al pastor at El Farolito on Mission at 24th. The super is key b/c you get fresh avocado. They also grill their burritos, which I think she'll like.

                If, however, you're looking for a really different experience, the dark horse here might actually be a vegetarian burrito at another favorite, Taqueria Cancun on Mission at 19th. I know this might sound counter-intuitive given Dommy's preferences, and they do a mean al pastor, too. But this burrito highlights for me how good beans and rice -- the quintessential mission ingredients -- can be by themselves. They also use real avocado and grill their burritos.

                On that note, both of my recs grill their burritos (though Cancun may steam their tortillas first). I am, however, a supporter of steaming, which does two things. First, it makes the tortilla more pliable and less prone to breakage. Second, it heats the tortilla evenly, which melts cheese (esp. slices) perfectly.

                2 Replies
                1. re: a_and_w

                  Just for future reference, I'd switch my rec for al pastor to Taqueria San Jose.

                  1. re: a_and_w

                    There you go! Taqueria San Jose for al pastor, Cancun for carnitas, and La Cumbre for.... well, T-shirts.

                2. Well, it sounds like you've got an uphill battle. Instead of trying to convince her that your burrito is the best, I'd encourage her to find her ultimate burrito....

                  While my two favorite places for burritos are El Toro and Azteca on Church & Market (very good and closer to my house), the thing that I've discovered is that if you think about what you and order agressively, you can build a good-to-awesome burrito almost anywhere.

                  But you can't just walk in to any joint, order the same thing and get an awesome burrito. I'm flexible, I walk the assembly line to check out their offerings before I order. And I watch the assembly process of the people ahead of me, if I see them steaming the tortilla, I'll request it be grilled/griddled, also it allows me to interject "less" or "more" if I see them being too generous with the rice or too stingy with the hot sauce.

                  Anyway, I look at the meats to see what looks good (what's being grilled to order and what's languishing & drying out). I check out the bean selection. I also pay a lot of attention to the condiment section since those can make or break a burrito:

                  Cilantro - since I love cilantro, I look to see if its a separate item - some do, many don't. But for me, its a requirement for a trully superior burrito.

                  Salsa - I check out their fresh salsas, what is the tomato-to-onion-ratio? Can I see any "hot" ingredients in it? I've found that salsas with a lot of chopped onions tend to be bitter tasting and can throw off the whole balance of the flavors in the burrito so I'll ask for "just a little" if its suspect. If I don't see any jalapenos or such, any heat will have to come from my hot sauce choice.

                  Hot Sauce - there should be a good selection (Mild, Medium, Hot; Green, Red). Since the hot sauce choice is usually the last choice you make, for me its based on what I've built into my burrito so far - if I've decided to splurge on sour cream, then I'll go hot; if I've chosen a fresh salsa that looks hot, I'll go medium or mild; if the fresh salsa has a lot of tomato, I'll go with a green sauce to add depth. At Azteca, they have a hot sauce that's has avocado & tomatillo in it that is so good that I build all of my burritos knowing that will be my hot sauce choice. Yummy!

                  Any unique items? - One place (now closed) offered a spicy cabbage slaw that added a really nice crunch. Whenever I built a burrito there, I requested their slaw.

                  When building a burrito, I think about how the individual ingredients are going to meld together - that's the way to a trully kick-ass burrito.

                  So anyway, that's my opinion - building a burrito is an interactive experience and a thoughtful, proactive consumer is much more likely to get an awesome burrito.

                  1. La Taqueria (no surname) on Mission between 24th and 25th - hands down. I like it because the meat and pintos are incredibly tender and juicy and flavorful. Also they don't use rice, which to me is just a cheap filler. They are a little more expensive than other Taquerias but I think it's well worth if for the quality you get. Avocado, sour cream and cheese are extra. The standard comes with meat (lots of it) beans and salsa fresca (pico de gallo). They also have excellent agua fresca - super fresh and flavorfull. Not sure about the steaming thing but i think they griddle their tortillas. I like the chicken best, my husband loves the carnitas and the carne asada is great too.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: lena

                      If there's no rice (not that there's anything wrong with that), it's not a classic Mission burrito.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I have to agree with Robert on this. Not that La Taqueria is bad (though it's not my personal favorite) but it is not what I consider the quintessential mission burrito for lack of rice.

                    2. We seem to be getting away from the topic. I know we can find good grilled tortilla burritos in SF. What I am looking for for Dommy! is a good Steamed Burrito and not just one which steams the Tortilla initially, but one which has to be kept in tin foil for structural integreity. Where the contents of said Burrito melds into a higher food Item. Thats what I am looking for While I know my usual places I am concerned If I don't find the best, She will still have the blinders of growing up in LA with out said steamed Burrito and not understand the true pleasure of it.

                      As for how she had her first SF Burrito experiences, it was peninsula folk who brought her somewhere. Oh and I personally don't mind lettuce in mine, but i can understand the aversion

                      Take care,

                      - P.

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                        You mean a place that puts the constructed, wrapped burrito -back- into
                        the steamer and blasts it again? La Cumbre does this. I can't think of anyplace
                        else that does it, though.

                        1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                          I guess that means we're off to La Cumbre. We'll report back after the trip!

                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                            This is odd. If you ask most SF Ex-pats, there are quite a few of us in LA, what a Mission Style burrito is, the cooking process involves a steaming process to heat it through after it has been made, among other features including meat, cheese, sour cream, rice, beans tomatoes and the aforementioned lettuce. It looks like in the 4 years since I have been gone things have changed significnantly. Dommy! mentioned this must mean real mexicans are making them now. ;-)

                            I guess will have to go to Tortilla Flats and see if they still make them that.

                            Take care,

                            - P.

                            1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                              A classic Mission-style burrito is your choice of meat with refried beans, rice, and salsa wrapped in a steamed large flour tortilla.

                              Sour cream, cheese, and guacamole are usually options or added as part of a "super burrito" combo.

                              Some places cook their rice with tomatoes but raw tomatoes or lettuce would be a modern twist, like black beans, broccoli, and tofu.

                              1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                I've had hundreds of burritos all over the bay area over the last 12 years, and I can't recall a single one that was steamed whole after assembly. I have seen some places make a wet burrito by putting sauce and cheese over the top and then heating it in the microwave, but never have I seen an assembled "dry" burrito heated in any way.


                                1. re: nja

                                  I don't remember ever seeing that either. Seems like it would make the paper wrapping soggy and the aluminum foil too hot to handle.

                                  1. re: nja

                                    I've seen it, but I don't remember where. They wrap the burrito in the foil and do one final session in the steamer.

                                  2. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                    Some of the burrito places aren't actually owned by Mexicans anymore, so the style of burritos are evolving. Most of the current favs around town are making a slightly different style then the steamed compounded ones of yesteryear. I was never a huge fan of El Faro, but I always associate that steamed thing with them for some reason. What were some of your old favorites from 4 years ago besides Tortilla Flats?

                                    El Burrito Express is far from the Mission, but they make a classic San Francisco style burrito.

                                    By the way, I think Frijtz closed. They moved from Hayes to Valencia, and tried serving much more extensive dinners. Guess it didn't work out for them.

                                    Zeitgeist is still the most reliable spot to find the Tamale lady.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Wow, this post is a blast from the past. I left SF in 2002. Tortilla Flats was run by an asian lady, But it has been long enough that I can remember what specific nationality. And almost all of my burritos came from there since it was around the corner from where I worked.

                                      When we were back to SF in 2006, Frjtz was still open on Hayes and @ Ghirardelli Square. According to there website they have reopened in a new place on Hayes and still have the Valencia place serving more substantial plates.

                                      And as for the Tamale Lady some other folks had taken her place on Fridays ad my old workplace including a Salvadoran Lady who brings Papusas. But I will remember to go to Zeitgeist for my next trip.

                                      Take Care

                                      - P.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        >Zeitgeist is still the most reliable spot to find the
                                        >Tamale lady.
                                        makes sense to me since IMHO
                                        the product is only "worth" the price
                                        if you are drunk and immoble.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          El Faro was the original. The old places all imitated their use of the steamer.


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Gordo, La Cumbre, and (sometimes) Pancho Villa are the closest match for a massive refried stuffed burrito that matches the old El Faro during the burrito boom period in the late 70's. El Faro's were the biggest (I can remember people having to take breaks to finish one) but there were better versions out there.

                                            For the throwback taste, El Burrito Express still shreds their chicken by hand, and if they're not rolled tight enough, they'll drip that orange sauce that will send any old San Franciscan into an instant time warp. The original location is on Taravel in Parkside, but they now have a second location in the Western Addition that seems to rate high with the burrito blogs.

                                            Before Burritos took off, San Francisco was always a real tamale town.

                                          2. re: sugartoof

                                            Frjtz isn't closed.


                                            They were remodeling the Hayes location while opening the Valencia one. Now both are open, I think.

                                              1. re: PiuPerFavore

                                                Frjtz on Hayes was closed for a while but has reopened next door. Same menu at both locations.

                                                Just in case anyone is misled by the topic title, Frjtz is Belgian and its specialties are french fries, crepes, mussels, and beer.

                                        2. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                          "and not just one which steams the Tortilla initially, but one which has to be kept in tin foil for structural integreity."

                                          No disrespect, but why insist on this? It sounds like she's never had a decent mission style burrito at all, which is a tragedy, imo. You asked for the best, why not take her to the best, instead of artificially limiting your options? I've been doing a lot of research recently on the LA board (I'm moving there at the end of the year) and it sounds like true mission burritos are tough to find in So Cal.

                                          That said, if you insist on a steamed tortilla, I'll echo the recs for La Cumbre. I grew up eating their carne asada burritos, and my description of a steamed slice of cheese was made with La Cumbre's in mind. Another possibility would be Gordo Taqueria, which has a few locations around SF. I'm pretty sure they steam their tortillas though they may put lettuce on the super -- I can't recall.

                                          Regardless, happy chowing!

                                          1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                            For best Mission burritos, I still say El Farolito on Mission and 24th for the carne asada super burrito, and Tacqueria Cancun on Mission and 19th for an al pastor super burrito. If Dommy is at all reluctant about burritos per se, you could always do the quesadilla suiza at El Farolito, which is its own huge beast and very delicious and skirts the whole issue of what different people think a burrito should be. I know a friend from Australia who took a quesadilla suiza on the plane with her on the way back as it was the one food item she would miss most from SF.

                                            Tacos are a whole different ballgame. :-)

                                          2. I don't think they steam their tortillas but Papolote, on 24th St at Valencia, can I post about it enough?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: rjf

                                              papolte is my favorite too. i always take visitors there, and everyone from my office loves it.

                                            2. I'm partial to La Cumbre, but I haven't had a Mission-style burrito in awhile. I'm more of the carnitas dinner plate type to assemble my own mini-burritos.

                                              As for the Tamale Lady, a good bet to find her late afternoon/early evening is at Zeitgeist on the corner of Duboce & Valencia.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Eugene Park

                                                She also would make a stop at my old workplace on Fridays late morning. But someone there has said her quality has gone down. Is this true ?

                                                1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                                  I saw Virginia most recently at R Bar in the Tenderloin (last Sunday night, late). She walked in right as I was chatting with a friend about how the Tenderloin was the new Mission in terms of hip bars and such.

                                              2. Wife and I trekked over to La Cumbre last night and here's my report:

                                                Per the suggestion of a recent poster in this thread, I went for the carne asada (meat right off the grill and chopped to order of course!) with nothing more than a simple adornment of whole pintos and some shredded cheese. The staff was extremely friendly and accomodating to special requests.

                                                Given the recent discussion about grilling versus steaming, I watched intently as the king-sized flour tortilla was placed into sort of a grill-press-looking contraption (kind of like they use for pannini sandwiches in Italian cafes, but without the grill marks) and then the glorious beast was loaded up with the goods and rolled tight. My burrito was not, however, steamed at any point in the preparation process. Because the tortilla was only left in the grill press for a few seconds, I could detect no noticeable grilled or toasted flavors or aromas and were I blindfolded I'm not sure I could have told you whether the tortilla had been grilled or steamed to begin with.

                                                BTW, in my opinion this burrito was as good as any I've had in the Mission, though its hard for me to say whether it was "the best". I guess we're all lucky to be spoiled for choice here...

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: ox4life

                                                  Oh no! Did the steamer leave with the recent(-ish) renovation?!?
                                                  The pannini machine is definitely new, but I've only been in a few
                                                  times recently and haven't been paying attention. I wonder how they
                                                  melt the slice of cheese now?

                                                  1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                    I suspect that the "contraption" is in fact the tortilla steamer. They look somewhat like panini presses without grills.

                                                2. what is the address for La Cumbre?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. Tacqueria Los Coyotes (3036 16th Street between Mission and Valencia) steams the burrito after it's assembled. I think even after it's wrapped in the foil, if I recall correctly. And their posted meat options include things I don't usually see elsewhere, like beef tongue, beef brains, and (for a dinner platter) goat. Haven't tried those yet. Just my usual regular carnitas burrito.