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Oakland (Fruitvale) Burrito Showdown

cfarivar Mar 9, 2007 12:16 PM

Four friends and I gathered together last night for a Frutivale five burrito showdown. We usually hit up El Ojo de Agua about once a week. Their burritos are the best that we've found in the neighborhood, and it's well-worth the trek from the confines of Rockridge to get some mind-blowingly amazing burritos. But we often forget that El Ojo is but one taqueria amidst many in Fruitvale, so we decided to give some of the others a try. We ordered a regular al pastor burrito from each place, hold the sour cream. We took the burritos home, cut 'em up and we all sampled our finds.

The contenders:

El Otaez
3872 International Blvd

El Rincon Jarocho
(Formerly El Ojo de Agua restaurant, across from El Otaez)

El Farolito
3646 International Blvd

Taqueria San Jose
3433 International Blvd
http://www.taqueriasanjose.com/

El Ojo de Agua (truck
)12th St./Fruitvale Ave.

The verdict:

El Otaez got dinged for too much meat (and chewy, boo). Their burrito also had pineapple in it, which seemed to overpower the meat flavor, rather than accompany it. It just wasn't that great. (Also, its horchata got bad reviews too.)

El Rincon had sliced onions, which were a nice touch, but the meat was overall pretty boring, and they included sour cream, when we specifically asked (in Spanish) to not include. We weren't that impressed. (That said, we found out that the owner used to work at El Ojo and has kept that menu and added a bunch of Veracruz plates, which seemed to be what everyone else was getting. We'll have to go back to sample some of the seafood dishes.)

El Farolito's burrito got points for including bits of a whole avocado, but we all felt that its taste was too "clean," when compared with El Ojo or San Jose. There wasn't much interestingness to the texture of the filling, nor the meat. That said, everything else was very solid.

Taqueria San Jose, by contrast, had crispy meat that was clear that it had been cooked twice. That texture alone was what we realized we'd been missing from all the other ones. The spiced pork danced in our mouths and it was well-balanced with beans and rice. (Our resident Latina, Monica, quipped that she really wanted San Jose's meat in a Farolito burrito.) There remained some discussion as to which would be the appropriate number two.

El Ojo de Agua, by contrast, remained the champion. There just isn't a match for its consistently delicious fullness, balanced spice, and completely delicious meat. The melted cheese, the beans, the rice, everything comes together in a concoction of utterly satisfying proportions. And did I mention that it's only $4.25? (Monica said that none of these beat her longtime East Bay favorite, burritos from Chavez Market in Hayward.)

Photos are here: http://flickr.com/photos/cfarivar/tag...

  1. DezzerSF May 9, 2007 12:30 PM

    I went on a mini taco crawl myself today. I tried El Ojo de Agua's al pastor taco and didn't like it. The pork pieces were crispy on the outside, but the pieces were so small, the crispy bits overwhelmed the meat itself. The pastor flavor didn't jump out at me like TSJ's does, and the standard guacamole was more of a distraction than a good addition. I would much rather taste the onions, and didn't really on this taco. Tacos are $1.25 and are served on the smaller sized corn tortillas.

    Mi Pueblo, the new supermarket on High St, has a taqueria as well. Their pastor flavor was very, very close to TSJ's, maybe slightly oilier. The $1.25 "small" taco was simply topped with onions and cilantro, just the way I like it. Only thing missing was the free chips and salsa bar, which only Taqueria San Jose provides.

    The $1.85 "bigger" taco al pastor at Taqueria San Jose does it for me.

    1. e
      echo Mar 21, 2007 09:25 AM

      nice, cyrus
      that's the kind of dilligence that turns chowpups into chowhounds!
      but next time, keep the burritos in brown paper bags with numbers on them. that's right, a blind tasting!

      1 Reply
      1. re: echo
        cfarivar Mar 21, 2007 12:20 PM

        Yeah, we thought about that, but we were a bit hungry. I'm willing to do a blind tasting in the future, though. There's loads of burrito joints that we didn't try that are in Fruitvale.

      2. c
        chingcm Mar 21, 2007 07:26 AM

        I can't stay away from Ojo de Agua since I've read this post. Thought I would give it a try since I live up the hill. I have only tried the tacos. Pastor and pollo to die for. Love it, love it, love it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chingcm
          cfarivar Mar 21, 2007 12:19 PM

          Yay! Another Ojo convert!

        2. d
          David Boyk Mar 21, 2007 03:01 AM

          Yeah, Ojo can't stop the madness. Their licuados are great, too - I like the nut one a lot, and the oat one is also pretty good.

          1. a_and_w Mar 14, 2007 01:31 PM

            Cyrus, those pictures are like my dreams come to life -- awesome reviews!

            PS: I'm pretty sure the El Farolito is associated with the taqueria in SF. Is the same true of San Jose?

            1 Reply
            1. re: a_and_w
              g
              gordon wing Mar 14, 2007 06:16 PM

              not sure what the relationship may have been at one time but the website mentions both the Oakland and the San Rafael locations but not the SF location.....the al pastor is good at both places and at the SF outlet.

            2. mtirado Mar 9, 2007 03:12 PM

              The burriots at chavez are wonderful i reccomend the pastor burritos there, as resident latina on the burrito test i still love chavez overall but have confirmed my love for Ojo de Agua.

              I second sarvey on the meat from the butcher , also the butcher is wear you can get different fresh chesses by weight. The soups are wondeful caldo de res is my fave and its available everyday not just weekends like the menudo and posole

              As far as I know they dont carry atole but I have always thought that to be sesonal

              1. larochelle Mar 9, 2007 02:48 PM

                Excellent report. I do volunteer work near there on Saturdays and always stop at the El Ojo de Agua truck for a stellar breakfast burrito but last weekend I strayed and got a regular meat burrito - it was awesome.

                The thing I love about TSJ is their salsa bar and their trully excellent green salsa.

                There's other place on Int'l on my regular rotation I go but I don't remember its name - Mariscos...something? Its near Oteaz but on the other side of the street, has a parking lot, they've got a walkup window and outdoor tables - anyway I tend to get tacos & quesodillas from them.

                1 Reply
                1. re: larochelle
                  cfarivar Mar 9, 2007 03:21 PM

                  It's Mariscos La Costa, which was amazing when it opened a few years back, but I think has gone downhill since then. Then again, the last time I was there was a few years ago, so it may have changed.

                2. DezzerSF Mar 9, 2007 12:59 PM

                  Great report. I'll have to try El Ojo de Agua's pastor. TSJ has been my favorite thus far.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DezzerSF
                    DezzerSF Mar 14, 2007 01:16 PM

                    A coworker tried El Ojo de Agua yesterday and said "Not too good refried beans, and not much meat (which did not taste that good) nothing on the TSJ or Farolito for that matter."

                    I still might see for myself. Maybe it was a bad day?

                    1. re: DezzerSF
                      Ruth Lafler Mar 14, 2007 05:52 PM

                      What did he order?

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                        DezzerSF Mar 14, 2007 07:05 PM

                        Al Pastor Burrito. He said he likes refried beans but it didn't work in this burrito. Then the issue with the meat..

                  2. c
                    chocolatetartguy Mar 9, 2007 12:37 PM

                    Did they have atole?

                    1. s
                      sarvey Mar 9, 2007 12:31 PM

                      Yea! I've finally found another Chavez lover! Monica is right. People, go there now.

                      At Otaez I usually get their carnitas and chicarrones by the pound on the weekends. And at San Jose the al pastor burrito and the chile relleno. I'll have to try El Ojo now. Thanks for the rundown! Oh and let me guess, the biggest burrito was from TSJ, right?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: sarvey
                        cfarivar Mar 9, 2007 12:37 PM

                        I didn't know that TSJ was known for its girth, but I think that you might be right.

                        My old favorite is chorizo at El Ojo, but for the most reliability, we settled on pastor.

                        1. re: sarvey
                          hhc Mar 9, 2007 12:50 PM

                          Sarvey,
                          what are your favorite burritos at Chavez Market, Hayward?

                          1. re: hhc
                            s
                            sarvey Mar 9, 2007 01:50 PM

                            Well thanks for asking hhc!

                            I love the carnitas. I usually buy a pound to go and have a taco or two while I'm there. They also have a good chile rellenos and ceviche tostadas that I like alot though it isn't the best ceviche I've had. I've noticed alot of customers ordering the big bowls of soups. Finally, I'm always intrigued by their special plate deals; they usually have photos of the specials taped up to the counter. I like their aguas frescas b/c they are not too sweet. I did not like the tres leches cake.

                            I've also bought seasoned meat, salsa verde, and queso fresco in the butchers case at the back. Take it home and fire up your grill. It's about that time, no?

                            Would like to hear others opinions once they make it out there.

                            1. re: sarvey
                              s
                              sarvey Mar 9, 2007 02:20 PM

                              Oops! I just noticed you asked about the burritos. Sorry. To tell the truth, I haven't had one at Chavez. I usually stick to tacos, burritos are just too big for me.

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