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Papalote Mexican Grill, SF - go or avoid?

I didn't see the show, but there was a Bobby Flay Throwdown at Papalote Mexican Grill in SF shown in TV last night about their burritos.

Is Papalote Mexican Grill any good? They have 2 locations: 1777 Fulton St & 3409 24th St. Which is better?

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  1. I go to the one on 24th Street at least once a week. It's good and the salsa is fantastic. The things I like about it is that the meat seems to be a little higher quality than the average taqueria, and they make everything to order - no hotel pans of precooked meat. Because of this it does take a little longer to get your food than other places. It has its detractors, but I truly don't see why.

    1. Opinions about Papalote tend to be very polarized. Many regulars love it. I don't -- although I admit I've only been there a few times. Life it too short to waste my burrito calories on ones that just do not appeal. (Their salsa is excellent, FWIW.) With their TV exposure I imagine it will get even more crowded - another reason to go elsewhere.

      1. I like Papalote, but you'll find plenty who do not. For me, it's about decent quality meat which appears to be grilled to order (carne asada), and very good salsa. Too bad they don't offer carnitas, though.

        1. Salsa was very good, but the burrito was just ok. Nicely toasted tortilla, but the beans were kind of blah. Meat not particularly memorable.

          2 Replies
          1. re: sfbing

            Exactly. It's a little too healthy to achieve the flavor to match the quality and care in preparation. The beans are vegan (no lard), the meats are lean (white meat chicken), and the rice is probably vegan too. All of that adds up to a delicious burrito when covered in their salsa, but not something that is as good as it would be with lard and dark meat chicken or carnitas. That said, you can actually eat one for dinner and not feel like you consumed a major gut bomb just before dinner.

            1. re: SteveG

              I'm usually a dark meat guy, too, but I love the juicy and well marinated chicken at Papalote. Good point, though, about them not being a gut bomb. It's actually a perfect lunch burrito in that respect.

          2. I eat at Papalote once in a while, when I feel like eating a burrito and being healthy at the same time. I think the main draw is the fact that have several vegan options, while most other taquerias have only one, if that.

            As people have mentioned, the best thing about this place is the salsa. I also like the fish tacos here. Everything else is average to me. Clean, but average. Sort of like La Corneta.

            1. i think you should go just to see for yourself. i think the 24th street location is the first and more popular one.

              that was the first bobby flay epidode i've seen where it was obvious right from the start that bobby flay was going to lose. he didn't even know what a mission-style burrito was. the papalote burrito looked very good in the tv show.

              1. I like the chili verde served at the Papalote on Fulton Street. You can have it either in a burrito or on a place w/rice & beans. I have never been to the one on 24th Street.

                1. I'll put in a vote to go ahead and try it, it's not going to cost you much anyhow. It's certainly a bit different from a standard mission burrito, mostly in that it's a little higher quality and not quite as big. I like their fresh grilled meats, of course the salsa is outstanding and I'm pretty sure there is no lard involved which I don't miss but some might.
                  To Bernal KC, would you care to explain what you don't like?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: virtualguthrie

                    Bear in mind, I'm working from a small sample size. I did not realize they were vegan, but that probably accounts for my distaste. I can't wrap my head around the idea of beans without fat/lard, or torillas without fat/lard, or lean meats in a burrito... To me clean + healthy != burrito. I like clean and fresh when it comes to salsa and aqua fresca and guacamole, but not when it comes to burritos, tacos, enchillada and the like. Don't get me wrong, I value freshness and quality meats, but the fear of fat can kill some dishes, and burritos would be a good case in point. The same people who fear fat tend to undersalt too, so that may have been a factor. In any case I found the two burritos (and bites of two others) that I had there to be lacking.

                    1. re: BernalKC

                      Agree completely with BernalKC in that I look for is flavor and authenticity in my mexican. Papalote does have great salsa. I have stopped to buy a jar and skipped the meal there more than a few times. (Yes, they salsa separately)

                      I prefer chorizo to 'soy-rizo', but then I am a carnivorous sinner.... sigh..

                    2. Papalote is OK, no reason to avoid it. No reason to go out of your way either. Some people think it is not "Mexican" enough, but I disagree. I was born and raised in Mexico and I can tell you of plenty of food that is prepared without manteca. Frijoles de la olla (not refried) and corn tortillas are traditionally prepared without lard. Papalote is close to my office, I go there for lunch but get things to go - there is usually no place to sit. The owner also does good things for the community, so that is good in my book. Off topic - I don't watch the food network, but from the few times I've tuned in I immediatley disliked Bobby Flay. He is incredibly pretentious and arrogant, I can't stand him.

                      1. i don't get teh big deal. yes, the salsa is great, but the stale chips they served me detracted from that.

                        also, the difference that freshly grilled meat makes is not quite worth waiting 20 minutes for a burrito, imo

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: vulber

                          The lime grilled prawns are excellent but there are only about 4 per burrito.

                        2. I have enjoyed their food, though it is pricier than other taquerias in town (better ingredients overall). However, I was thinking of going recently, but saw reviews on Yelp by many people saying they have upped their prices significantly since the TV show aired. Regular burrito now for $7.50... I dunno, I think that's pushing it.

                          1. Definitely go, if you are a fan of burritos. I believe their super grilled chicken with whole black beans is consistently the best burrito in SF right now. It has replaced Taqueria San Jose as my go-to place for chicken burritos. Also, that orange salsa is like crack. All of my experiences are with the 24th St location.

                            1. OK, so for those who don't dig the Papalote... what are your Mexican recommendations?

                              22 Replies
                              1. re: Jigsaw

                                I went to the Fulton St one yesterday because I do like/love that salsa. This is the last time I go to Papalote. I shared the triple threat with a friend because the price has jumped from 14.95 to
                                19.95. Unbelievable. It was prawn, beef and chicken, did not seem all that large, and no guac or avocado -- guess you have to specify if you want that and pay even more.

                                I like El Metate on Bryant about 21st St. The other day I had a carnitas torta (enough for 2 meals) and it came with a small, very nice, chicken tortilla soup, all for $5.75 including the tax.

                                1. re: walker

                                  Bigger and cheaper must mean better!

                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    This meal from El Metate was really delicious, MUCH better than the meal from Papalote. I don't mind paying more if the quality is there; for that reason, I enjoy the food at La Taqueria.

                                    1. re: walker

                                      Never been to El Metate, but I would take a burrito from Papalote over La Taqueria any day of the week.

                                  2. re: walker

                                    walker, I'm reading up on Papalote instead of working -- I watched that Throwdown ep recently (we get things later on Food Network Canada) and I thought the triple threat burrito they prepared looked snackworthy. But if it's $19.95, I'm rethinking :-). Was it a platter y'all had with the same items on it. Thanks.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Never mind, answered my own question by venturing off CH. I don't think I'm prepared to drop $20 for a burrito...

                                      1. re: grayelf

                                        No way is it worth anywhere near the price, I'm not going back ever. (But, I'll miss that great salsa, but that's all!)

                                        Because of CH report on taquerias in Redwood City, I finally tried one called Los Gemelos, 2855 Middlefield Rd. I went primarily because they make their own corn tortillas -- as your order comes in. It was GREAT. In order to get these tortillas, you must order tacos (the burritos come on those regular flour ones). Wish I lived closer!! (It's about 20 minutes south of the airport, thus, 40 minutes from SF.)

                                        1. re: walker

                                          Another member of the "We Love Los Gemelos" club!

                                          I wanted to note that the mobile version seems to have moved. I've driven by both on weekdays and weekends during the afternoon and Los Gemelos truck is not in the lot next to Enterprise rental cars. One time I did see a truck parked across El Camino, but couldn't make out the sign because so many people were crowded around. It was a shiny, clean one, so maybe Los Gemelos.

                                          Has anyone spotted the truck lately? I guess i could call the brick and mortar store . . .

                                          Tacos Los Gemelos truck
                                          2801 El Camino Real, Redwood City, CA

                                          Los Gemelos Taqueria (store)
                                          2855 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            I did not know about a truck; is it close to the restaurant? Hand made corn tortillas, too?

                                            The tacos are very small but only $1 each; most people would want 4, I think. One tiny negative: no fresh avocado slices available. Might have to bring my own next time, that guac sauce they have does not do it for me.

                                          2. re: walker

                                            Los Gemelos can teach you the difference between pre-made tortillas at many popular places vs. made to order corn tortillas (albeit pressed with a machine by hand). i personally don't like papalote, el metate, la taqueria, el farolito, taqueria cancun, or any of those highly rated mission places...i'm more about the style like taqueria vallarta (street style) or rincon sabroso (sopes made by hand)...

                                            1. re: walker

                                              $20 for a burrito???? Good grief.

                                      2. re: Jigsaw

                                        I don't have recommendations. I have habits. I love the burritos I get, but I think anyone trying to tell anyone else that this or that burrito is 'best' is off their rocker. Burritos are comfort food, and those tastes are ultimately personal.

                                        That said, I get my sit-down, wet burrito from Peurto Allegre. Most of my take-out burritos from the Glen Park La Corneta. In the E.Bay I frequent Los Cantaros (the one at 54th&S.P.) and Taqueria Cancun in Berkeley. Again, this is more about habit than having sought out the 'best'.

                                        As for La Taqueria, their burrito has no rice. And their tacos are so good. Why they are judged (for good or bad) by their burritos are is odd to me.

                                        1. re: BernalKC

                                          Come off it. Chowhound is all about finding the "best" food available. Obviously taste is subjective, but we're all offering our opinions of the "best" according to our preferences. I find it really hard to believe that your own recommendations are based primarily on habit, rather than your perception of quality. As for La Taqueria, people judge it by their burritos because people constantly recommend it for the burritos. But I'm with you that the super taco is the way to go, since there's no rice on the burrito.

                                          1. re: a_and_w

                                            You're right, CH is about the hunt for "best," but my point is that comfort foods, like burritos, are judged by more personal, subjective criteria that make superlatives more or less meaningless.

                                            I don't like Papalote burritos, but I certianly don't begrudge anyone for loving them -- and I've even learned here why some do (vegan, lo-fat, quality...). Does not make me question my tastes. When I want a burrito, I go into autopilot and go for the familiar.

                                            1. re: BernalKC

                                              OK, maybe "best" is the wrong word. How about my "favorite" burrito that I would recommend before all others? You may go on autopilot, but burritos are something I spend a LOT of time obsessing about (in case that wasn't obvious lol).

                                              PS: Just to clarify, my appreciation for Papalote has nothing -- zip, zilch, nada -- to do with healthiness, veganism, or cleanliness. It's all about the flavor, distribution of ingredients, and structural integrity.

                                          2. re: BernalKC

                                            Speaking of "no rice" -- does anyone know why La Taqueria (the only place I've seen) does not offer rice?

                                            1. re: walker

                                              It's just a different style. Rice on a burrito is really an SF Mission thing. Burritos in San Diego and Chicago (two other great burrito towns) don't typically have rice. I personally prefer rice on my burrito, but many feel passionately the other way, which may explain La Taqueria's success.

                                              1. re: a_and_w

                                                You can go to any of these places and get a no rice burrito by just asking for it.

                                                It will not have the girth of a sequoia, but it will be as large as a regular burrito if you order the supreme.

                                                Reminds me of the burritos you get in SD.

                                                My personal favorite is to go to Farolito or Canun, and order the Al Pastor Supreme, no rice or beans.

                                                1. re: roster

                                                  I'm kind of with you roster. I now order my burritos with double meat (either carrne asada or pollo asada) and the rice & beans on the side. Good quality carne mixed with salsa & hot sauce is the was to go!

                                                    1. re: Windy

                                                      I sometimes do when in the mood for corn tortillas. Still, a burrito with double meat and rice & beans on the side is typically less messy and a better a bargain.

                                          3. re: Jigsaw

                                            For burritos? Taqueria Cancun, El Tonayense, Taqueria el Buen Sabor, El Castellito, El Farolito, Jalapeno Taqueria (pretty much only if you're stuck in Ingleside, but it's surprisingly good).

                                            Avoid: La Taqueria (go for tacos, not burritos), Taqueria San Jose, Pancho Villa Taqueria, Taqueria Balazo (even their nachos are bad), Zona Rosa.

                                            At almost every place I'd go with the carnitas, but that's my personal preference and I think it shows the most about a taqueria's skill to get it perfectly crispy without being dry. The one exception is El Tonayense where the Al Pastor is the one to beat and the carnitas is rather ho-hum.

                                            Taqueria Cancun
                                            3211 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            La Taqueria
                                            2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            Zona Rosa
                                            1797 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                            El Tonayense
                                            2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA

                                            Jalapeno Taqueria
                                            1338 Ocean Ave, San Francisco, CA 94112

                                          4. I never saw this thread...

                                            I LOVE Papalote, but the burritos are very un-conventional. Go for a great burrito, not for a great SF/burrito experience.

                                            P.S. I go to the one near USF

                                            1. Personally, this is my least favorite burrito I have tried since living in the mission. It was more dry than other burritos I have had, and the salsa was really big and chunky. Think sliced onions and not diced. It actually tasted the most similar to a Chipotle burrito out of anything I've had here, and was expensive and I waited 30 minutes for it.

                                              The "salsa" (really it's hot sauce) that comes with the chips is pretty good, buy a jar of that and forget their actual chips.

                                              I would walk a few blocks down to 18th and have Buen Sabor instead!

                                              34893 Newark Blvd, Newark, CA 94560

                                              72 N Almaden Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: bethdean

                                                Buen Sabor, La Taqueria, Pancho Villa - all three have the best tasting carne asada I've had in the Mission.

                                                La Taqueria
                                                2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                Pancho Villa
                                                365 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

                                                72 N Almaden Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

                                                1. re: mariacarmen

                                                  La Taqueria is far above the other two; Pancho Villa is generally overrated, and Buen Sabor is the type of place that would do well in another neighborhood, but in the Mission, their burrito is "only" very good. Pancho Villa/El Toro/El Tepa do have a great $1 taco happy hour which can't be beat, although Vallarta has better (and a wider variety of) tacos that cost $1.50 any time of the day.

                                                  Taqueria San Jose has a very underrated carne asada burrito.

                                                  But when I need something more filling (and cheaper) than La Taqueria, it's Taqueria Cancun.

                                                  Papalote's wait time is obscene for a burrito that's just pretty good. They also have a tendency to serve stale chips, which negates any positive qualities about their raved-about salsa.

                                                  Sorry I got carried away and somewhat offtopic, it's a passionate subject for me:)

                                                  Taqueria Cancun
                                                  2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                  La Taqueria
                                                  2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                  Pancho Villa
                                                  365 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

                                                  Vallarta Restaurant
                                                  14366 E 14th St, San Leandro, CA 94578

                                                  72 N Almaden Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

                                                  1. re: vulber

                                                    I don't eat burritos, i mostly eat tacos, and I love the carne asada tacos at those 3 places. The ONLY thing I have ever eaten at Cancun that I liked are their tacos. The rest of their food tastes like trash to me. But again, not a burrito eater. My FB swears by the mojado, and i have to admit i do love the sauce.

                                                    As for Papalote, I've only been once, and it was fine, but a $20 burrito???? In the mission? Come on! It had better be a foie gras/black truffle/kobe beef burrito, is all i can say.

                                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                                      I give up. Old person needs abbreviation info, FB R rated or not?

                                                      1. re: wolfe

                                                        I'm guessing it means BF, as most people tend to place little value in the food opinions of their FBs

                                                        1. re: wolfe

                                                          Oh, god, sorry! BF = boyfriend. i'm no spring chicken myself, just lazy typist, and, apparently, slightly dyslexic.

                                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                                            Vulber 1
                                                            wolfe 0
                                                            At least on this thread.

                                                        2. re: mariacarmen

                                                          The only burrito that's $20 is the "triple threat" combo burrito (carne asada, chicken, shrimp) and I don't think I've ever actually seen anyone order it. The price is obscene, but I guess that depends on whether you're actually getting three burritos worth of meat in one.

                                                        3. re: vulber

                                                          I've noticed the stale chips at Papalote, but I actually love putting the orange salsa on the burritos, too. I actually think they marinate the chicken in that salsa. BTW, have you tried the burrito with whole beans? I prefer it that way.

                                                          1. re: a_and_w

                                                            I think Papalote marinates the chicken in achiote paste, not the salsa.

                                                    2. Has anyone tried making Chow's reverse engineered Papalote salsa?

                                                      I've made it a few times, and it's a really good recipe, but I have no idea if it actually tastes anything like Papalote's salsa. I'm still on the fence about whether or not to go, just to see how the recipe compares to the original. I can't say that the descriptions of the burritos alone make me want to go...

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: daveena

                                                        Go. Order a super chicken with whole black beans. It's really the best burrito in the Mission right now, imo, and I'm pretty obsessive about burritos. I can't vouch for anything else on the menu, but that super chicken burrito is the bomb.

                                                        1. re: daveena

                                                          I tried making the one with more ingredients but was not thrilled so will try the shorter one next. I think it needs more pepitas (I bought them at TJ). Papalote's is more of an orange color.

                                                          These recipes call for roasting fresh tomatoes and I have to believe a restaurant like this would not be using fresh, they'd use canned. (They have 2 restaurants.)

                                                          1. re: walker

                                                            I haven't tried that salsa recipe, but I have used TJ's pepitas and they are not good quality. The closer to round shape and darker green ones that I buy from small Mexican stores are much more flavorful and make a difference in my recipes.

                                                            1. re: walker

                                                              I think I quadrupled the pepitas (from the Mexican supermarket) and used a whole dried ancho chile instead of the ground pasilla they call for. I've made it with roasted fresh tomatoes but actually preferred the version made with canned (Muir Glen fire-roasted). You have to tinker with the vinegar and sugar too, depending on how sweet/tart the tomatoes are. My version was a lot more orange than the one in the picture.

                                                              Oh, I just found your thread on Home Cooking - I'll repost there.

                                                              I can't find the other version you were talking about though...

                                                              1. re: daveena

                                                                This is the one I tried that I would not do again -- think I don't like the strong taste of cumin in this one.


                                                          2. You can now buy their salsa online, their restaurants, Whole Foods, Rainbow, etc.


                                                            1. If it were on taste alone, I wouldn't pick Papalote. However, for someone who is trying to avoid tons of fat, it's a godsend. I am so excited to be able to go to SF and get a burrito - and not cheat on my heart-healthy diet!
                                                              However, does anyone know what's in their flour tortillas? Most flour tortillas are made with shortening and therefore filled with trans-fats.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: cathyeats

                                                                Most good flour tortillas are made with lard. Have no idea about Papalote.

                                                              2. I've only been there once and that was years ago. Do the tortillas used for tacos still fall apart in your hands? That was my problem with Papalote.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: scarmoza

                                                                  yes. love the burritos, but the tacos are a mess.

                                                                2. Avoid. The best way of putting it is that they're the hipster taqueria: far more veggie options than meat (no carnitas, al pastor, non-soy chorizo, etc.), lots of vegan choices, no lard, foil-less burritos served on a plate, etc. The salsa is astoundingly overhyped. It's basically just a fairly standard fire-roasted salsa, but somehow it's been given mythic status it really doesn't deserve.

                                                                  I eat there fairly often (carne asada because the only other meat options are a dry chicken or the awkwardly saucy chile verde or mole), but only because the Folsom location is the most tolerable taqueria in the area (Zona Rosa on Haight is mediocre and Taqueria Balazo is sub-par). It has nothing on Taqueria Cancun, El Tonayense, El Castillo or any number of other, vastly superior taquerias around town.

                                                                  Taqueria Cancun
                                                                  2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                  El Tonayense
                                                                  2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: belgand

                                                                    Huh? You say avoid, but you eat there frequently? And I'm not sure what you mean by the "Folsom location"; the 2 restaurants are 24/Valencia and Fulton/Masonic.

                                                                    Anyhoo, like BernalKC said up at the top of the thread, opinions are polarized. I find the "dry chicken" quite good (it's grilled to order, which is unusual), but don't like the beef. And their cheese is a tad more flavorful than the other more traditional taquerias, so I usually get a straight up super pollo there, versus cancun or farolito, where I have taken to ordering super without cheese (but with extra crema).

                                                                    I think the salsa is addictive and the reptation is well-deserved.

                                                                    One final plus: I have never ever had an order screwed up there (and I've been going since they opened). Papalote is definitely my go-to place for phone orders; even when I'm calling in super high-mainentance burrito concoctions for my super high-maintenance friends and am actually embarrassed to read this nonsense over the phone, they have always gotten it correct. I can't count the times I've taken the first bite of my burro from Tonayense, etc, and had a real surprise. I've taken to paying attention to what the guy ahead of me orders, as that's the burrito that ends up in my bag, about 1 time in 4.

                                                                    1. re: waldito

                                                                      I meant Fulton and somehow didn't notice. I go there because, as I said, there aren't any other, better options for burritos in the area and when I want a burrito or a relatively inexpensive, quick meal.

                                                                      My point is that if you have a choice don't go. If you're making a dedicated trip there you'd be much, much better off going to a much better taqueria. If you're going to the Mission location you'll pass several on your way there.

                                                                      I've actually thrown out the salsa before due to disinterest. I seriously cannot fathom what people see in it. It's utterly generic.