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Jul 3, 2013 09:30 AM

Where can I find the best San Diego Style Al Pastor and Carne Asada burritos in San Francisco?

I had been away from the bay area for about 12 years, living in San Diego. During my time there, I had developed a strong preference for San Diego style ALL MEAT burritos dripping and popping with flavor.
Now, I have moved back, and after living in SF about a year I have almost given up my search to find them here, which has been kind of hopeless. I admit I haven't been looking very hard lately after my initial disappointment from hitting top recommendations.

To clarify, I am not looking for a 'Super Burrito' which I understand was perfected or maybe even invented here. That is nice, they are quite satisfying when I am looking for this style.

But what I am really looking for has no rice, and no beans, no cheese, and this is important: the key feature is the intense flavor of the meat itself.

What seems to be standard in SF is that many of the burrito and taco shops here have little buffet trays of meat sitting in hot water, the meat simmering in it's own juice, that ends up as kind of a stewed or carnitas type of consistency. Also... the popular item is the 'super burrito', adding heaps of other things. Reminds me of a Chipotle burrito....but not necessarily in a bad way, just different from what I am searching for.

In San Diego at my more favorite spots - the meat tastes more like BBQ - slow, low and dry heat. Or maybe even Grilled, or seared on a hot griddle before it goes on the chopping block. Its slightly crunchy, with bits of the end pieces, charred and also bits of fatty soft pieces as well. And ..... not much else is added to the burrito, mostly meat.

I am looking for Al Pastor cooked on a spit and sliced off , with the intense flavor of chile, lots of lime, fat, and spice. Added cilantro for a zesty kick. Dumped into a flour tortilla and optionally augmented with some creamy avocado salsa, grilled onions or other salsa.

Examples from San Diego: Tacos El Paisa (Imperial Ave) and Tacos El Gordo(Chula Vista), or El Cuervo (Mission Hills)<not cooked on a spit but still nice, if even maybe a little over spiced>

I am looking for Carne Asada. All meat with a bit of guacamole and maybe some salsa fresca to cut the smokey-limey-greasy flavor. (Example: Meat like they serve at any of the above but even something like Roberto's on Miramar Rd would be a better fit than what I have had so far found in San Francisco.)

I know it exists !!

I just don't know where to look anymore because the local blogs and my new friends seem to have totally different preference up here.

Anybody who has bridged the Tijuana to San Francisco Taco and Burrito Gap - can you please help ?
Links to previous threads I may have missed, and fresh opinions welcome!

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  1. Welcome home!

    Hoping to bridge this Burrito Gap, when I saw Josh (a recent San Diego transplant) mention Garaje, I asked him for more details that he posted here,

    Hope that helps, and please give us your feedback.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks ! I will add to my (new) list and let you know...

      1. re: nmatteso

        You'll also want to check the linked reports further down in that thread. Some are old, but there might be some clues in there. Salsas with avocado are a bit scarcer on the ground up here, as you'd imagine.

        Here's my photo of the trompo of al pastor pork at Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Your photo is making me hungry. The linked threads are extensive, and will take my stomach (and willing family) quite some time to work through. :-) A pleasant problem to have, and exactly what I was looking for.. Thanks !!!!

          1. re: nmatteso

            And sounds like you're the family of chowhounds for the job! Look forward to reading your updates.

    2. Hi!

      I'm not a big knower of San Diego, your words about good, tasty Al Pastor meat resonate.

      On the peninsula, I have best luck with the El Gruellense chain. The Chavez markets often have a similar Al Pastor spit, with a big pinapple at the top.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        Sounds delicious, which one of the Gruellenese do you recommend? There are more than a few...

        1. re: nmatteso

          I love El Grullense, it's pretty much my favorite place ever for tacos but I think that's what they do best, it's not really a burrito spot in my opinion. I prefer the one at Sequia Station on El Camino in the old Taco Bell.

          1. re: nmatteso

            I end up at the "original", 1280 El Camino, RWC. However, sometimes the Al Pastor is flavorful and crunchy, sometimes it ain't.

            The Red Wet sauce is also pretty good, and they'll make the burrito however you want. I usually just go tacos though.

            1. re: bbulkow

              Based on this thread, I stopped by the El Grullense Grill on Woodside in RWC for a before-lunch taco. The Al Pastor was great - flavorful, crispy, multi-dimensional. The spit seemed to be running for a while, and I was one of the first patrons of the day.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Is the flour tortilla steamed or grilled for a burrito?

        2. Not much of an al pastor fan, although in SF San Jose Taquaria uses a gyro type spit. Technically, is it al pastor without it?

          My standard is to order carne asada burritos with just salsa and double meat with no beans & rice. SF favorites that do this especially well are La Cornita and La Taquaria.

          1. I know Pancho Villa has an All Meat burrito on the menu and the Carne Asada is grilled and I think it's pretty good. Not sure if this is exactly gonna fit the bill but it might get pretty close.

            1. La Taqueria's burritos are rice-less standard and they have pretty good meats. IIRC meat is not grilled to order, but with the high volume, not sitting around too long in the heating trays.

              You'll have to specify no beans, etc. They are the tastiest, "no frills" burrito I know.

              My favorite El Gruellense on the Peninsula is the one on Middlefield across from the Costco in Redwood City. I've only had tacos there, so can't comment on the burrito style.

              La Taqueria
              2889 Mission St, San Francisco
              (between 24th & 25th)

              2 Replies
              1. re: drewskiSF

                oh, and La Altena has very good Al Pastor roasting on a vertical spit

                Taqueria La Altena
                2588 Mission St

                1. re: drewskiSF

                  Went to La Altena this weekend.. and decided to go with the tacos to find the best meat first... Then I will graduate to burritos sometime.

                  I got the Al Pastor Tacos Con Todo..They were tasty, pretty good flavor, and had some crispy and soft bits.
                  My wife said the Cabeza was good, and the Carnitas taco was really good. Crispy and lots of flavor.
                  I especially liked the Pollo Asada, lots of flavor and tender.

                  Overall a good experience.
                  The Carne Asada was so so. It was good but not memorable.