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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.

              2. You can get the carne asada you are looking for at La Costena in Mountain View. They grill fresh raw steak to order (the flavor is intense!) and they do have a lot of options for a "super burrito" style but you can just ask for carne asada, a bit of guac, and salsa fresca as you described.

                For the al pastor off a spit, I just don't know. I wish I knew. My fix is at Tacos el Gordo when in Vegas.

                1 Reply
                1. re: hungree

                  I am often near mountain view, glad you brought this up. Definitely going to try it. Its on my checklist now.

                2. I dunno about the meat cooking style but TAQUERIA VALLARTA also has an ALL MEAT BURRITO for ~$6-7. Although the price of their tacos quickly went form $1.50 to $2, so maybe the burritos are also more now.

                  1. I agree it's hard to find what you're looking for here, especially the burritos.

                    If you're open to tacos the al pastor at Don Pisto's in North Beach is really good - better than any I had in SD, including at El Paisa and El Gordo. The meat is really nicely charred and crispy.

                    If you're open to something more upscale, Nopalito has really good carnitas and carne asada, though they are high-end preparations and not burritos.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Josh

                      Wow, not to mention Nopalito, even Don Pisto's looks really upscale compared to the hole in the wall taco shops in the mission. I must try this place !

                      I habitually gravitate toward dirty looking shops in the shady neighborhoods for great tacos, but I'm always open for surprises. Sounds like Don Pisto's are doing it right for the Al Pastor, so I will have to stop in.

                    2. If you have a car and are willing to do quite a bit of driving, here's what you do. You drive up to Adalberto's in Fairfield. Should take you about an hour after you cross the Bay Bridge and start heading east on I-80.

                      Adalberto's isn't "like" a San Diego taco shop, it *is* a San Diego taco shop (as you can no doubt tell from the name that ends in "-berto's"). What I mean is, there are San Diego locations of Adalberto's. Then there's one in Fairfield, and apparently another in Sacramento. No tortilla steamers. No stewed meat. No freakin' rice in the burrito. Just a San Diego style carne asada burrito (I can't remember if they have al pastor) with good guacamole and squeeze bottles of hot sauce on the tables. Lord, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

                      For something a little closer to home, you can try the "San Diego Burrito" on the menu at The Taco Shop At Underdog's in the Outer Sunset. It's not nearly as good as Adalberto's, but it's a decent attempt at something like what you get down near the border.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: matthewn

                        This is absolutely the thing to do. I can't drive through Fairfield without a stop at Adalberto's, most recently Saturday.

                        The takeout menu lists 2 SD locations and 8 in NorCal, the others being: Orangevale; Rancho Cordova; North Highlands; Carmichael; Sacramento; Rocklin; Stockton.

                        The Fairfield menu varies insignificantly from this one posted for the Rancho Cordova location:


                        I've said it before, I'll say it again- Adalberto's is the definitive answer to the SD burrito quest.

                        No al pastor, but they do have puerco adobada.

                        There is another outfit named Baldo's which tries to ply the same trade, but their Vallejo and Fairfield locations are too close to Fairfield for me to gamble with disappointment (that and the fact that the non-erto's name and non-red/yellow color scheme do not fit my criteria).


                      2. What you are describing is the only type of taco I like. Most of the Oakland taco trucks will serve you exactly what you are describing.

                        I see that someone else posted about Taqueria San Jose in San Francisco. I stopped going there because I felt the quality dropped off on their al pastor, but I am still a faithful customer of Taqueria San Jose on International Blvd. in Oakland. The key to enjoying their al pastor is getting it when it's reasonably fresh (I've probably had my best tacos there at lunch). I ask for only onion and cilantro, and hold the hot sauce. Then I add hot sauce on my own using the variety of sauces at the salsa bar. I don't know how their other meats are.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: jillyju

                          Hey, this weekend I just drove through Oakland, International Blvd on the way back from trying a Thai place ( Vientian Cafe ).

                          I kept ogling the taco trucks so hard along the way back to Jack London Square (headed to Beer Revolution)....that I must have been drooling even though I just stuffed myself at the Thai place.

                          Finally my wife jokingly shouted "OK OK OK , next time you get to pick the taco truck you want to go to, I am sorry I forced us to eat Thai food this time !! " Ha... these taco trucks remind me of San Diego ! I have heard Grulense and Gordo are good taco trucks, do you have experience with these two ?

                          1. re: nmatteso

                            Wandering slightly but nmatteso I hope you get to go back to Vientian and try the Lao specialties there. I've found them to be much better than the Thai offerings. The nam khao (a crunchy rice ball "salad" with pork) and the Lao sausage are outstanding.

                            1. re: nmatteso

                              Sorry to have missed this question. I am a fan of Gordo's and it's been awhile since I've eaten at any of the others as a result.

                              1. re: nmatteso

                                Grullense is mostly brick-and-mortar on the peninsula, I think I've seen a truck or two, but mostly hole-in-the-wall windows.

                                Gordo, I've been to two of their stores, also don't know if they have trucks. What's great about Gordo is their default carnitas without rice. Yum.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  I don't think the Gordo truck on International is related to the B&M chain.

                                  I like them better than the Mi Grullense trucks

                                  1. re: drewskiSF

                                    Yes, the Gordo al pastor wagon in Fruitvale is independent. Likewise the Grullense trucks in Fruitvale are not related to the ones on the Peninsula.

                            2. Funny that you bring this topic up nmatteso. My GF and I also recently moved to the Bay Area from San Diego and the SD style Mexican food is one of the things that we miss the most. As much as I can appreciate mission style burritos SD has it's own style of mexican food that I have not found anywhere else.

                              Would love to find some decent Carne Asada fries or a California burrito around here. Our favorites in SD were Lolita's and MXN (formerly Santana's).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mliew

                                I wish the Bay Area had a place like Super Cocina

                                That place rocks!

                                On my last visit to SD I had breakfast,lunch and dinner there.

                                I have never done that anywhere else in my life!

                                The next day I ate at the seafood taco truck Mariscos German a block away.

                                Very good but not worth the wait.

                                And I got there at 2:15 in the afternoon!!!

                                Super Cocina
                                3627 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104
                                Phone:(619) 584-6244

                                Even has a parking lot.

                                Neighborhood is ok... on the fringe of Hipster North Park.