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Unfortunately, we lost Ezra on our way to Taqueria Can-Cun, where I've eaten at least 150 burritos over the years. During all those visits, I'd never tried the sesos (brains) version, so I ordered one.
"Sesos?" asked the cashier.
I probably should have taken the hint, because the thing about sesos is that it tastes ... well, let's say it's a distinct, slightly sour flavor. Dan didn't mind it, I actually gagged, and no one else would touch the sesos for a million bucks. We moved on to a pair of supers that weren't huge (8 inches in girth) but won us over via a remarkable attention to detail. The tortillas were grilled to a pleasant flakiness (El Farolito also grills its tortillas, but not as well as Can-Cun), chunks of jalapeño tantalized the palate, a distinct note of cilantro took the flavor to the next level, and pockets of fresh avocado were like biting the edge of heaven. Can-Cun's tender carne asada used to be my meat of choice, but lately I've become partial to the al pastor, which brought us all to our knees. The spicing was immense, with cloves and cumin playing off a slight dryness that forced us to grind the al pastor with our teeth to extract every molecule of flavor.
3071 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
El Farolito super carne asada -- $4.25
La Corneta super prawn -- $6.95
Can-Cun sesos (brains) -- $3.20
Can-Cun super al pastor -- $4.25
Pancho Villa steak and prawns -- $9.85
Pancho Villa super carnitas -- $6.45
La Corneta Taqueria, 2731 Mission (at 23rd Street), 643-7001. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 49. Noise level: moderate.
La Taqueria, 2889 Mission (at 25th Street), 285-7117. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. on Sundays). Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 49. Noise level: moderate.
Taqueria Can-Cun, 2288 Mission (at 19th Street), 252-9560. Open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12:45 a.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 49. Noise level: loud.
Taqueria El Farolito, 2777 Mission (at 24th Street), 826-4870. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 48, 49; BART. Noise level: moderate to loud.
Taqueria Pancho Villa, 3071 16th St. (at Valencia), 864-8840. Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 26, 22. Noise level: loud.
We found Ezra (who'd been doing shots at Beauty Bar) on our way to Pancho Villa, which by taqueria standards was like visiting the Ritz. A security guard worked the door, and the salsa bar offered an unbeatable array of condiments: two salsas frescas, one tomatillo salsa, three darker salsas studded with chili seeds, plus roasted jalapeños, pickled jalapeños, dried peppers, lime wedges, and cool, soothing radishes. At $9.85, the steak and prawns was the most expensive burrito I'd ever seen (and it wasn't even a super) -- a 10-1/2-inch zeppelin stuffed with freshly sautéed prawns, unfathomably smoky strips of grilled steak, and plenty of lettuce, tomato, beans, rice, and salsa. It was so huge it fell open when laid seam up, as did a super carne asada, which oozed rivers of sour cream and guacamole. We finished with carnitas -- picture a log of grease-seeping pork, as big as an entire La Taqueria burrito, folded into one of the behemoths mentioned above.
Then it was time to vote. Ezra preferred the carne asada at El Farolito, Jennifer the al pastor at Can-Cun. If he had to choose one, Dan said reluctantly, it would also be the al pastor at Can-Cun. Elsbeth agreed, but then decided a few days later that the chorizo at La Taqueria haunted her more thoroughly. As for me, I had some 20 pounds of remnants in my backpack, so I spent the next four days eating burritos, dissecting burritos, comparing rices, beans, meats, and salsas. I even froze one (you'd rather be beaten to death with the result than eat it), then went back for seconds of my favorites. In the end I decided I'll never get tired of burritos, and that Pancho Villa (viva salsa!) is my new taqueria of choice.
Still, the point was to choose one above all others, which would have to be the infinitely complex, entirely flawless super al pastor at Can-Cun -- surely the finest burrito in the entire universe.