Antojitos Antics

Calvin Trillin and assorted other out-of-town tipsters inspire a round of tacos

It's not really like I need an excuse to go out and spend a day eating around -- it's my job, after all -- but sometimes I do enjoy a nudge in a certain direction. And the Jan. 20 issue of The New Yorker provided just that, with a slightly cranky article by one of my kitchen gods, Calvin Trillin, titled "Local Bounty." Trillin's daughter Abigail (and his new grandchild), it seems, live near the Mission District, which is 3,000 miles away from his Manhattan village -- that is, Greenwich.

Though he grudgingly admits that her neighborhood is "world headquarters for the San Francisco burrito ... so good that at times I've been tempted to put it on my list of favorite dishes that rarely seem to be served outside their place of origin," and he lists three taquerias at which he has eaten terrific burritos, Trillin seems to hit a significant stumbling block with the fact that you have to eat your burritos in situ or get takeout. He's used to the dazzling food-delivery possibilities of Manhattan ("one more reason," he writes, "why it made sense to live in New York rather than San Francisco," as he schemes to convince Abigail to move back near dear old Dad). (I am sympathetic to Trillin on two counts, one being that I just moved back near my dear old dad, and the other from a memory of a conversation I had with a girlfriend when we were both moving from Manhattan to L.A. I thought we were feeling the same way until I realized that I was bemoaning the loss of museums and galleries and theaters and performance spaces, all things that drew me out of my house, and my friend, a mild agoraphobe, breathed, prayerfully, "You can get anything you want delivered!")

But for me part of the charm of eating restaurant food is, well, eating in restaurants. It's not that I don't relish the single-girl, Sex and the City cliché of TV, takeout Chinese, and a pint of Häagen-Dazs, but there's a deadly sameness to your living quarters, no matter how tasty the takeout. Get out of the house! Live a little!

Tip-Top Tacos: La Taqueria is steamy, 
underdecorated, and not particularly comfortable, 
but its carnitas tacos are to die for.
Anthony Pidgeon
Tip-Top Tacos: La Taqueria is steamy, underdecorated, and not particularly comfortable, but its carnitas tacos are to die for.

Location Info

Map

La Taqueria

2889 Mission
San Francisco, CA 94110

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights

Details

La Taqueria

La Taqueria carnitas taco $2.75

Taqueria Can-Cun

Taqueria Can-Cun al pastor taco with avocado $2.30

Taqueria Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa coctel de camarones $6.95

Pancho Villa red snapper taco $2.35

Pancho Villa carne asada taco $1.85

Pancho Villa watermelon agua fresca $1.95

Pancho Villa alfajor 80 cents

La Taqueria, 2889 Mission (at 25th Street), 285-7117. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 49. Noise level: high.

Taqueria Can-Cun, 2288 Mission (at 19th Street), 252-9560. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 14, 49. Noise level: high.

Taqueria Pancho Villa, 3071 16th St. (at Valencia), 864-8840. Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 26, 22. Noise level: high.

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It wasn't just Trillin's article that sent me on a mission into the Mission; a couple of other recent publications had made me hungry for antojitos, too. The useful book Chef's Night Out, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, questions 100 "top chefs" about their favorite American eateries "from four-star restaurants to neighborhood favorites." Traci des Jardins mentions La Taqueria (one that Trillin skips), and Mario Battali votes for Taqueria San Jose #2 ("Why #2? Because it's better than #3"). In the July 2002 issue of Food and Wine, the annual Best New Chefs issue, Hugh Acheson of the Five and Ten in Athens, Ga. (he once cooked at Gary Danko), says that his favorite place to eat on a $10 budget is La Taqueria. Mark Sullivan of the Village Pub in Woodside would spend that same $10 on a beer and a burrito at Taqueria La Cumbre -- coincidentally Trillin's daughter Abigail's favorite.

It was also mine, of yore, though probably as much for its proximity to the Roxie and its swell graphics -- La Cumbre's logo, as described by Trillin, is a "sort of Latinized Ava Gardner wearing crossed bandoliers and carrying both a bugle and an unfurled Mexican flag" -- as for its tacos or burritos. In fact, though Trillin confines his reporting to burritos, I'm really more of a taco girl, myself (they are called taquerias, after all, not burriterias), which comes from a decided preference for supple corn tortillas over stodgy flour ones, and from a desire to taste the true flavor of the pig or the cow unobscured by rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, whatever. These are all excellent foodstuffs, alone or in combination, but as Trillin points out, the Mission burrito is "a perfect rolled-up meal," and he "would differ only in describing it as "two or three perfect rolled-up meals.'"

I start my taco trek by ordering three at La Taqueria: carnitas (shredded roast pork fried in pig fat), lengua (beef tongue), and cabeza (head, which bears no resemblance to its source, unlike the vividly described whole-head barbacoa that sickens Leslie in Edna Ferber's Giant; by the time it reaches your taco, it's been stewed and shredded into submission). La Taqueria is steamy, underdecorated (a plain rectangular crowded room), not particularly comfortable, and efficient. As with all the Mission taquerias, you line up and give your order, wait for it to materialize, and grab a seat at a small or communal table. Both the lengua and the cabeza are dressed with chopped cilantro and minced onion; the carnitas has an additional garnish of diced tomatoes and a few whole pinto beans. I enjoy the tongue's unique texture, at the same time grainy and suave, and the elusive, gamy flavor of the cabeza, but the sentimental favorite is the carnitas. (In L.A., I drove my laundry clear across town to Silverlake, not because of the superior quality of the fluff-and-fold available on Sunset Boulevard, but because of the cleaners' proximity to Tacos Delta, where I would pause for two carnitas tacos, with extra onions and cilantro, please.)

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