In a city prone to controversy, the best places to find San Francisco’s best Mission style burritos might be one of its greatest points of contention. Invented sometime in the ‘60s at either El Faro or La Cumbre (depending on whom you ask), this tortilla-wrapped combination of beans, rice, and meat testifies to the enduring ingenuity and influence of Mexican Americans in California. Tourists flock to its temples in the Mission District, and outside critics seek — in vain — to quantify its virtues. In recent years, fusion efforts have even sought to adopt the burrito’s structure to (gasp) non-Mexican foods, but that’s a different discussion for a different day, as these are the city’s 14 most classic spots for San Francisco’s best burritos.
1. Taqueria Los Coyotes
Open until 3:30 a.m. on weekends — preposterously late by San Francisco standards — Taqueria Los Coyotes has attracted howling late night crowds since 2003. To keep up with demand, its cooks are some of the fastest in the West, and they’re a thrill to watch. Their California burrito is a favorite — San Diego-style, with steak, sliced avocado, sour cream, and french fries stuffed inside. It’s best late in the evening after visiting as many bars on 16th Street as possible.
2. Pancho Villa Taqueria
A bustling, tourist-friendly taqueria that spun off from nearby Valencia Street El Toro, Pancho Villa has served patrons in a bright, friendly space with lots of table seating since 1987. The menu here is lengthy, and burrito options are plentiful: Steak and prawns? Chile relleno? Classic orders — carnitas, carne asada, and so on — are your best bet, and be aware that “super” here includes lettuce on top of guac and sour cream. Also of note: The salsa bar is one of the city’s best.
3. Taqueria La Cumbre
One of two credible contenders for the title of inventor of the Mission-style burrito, La Cumbre’s place in the pantheon of SF taquerias is assured. It’s seen better days, to be sure, and it now aggressively markets itself with strange specials to keep up with the competition. Established in 1969, La Cumbre is a must-visit for burrito completionists, but isn’t the best day-to-day pick on this list.
4. Taqueria El Castillito
Chef David Chang declared it perhaps the best burrito he’d ever eaten. Judges for FiveThirtyEight’s burrito bracket of 2014 later confessed that El Castillito may have been the “one that got away.” One secret to its success: cheese perfectly melted onto tortillas on the plancha. Of the multiple El Castillito locations in SF, FiveThirtyEight and Chang referred specifically to the Mission Street outpost (between 16th and 17th). The huge zapata burrito is a favorite (especially for splitting), and the business is cash only.
5. El Faro
Burrito legend has it that Febronio Ontiveros created the first Mission burrito in 1961 at his grocery store on the corner of 20th and Folsom. To feed a group of hungry fireman, the lore goes, he slapped some meat, beans, rice, sour cream, salsa, and guacamole on several layered tortillas before rolling them into cylindrical form. El Faro jealously guards its title as the home of the Super Burrito and the progenitor of the Mission-style burrito (disputing La Cumbre’s claims). This dose of history lifts what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill taqueria into a legendary burrito lighthouse worthy of its name. Go for a super burrito — get it “el gigante” if you’re hungry or splitting — or try their chorizo breakfast burrito. Take note: They close early, and the downtown spinoff location is best avoided.
6. El Metate
El Metate’s burritos are skinnier and lengthier than most, helping them stand out from the pack visually — as they also do in quality. Unlike some taquerias’ meatless offerings, El Metate’s vegetarian burrito is packed with vegetables, making it a hit with plant-preferring crowd. For something out of the ordinary, try a chicken mole or chile verde burrito. A cheery taqueria on a quieter Mission corner, El Metate works well for dining in as well as take-out.
7. La Palma Mexicatessen
The freshest tortillas in the game are found at La Palma, est. 1953. Per the name, it’s a Mexican delicatessen and grocery, so head to the back of the shop to order a burrito on a just-made flour tortilla. A super with roasted chicken is a safe order, or go for their famous chicharrones in burrito form.
8. La Espiga De Oro
This 24th Street gem churns out its own tortilla chips, chicharrones, pupusas, tamales, and more in the back and takes orders up front. Get a juicy carne asada burrito wrapped in their own freshly grilled tortillas: Melty jack cheese, lots of avocado slices on the super version, and rich, satisfying spices take you to burrito nirvana.
9. Taquería El Farolito
El Farolito, the name of which nods to purported super burrito inventor El Faro, took the original Mission-style burrito and perfected it. These burritos — roughly the size of a neck pillow — are grilled to perfectly combine their ingredients, with rice, beans, and meat (carnitas and al pastor recommended) into a messy whole that’s far more than the sum of its parts. There are several Bay Area locations, and two in close proximity in the Mission, but the narrow, energetic Mission Street location is the favorite. Go for the super — an incredible value — and bring cash (they don’t take cards). It’s bright and upbeat inside, with some seating and the occasional mariachi band performance.
10. Papalote Mexican Grill
Brothers Miguel and Victor Escobedo opened their first Papalote at 24th and Valencia in 1999 and from it they’ve built a salsa empire — their roasted tomato goodness is available by the jar all over the area. They don’t make their burritos in front of you, as they do at many of the area’s other taquerias, but their sizable creations typically do the trick, and vegetarians dig options like soyrizo and tofu mole.
11. La Taqueria
Mission locals could have told you in a heartbeat what it took FiveThirtyEight’s intensive burrito bracket months to discover: La Taqueria, as its own sign claims, is “home to the best tacos and burritos in the world,” as it has been since 1973. That honor was clouded some years later, as repeated allegations of wage theft prompted $600,000 in city-mandated fines. Also of note: La Taq’s burritos are rice-free, leaving more room for perfectly cooked meat, transcendent pinto beans, and sour cream applied by squirt bottle, plus “guacamole” that’s actually just mashed avocados and nothing else. Pro-tip: Order dorado style and they’ll crisp it up on the plancha. Cash only.
12. Taqueria Cancun
Al pastor heaven awaits at this deeply dependable Mission Street taqueria (other SF locations are downtown and farther South in the Mission/Bernal borderlands). Get a gooey, forearm-sized super burrito (grilled tortillas come standard) and take it with you to nearby Dolores Park, where you’ll be the envy of all.
13. La Corneta
Since 1995, the Campos family has been slinging some of the city’s freshest burritos from its storefront in Glen Park Village, a business so successful that its since expanded with locations on Mission Street (between 23rd and 24th Streets), Burlingame, and San Carlos. La Corneta was one of the first classic-style taquerias in the city to highlight which of its menu items are completely free of animal products, making it a favorite for vegetarians wary of co-mingling with meat.
14. Taqueria Guadalajara
With crispy carnitas and late night hours (2 a.m on weeknights and 4 a.m. on weekends), Taqueria Guadalajara is the burrito pride and joy of the Excelsior. Yes, everyone loves their three-dimensional murals — it looks like a mini ranchero village theme park inside. Another fine Taqueria Guadalajara outpost can be found on 24th Street: It followed the original, contending for customers with an El Farolito location across the Street (as it also does in the Excelsior, where El Farolito operates, too).