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Papalote MissionOMR: 8.54
3409 24th St.
cross street: Valencia
ph. 415/970-8815
Map Visits: 21
Slightly off the beaten path, humbly sized, family operated, and pretty much a sure thing every time, Papalote's original location has become an infallible kingpin of the Mission’s ultra-competitive taqueria scene, even if it's overshadowed these days by its sibling shop on Fulton in the Western Addition. This one was the champion of our 2004 Slab Scrum and close runner-up in our 2006 and 2008 imbroglios, and that's the sort of credibility a place never shakes. Specify a foil wrap if that’s your game of cards, and check the rotating art always on display. Breakfast and bottled beer (including Chimay!) available. Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

10/09/13Super Carne Asada$10.098.50 Mustaches
Swish: meat (10); tortilla (9); beans (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); temperature (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8)
Shrug: spiciness (7); rice (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Long gone are the days of wee burritos at Papalote, and thank goodness for that. And while this brightly foiled effort wasn't the pinnacle-product of Papalote's slabular prowess — its ingredient mix was a bit too off for that — this was still a pretty rad burrito. An overabundance of salsa in the top third of the slab got things off to an imbalanced start, which naturally led to pocketed spiciness and scattered temperature inadequacies; meanwhile, the rice, sequestered down in the lower area of this whole adventure, was awkwardly dry and bunched together. Everything else here was on point, however, from the ten-mustaches-and-done steak and typically ace black refried beans on through the rightly glurgy guacamole and all-melted cheese action. And when it comes to intangible charm, no San Francisco taqueria has ever been more consistently on-the-money than Papalote. Go fly a kite.

09/26/12Super Chile Verde Pork$9.198.50 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); size (9); cheese (9); spiciness (9); temperature (9); burstage abatement (9); tortilla (8); meat (8); rice (8)
Shrug: beans (7); sauciness (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Squishy as this slab was, our panel was certain that this saucy monster was nevertheless the most enormous Papalote burrito on Burritoeater record (and there have been many). So, between the copious chile verde and typically robust salsa, some slurping was surely required here. One casualty of this foiled meal's veritable sauce-flood was the black refried beans, whose great power was compromised in the undammed washout. With the in-slab tsunami swirling, it was no surprise that the pork was moist outside as well as in, although it failed to summon Papalote's signature hammer of flavor as we hoped. Holding strong throughout, though, was the thick, bad-ass guacamole — all-business, top to bottom — while the same went for the champ pico de gallo. Melted cheese and mostly hot bites were reliably on-point, while we were a little taken aback that the tortilla wasn't more fiercely grilled. Through all these ups and downs, irrefutable twin-mustache intangibility persevered.

10/17/11Super Marinated Tofu$8.948.50 Mustaches
Swish: beans (10); sauciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); cheese (8); vegetables (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: size (7); tofu (7); ingredient mix (7); rice (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Heralding an 8.50-mustache burrito from Papalote is like making a big hoohaw out of the New York Yankees having another winning season, so we’ll save the windbag-superlatives and move straight on to the mustache litany. Tens littered our panel’s scoresheet not only for Papalote’s long-unstoppable black refried beans and roasted tomato salsa, but also for the very foundations of any worthy slab: hot bites and foolproof construction. The resoundingly grilled tortilla earned nine hairy ones, while we doled out eights for the well-melted (if surprisingly mid profile) cheese, dependably good veggie posse, and subtly peripheral spice. Still, what set this burrito apart from the host of Papalote masterpieces over the years was its handful of shrug-inducing elements. We’re talking about overly dry rice and a merely adequate ingredient mix; we’re also talking about short-ish dimensions and, perhaps most notably of all, cubes of tofu that seemed to be marinated in a puddle of lackluster rather than a steaming kettle of delicious achiote. And yet, irrefutable two-mustache intangibility! Alright.

10/28/09Su. B'fast (Chorizo con Huevo)$7.748.38 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); temperature (10); cheese (9); sauciness (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); meat (8); beans (8); vegetables (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: eggs (7); spiciness (7); rice (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Business as usual at Papalote: a fantastically grilled tortilla, melted cheese in all the right places, moron-proof construction, and more hot bites than there are snug pants on the legs of young men in the Mission these days. Our panel doled out eight mustaches for this amply sized burrito’s ingredient mix, but the real story behind this controversial rating runs deeper. While the mix itself was completely on the mark, portion ratios were off, with the space-hogging chorizo elbowing aside a number of components. Among those most noticeably relegated to the shadows were the eggs (cooked with — but far overshadowed by — the ground sausage), rice, guacamole, and to a lesser extent fortunately, the spot-on refried black beans. The deeper down we drilled, we got a sense of the eggs, but not much more. The chorizo itself was terrific overall, so at least the burrito wasn’t dominated by some laggard something or other. Intangibility, of course, operated at maximum levels throughout, and if we’re going to get stuck* with sour cream in our burrito anywhere in town, it might as well be Papalote, where the kitchen actually knows how to make it work in a burrito. Finally, the spice was nice (just nice), while sauciness was quite a marvelous thing, bite in, bite out.

*Papalote: innocent. judges panel: guilty.

12/23/08Super Carne Asada$7.248.25 Mustaches
Swish: meat (10); beans (10); cheese (10); burstage abatement (10); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); tortilla (8); rice (8); vegetables (8); sauciness (7)
Shrug: size (6)
Clang: spiciness (2)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

And for the second consecutive visit, Papalote muffed a chance to secure the 2008 Slab Scrum championship by letting another spice-deficient burrito escape from its proud kitchen. Clearly, our panel’s two requests for “extra spicy” were not enough; although unassailably delicious and intangibly infallable, our slender slab was virtually drama-free on the pepper-fire front, and boo to that. The superiority of Papalote’s carne asada, cheese deployment, black refried beans, and construction was never in doubt – ten mustaches for each. The tortilla may have been less grilled than usual, but the Spanish rice worked its way into the terrific ingredient mix gracefully. Exceptional guacamole and small chunks of roasted tomato also seemed to appear at all the right times. As for the awol spice, we’ve already got a couple of truancy officers on the case.

12/16/08Super Pollo$7.248.50 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); ingredient mix (10); temperature (10); meat (9); beans (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); burstage abatement (9); rice (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: size (6)
Clang: spiciness (3)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Despite no shortage of vintage Papalote moments – we’re talking about delectable, char-grilled meat and a none-more-grilled tortilla; we’re also talking about one of the finest ingredient mixes we’ve seen in quite awhile – this somewhat wee-sized slab came up disastrously short on spice, to the detriment of its overall rating. All-melted jack cheese and a thick ‘n’ rich set of black refried beans played off an ace veggie posse anchored by welcome splashes of terrific guacamole. Papalote poultry is virtually a sure bet every time, gracefully grilled and sharply seasoned as it was here for maximum effect. Some minor bean ooze through the tortilla prevented a ten-mustache burstage abatement score – no big deal. Hot bites? Hot bites, sure. Intangibility? Mighty. Spice? No! Hmm.

12/08/08Super Chile Verde (Pork)$7.248.42 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); vegetables (10); temperature (10); tortilla (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); meat (8); ingredient mix (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: size (6); rice (6); beans (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

While a couple of foundational ingredients within this foiled dinner were nearly lost in a delicious flood of sauciness, enough other elements made for yet another successful Papalote foray, and hooray for that. Intangibility was magical from the first bite down, while the flaky-grilled tortilla, abundance of melted cheese, and stellar vegetabular content made for some mighty tasty moments throughout the slab’s mere 13-bite stay on our plate. Cuts of pork were ideally textured, and there was certainly no shortage of chile verde to accompany – so much so, it did its best to wash out the Spanish rice and black refried beans. Spice remained in full effect top to bottom, and while we had to fault the fluid (if fluid-centric) ingredient mix for relying so heavily on the chile verde, it still did a remarkable job of bringing each of the solid items together.

11/21/08Super Carne Asada$7.249.00 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); meat (10); vegetables (10); sauciness (10); beans (9); cheese (9); spiciness (9); ingredient mix (9); burstage abatement (9); temperature (8)
Shrug: rice (7); size (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Despite being woefully short of length...despite its disappearance in a mere 13 bites...Papalote’s third nine-mustache slab on Burritoeater record was a true tour de force in almost every way. If the brilliantly grilled tortilla and ace salsa deployment weren’t making our judges panel weak in the taste bud-knees, then the long cuts of extraordinarily flavorful carne asada and the perfect vegetabular accompaniment were. Further contributing to this gracefully alchemic mix was the marvelous mush of Papalote’s always-strong black refried beans (a party of one in this town) and many, so many tufts of melted cheese. Mostly foolproof construction helped push things along, although a few of the avocado-heavy bites were predictably unhot. Rarely is a tortilla so fragrant right out of the foil; the same can be said for the Papalote steak - always smoky, always pretty much the tastiest in town. The baker’s dozen bites, though, seemed a cruel taunt. Why so comparatively wee when so unassailably delicious?

08/02/08Su. B'fast (Machaca con Huevo)$7.748.83 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); ingredient mix (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); size (8); eggs (8); beans (8)
Shrug: meat (7); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Another extraordinary effort from the Papalote juggernaut, and one in which we swapped out Spanish rice for micro-diced, tasty scrambled egg; the stunt worked. Even hotter than the room itself, this breakfast slab was one of the most unfailingly mixed burritos we’ve ever had the pleasure of slowly eliminating, and we continue to admire the increased sizing of Papalote burritos in recent years. Deliciously gooey cheese and black refried beans each played their roles expertly, while the extensive vegetable ensemble rose to the occasion as it usually does here – no shortage of terrific guacamole, in particular. Spice was surprisingly calm, and the machaca steak was tender and perfectly portioned, if somewhat short on flavor by Papalote standards. Of course, the tortilla was lovingly grilled. Intangibility: sky-high. Burritoeater judges panel: stoked, sated, slightly sweaty.

08/07/07Super Chicken Molé$6.448.25 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); temperature (10); sauciness (9); beans (8); ingredient mix (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: size (7); meat (7); rice (7); vegetables (7); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

There’s so much to love about Papalote’s burritowork that even when its kitchen has an off-night, it still produces a mighty mean slab. Although this super chicken molé burrito was an awkwardly squishy foodpiece, overrun by sauce and mush, with serviceable chicken and not quite enough spice-fire to was still completely delicious, with intangible credibility to burn. Every bite was hot, and the star elements - the flakily grilled tortilla and gooey-melted jack cheese - commanded much exalted attention. Meanwhile, the black refried beans displayed their usual brilliance – problem was, they suffered the same fate as the rice, chicken, and avo-guac by drowning in Papalote’s terrific, but decidedly unsubtle molé sauce. (Particularly fervent Burritoeater followers will recall a similarly molé-flooded experience at Papalote’s Western Addition shop in 2006.) Occasional floppiness was also a factor. There was that one season when Willie Mays’ batting average was only .304. Well, first-ballot Hall of Famer Papalote hit .304 this time out. Here's to flawed excellence.

11/15/06Super Carne Asada$6.448.58 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); sauciness (10); temperature (10); tortilla (9); meat (9); beans (9); burstage abatement (9); rice (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: vegetables (7); size (6); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Despite mostly solid mustache-meter readings across the board, this burrito couldn’t muster enough momentum to carry Papalote to the 2006 Slab Scrum title. A quick glance at our scoresheet exposes squatty sizing and an inconsistent level of spice as the dullards this time through, but why harp? We’d rather laud the marked improvement of the black refried beans from our prior visit, as well as the fusillade of hot bites, the prolific globs of melted jack, and all the extraordinary salsa anyone could ever wish for in a slab. Generous cuts of Papalote’s all-time, smoky carne asada acted as calling card (along with the aforesaid sauciness), and the nicely grilled tortilla made no enemies in our judges panel's camp. We had to lop off a mustache on the ingredient mix rating for the way the pico de gallo got shoved down to the lower half; meanwhile, some harmless, but notable top-end leakage undercut burstage abatement’s performance just a shade. There were a couple of times we looked down into the food and saw nothing but shades of black and brown between the tortilla folds (moral: spread that guac wealth), but it was no big dealbreaker. Even when it's the runner-up, Papalote never sucks.

11/06/06Super Chile Verde (Pork)$6.448.42 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); cheese (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); tortilla (8); meat (8); rice (8)
Shrug: ingredient mix (7)
Clang: beans (5)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Sheathed in the shiniest sheet of aluminum foil on which our panel has ever laid eyes, this effort was notably hulky - in Papalote terms, anyway. Its respectable heft and surprising length, along with its hot-to-the-touch temperature reading, had our hype meter flickering red before bite one. However, one vaguely kinetic ingredient mix and one bean washout later, we were left with several blinding shards of foil, a scoresheet with a bunch of ratings that added up to an 8.42 OMR, and a feeling of what-might-have-been. The exceptionally tender pork chunks were fine and good, but not on the legendary level of Papalote’s other burrito centerpieces; the mildly grilled tortilla was similarly ho-hum above-average. Welts of melted jack and a solidly delicious veggie gang were typically devastating, and the only thing preventing the scorching salsa from hitting ten mustaches was its overdominant agenda, which had us searching high and low for the black refried beans. We eventually tracked a handful down in a semi-original state at the hind end of the tortilla, but by then the verdict was in: a great-tasting, yet poorly realized (at times) lunch.

10/12/06Super Pollo$6.448.92 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); sauciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); meat (9); beans (9); vegetables (9); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: rice (7); spiciness (7); size (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

As our panel members closed down yet another sterling effort here, a petition circulated among them which would have awarded this burrito a curve-busting three out of two bonus mustaches for its off-the-meter intangibility. The plea may have been gaffled, but the salient point was made: Papalote’s unfailing knack for slabb magick remains the civic gold standard. The grace notes remain the same: gooey gobs of melted jack cheese; a sharply grilled tortilla; impervious construction; hot bites, top to bottom and front to back; fully delectable black refried beans; glurgalicious, tomato-pelted guacamole; and without fail, that special, smoky salsa that helped put Papalote on the map in the first place. This visit also represented our first trip into Papalote’s grilled pollo coop, wherein a number of smartly blackened cuts of chicken rang our nine-mustache bell on damn near every bite. Rice grains could have made more of an impact, and size-wise, Papalote’s burritos will never be confused with the jumbo over at Ocean Taq. But these are nits barely worth picking. What a food. What a foiled food.

05/30/06Super Marinated Tofu$6.149.00 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); vegetables (10); sauciness (10); burstage abatement (10); beans (9); spiciness (9); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); tortilla (8); tofu (8)
Shrug: size (7); rice (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Good grief, they’re at it again. Time seemed to stop for the 15-bite duration of this gold-plated slab, and thank goodness for that. Otherwise, we’d have chalked up this truly extraordinary burrito to some sort of waking/eating dreamstate. Under oath, only the last of the following elements was fictional: just-shy-of-perfect black refried beans; a seismic vegetable ensemble - all tomato-rich pico de gallo and chopped onion, with some unassailable guacamole taking care of business on the side; an ingredient mix as nimble as any we’ve ever witnessed; fierce, twin-cam spice, courtesy of Papalote’s legendary salsa and some real tiny slices of jalapeño; unrelenting sauciness; melted jack cheese along the tortilla’s interior; an ideal amount of grilled tofu, fresh off a stint in rich achiote marinade; dunceproof burstage abatement; and, a $500 bill tucked down near the hind end. The rice was a little under-represented, and the size of Papalote’s burritowork – though respectable on this afternoon - will probably never qualify as grossly overindulgent. But, come on. Our intangibility meter could barely contain this masterfoodpiece.

02/14/05Super Carne Asada$6.148.42 Mustaches
A full year after it took home the civic burrito crown, Papalote remains a top dog to be reckoned with, even if they can’t seem to decide on whether to include a whole lotta spice or not. From the first bite, the steak was just as rad and smoky as it had been throughout its remarkable 2003-04 playoff run, and the sauciness and extra-melted cheese remained things of beauty. Improvements came in the form of some deliciously pasty refried black beans – a genuine step up from pintos – and our ongoing exclusion of sour cream, which wasn’t missed in the least despite the fact that Papalote is one of the few places in town that always used the dairy slop to the burrito’s advantage. We’d like to jam their suggestion box with requests for a slightly better ingredient mix, additional length, and of course that spicy kick we continually crave.
02/27/04Super Carne Asada$6.149.16 Mustaches
Papalote's parting burrito in the 2004 SF Burrito Playoff Finals crashed through the nine-mustache barrier with guts and aplomb. Size-wise, there was barely nowhere to go but up after their previous miniscule entry, and this one humped up the dimensional respectability for its own sake. Papalote’s song remained the same otherwise, as pretty much everything else was masterful – seven perfect ratings don't lie. When we inquired how Papalote's incomparable carne asada is so damn tasty time and time again, the man in the know at the counter replied, "We get it from Montana every day." Here's to Montana. This was the burrito that ultimately earned Papalote the gold.
02/23/04Super Carne Asada$6.148.70 Mustaches
The smallest Papalote burrito yet, served amidst rumors that its tight waist had been pre-fitted for a corset. Four bites in, it felt like we were already halfway finished with it, but holy molé was it exceptional in nearly every other way. The beyond-delicious steak and epic guacamole, melted cheese, completely chooglin' sauciness, spice en masse, and hot bites from top to bottom all garnered mustachioed raves that even its embarrassingly tiny dimensions couldn’t squelch. Are there any organic burrito-growth hormones on the market?
02/19/04Super Carne Asada$6.148.62 Mustaches
This paragon of consistency on the SF taqueria landscape continued to drop anchor in high-eight-mustache waters, even as its spice score took a surprising dive. Still, Papalote’s work was so devastatingly good yet again that we barely minded the inclusion of pinto beans and having to ensure that we got the foil wrap we ask for every time. Size and tortilla ratings were the weak links, but every other element here was on-point as usual, due in no small part to their ridiculously tasty steak, hyperbolic sauciness, and the burrito’s all-time, every-time ingredient mix.
02/05/04Super Carne Asada$6.148.92 Mustaches
The Papalote burrito’s well-schooled construction, end-to-end hot temperatures, and host of other perfections have raised the mustache bar higher than ever. Their steak continues to possess the power to bring vegetarians back to the herd - something in its mesquite-grilled aroma is pure olfactory nirvana, and its taste knows few peers. And this time they pumped up the spice quotient a whole bunch, so hooray for that. If they could enlarge their works to even remotely mythic proportions, it would be the final arrow in the Papalote quiver.
01/18/04Super Carne Asada$6.148.70 Mustaches
When a full five categories score perfect ten-mustache ratings, there are only nits at which to pick – in the case of this spiffy Mission spot, those nits were spicing inconsistencies and sizing that left us wanting more. Any discussion of a steak-inclusive Papalote burrito begins and ends with their superlative smoked meat...enough cannot be written, other than it may damn well be the finest in town. The grilled tortilla sent several happy returns, as did the exceptionally classy rice and kindly melted cheese. We noted how the mighty sauciness cleverly covered for the pinto beans aboard, and the ingredient mix was triumphantly seamless throughout. Alright, we’ve raved enough.
08/14/03Super Carne Asada$6.148.50 Mustaches
We swooned over what was potentially the tastiest carne asada in town. We thrilled to this burrito’s irrefutably enticing aroma and masterfully grilled tortilla. We applauded its perfect ingredient mix and expertly melted cheese. We joyously shouted "avocado!!" and finally got locked down by a cadre of cops for acting like a total nutcase. It was totally worth it. Workmanlike excellence.