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Playa Taq., La Outer SunsetOMR: 8.44
3817 Noriega
cross street: 45th Ave.
ph. 415/681-2007
Map Visits: 8
In true Outer Sunset style, Asian-American families rub elbows with stoked surfers at tiny and popular La Playa, set toward the seaward end of Noriega. Its overhead menu is posted on a pair of surfboards and its freshly fried chips are often served warm; for these two reasons alone, the place should automatically earn your interest. Not only that, but certain burritos here contain so much garlic, you may think you've landed in Gilroy by mistake. We reckon the kitchen's strong suit is the three-pepper burrito (see our glorifying reviews below), but if it's breakfast you're after, you've got five — holy smokes, five! — options available all day. The staff’s happy to be here, which is always nice. And finally, there's minimal outdoor seating, and by "minimal," we do mean "one table" (not pictured). Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

08/23/12Super Pollo Asado$6.958.17 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); burstage abatement (10); cheese (9); temperature (9); size (8); beans (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); rice (7); vegetables (7); sauciness (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

The least impressive La Playa effort on Burritoeater record since the taqueria's great awakening in 2008, this long 'n' slender burrito nevertheless ratcheted up a fine rating on our Mustache Scale. How? Near-flawless fundamentals, extra-melted cheese, and some real teeth-kicking spice action played heavy roles in its success. Problem was, plenty of merely adequate factors came into play as well, from the too-gently grilled tortilla and sorta-mushy rice to facelessly effective salsa and patently ordinary grilled chicken. La Playa's pico de gallo relied a little too much on tomato, while the mix set the rice off to one side more than it should have. And the guacamole! Really kind of dull. Hats off to the upstanding two-mustache intangibility for soldiering on through all the shruggery, though.

05/12/11Three-Pepper (Steak)$7.008.83 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); tortilla (9); cheese (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); meat (8); rice (8); beans (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

There was nary a weak link in La Playa’s three-pepper chain, with only the ingredient mix — with its occasional struggles with ensemble work, particularly on a north-south plane — coming in under our eight-mustache waterline. Otherwise, it was a sunny coastal evening full of intangible glory, fully brazen spice, and killer veggie dominance in the form of generous avocado slices and a delightfully powerful roast pepper medley. This lengthy missile was on-point from bite one on down, with the well-grilled tortilla (and Jack/cheddar blend melted thereon) nailing every dismount off our pommel horse of slabular critical thought. While it was a little tough to get a read on the steak since it was so imbued among the all-encompassing bell pepper squadron, our perceptive panel was still able to discern its grilled ‘n’ juicy finery. Markedly pale refried beans still got the supporting job done in all the right ways. Hell of a burrito, alright.

08/11/10Three-Pepper (Carnitas)$6.858.67 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); cheese (9); tortilla (8); beans (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Who needs sunshine when you’ve got burritos this rad? As densely packed as its hometown, La Playa’s latest and greatest won us over on bite one and never let up. We could grouse about the unspectacular, vaguely fatty fried pork or the slightly sequestered brown rice — or perhaps we just did — but there was so much else here that was directly on-point, why not make this a positive jam? A successful trifecta of peppers (green, red, poblano), some recurring avocado slices, and so much sliced/grilled onion all helped set the whole vegetable matter straight, while pico de gallo and La Playa’s X-factor — garlic — left no ten-mustache stone unturned. Refried beans contributed subtly yet brilliantly, and the inner tortilla was happily besodden with an all-melted blend of cheddar and Jack. Cleverly, the burrito was neither saucy nor dry...but it was definitely closer to saucy than dry. Hot bites? Uh-huh. Foolproof construction? Sure. Intangibility? Through the roof and up into the blanket fog.

09/30/09Super Chile Relleno$6.558.27 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); spiciness (10); tortilla (9); size (8); ingredient mix (8); temperature (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); vegetables (7); sauciness (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

The shockingly orange chipotle salsa sure took over at times, but it was tasty. Top-end burstage was serious, but our sure-handed judges panel managed. Brown rice and refried beans were merely there, but they neither meant nor did no harm. Dimensions were real long, but the interior lacked a certain density. And the whole shebang was unwieldy, but the center somehow always held. Clearly, we had a series of edible dichotomies to deal with here, so how the hell did this confounding slab end up with such a strong rating? Intangibility played a major role, while the chile relleno centerpiece seemed fresher than others we’ve had around town lately. And all that melted panela cheese inside the relleno did everyone involved a lot of favors — ten mustaches for cheese, hooray. The tortilla was lovingly grilled, and we’re sending out three or maybe even more than three cheers for all that jacked-up spice. On the flip side, guacamole involvement was virtually negligible, and even though everything else pretty much rendered it harmless, quit "surprising" us and get your silly shredded lettuce out of our burrito, now. La Playa followed a peculiar route to success this time, but that one dusty old platitude still rings true: Nobody wants to see the tin foil shards strewn about the red plastic basket — they just want to see 8.27 mustaches on the scoreboard.

09/23/08Super Pollo Rojo$6.558.25 Mustaches
Swish: meat (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); spiciness (8); ingredient mix (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); beans (7); sauciness (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Thanks to sky-high intangibility and a complete aversion to submediocre element ratings, La Playa smashed our eight-mustache barrier for the second time in a row. Big winners included generous chunks of chicken (bathed in a flavorful, if thin red sauce), much gooey cheddar, and high-profile pico de gallo, along with an avocado slice or two. The ingredient mix had many moments of brilliance, although on occasion in the middle section, it prompted us to forget that rice and beans were actually included. Action was definitely all the way warm, but rarely all the way hot; minor saucy seepage required the use of more than a few napkins. Spice performed quite respectably, while the ungrilled tortilla couldn’t have been more ordinary. Mighty tasty overall.

04/11/08Breakfast (Chorizo)$5.508.67 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); temperature (10); cheese (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); meat (8); eggs (8); beans (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: tortilla (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

With the exception of a sticky tortilla that should have been grilled rather than steamed, our foray into La Playa’s world of breakfast was well worth getting out early for. For one thing, the gang of vegetables was nonpareil, anchored as it was by multiple avocado slices and bits of yellow bell pepper, with all the usual pico de gallo fun interspersed. Spice started courteously before ramping up to full-on ragin’ by slab’s end; other elements were more equitably dispersed, from the all-melted jack/cheddar blend along the tortilla interior to the justifiably mushy egg/chorizo scramble. Everything in sight was hit hard – in a good way - by La Playa’s salsa roja, which tinted red much of the well-sized, if squishy burrito. And of course, we particularly appreciated the 16-to-0 ratio of hot-to-cool bites, while easily forgiving the sauce bleed that stained part of one side of the wrap. As a result of all this, lunch was basically skipped.

12/12/06Steak Fajitas$6.757.58 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); rice (7); beans (7); cheese (6)
Clang: ingredient mix (5)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

La Playa’s eight-mustache ambitions were botched less by minor temperature inconsistencies and incomplete cheese-melting, and more by an unreasonable ingredient mix that made little design sense. Let us explain. Pale, unspectacular rice occupied entire vertical cross-sections of the harmlessly steamed tortilla; meanwhile, we didn’t hit any guacamole until a full, that’s-a-bit-much assault occurred down around the hind end. Then there was the feast-or-famine dispersal of flank steak – deliciously peppered and smartly grilled, but woefully distributed and in dire need of a sharp pair of meat scissors. Sauciness was rich and persistent, and there was no doubting the quality of fajita-friendly vegetables, particularly the tri-colored selection of bell pepper (red, green, orange). All told, while everything about this lengthy, yet slender slab tasted fine – note its two-mustache intangibility bonus - presentation was often less than wise and proved to be a significant hindrance.

02/08/05Three-Pepper (Grilled Chicken)$5.257.33 Mustaches
Although this mammoth beast aimed to moor itself upon a calm, pepper/chicken-strewn sandbar, it was instead lashed upon garlic-studded rocks. It was behemoth as behemoth can be, with laudable vegetable content aside from the garlic mutiny. Spice also apparently crashed upon a stormy sea stack and never made it into port.