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Zapata Mexican Grill CastroOMR: 7.69
4150 18th St.
cross street: Collingwood
ph. 415/861-4470
Map Visits: 5
Formerly known as Taq. Zapata, this Castro standby rebranded itself in the late 2000s, but don't go thinking the stern-faced staff will foil your slab without an express request because of the new name, because they won't. At least you’ve got a baker’s dozen of meat and fish choices to choose from. Fearsome mustaches dominate the many Emiliano Zapata portraits on the walls. Why do the napkins here remind us of tiny little facial tissues? Breakfast available. Bottled beer at the ready. Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

01/10/12Special al Pastor$7.957.33 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); spiciness (9); size (8); vegetables (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); rice (6); beans (6); cheese (6); sauciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Can one uninspired burrito end a taqueria’s brief foray into respectability? Oh yes. With this slab-shaped shrug of a lunch, we were reminded of this Castro taqueria’s longstanding mediocrity, rather than its temporary stay in our panel’s good graces following a surprisingly excellent 2010 foiled effort (see below). Certain elements here, such as sizing, spice furiousness, and construction, were faultless or nearly so; the pico de gallo-heavy vegetable legion was also up to snuff. But with this burrito’s first lukewarm bite — which also happened to be this burrito’s first bite — it was abundantly clear we had some real dull eating ahead of us. Neither the Spanish rice nor the refried beans distinguished themselves in the least, and with way too much of the former on hand, upward mustache mobility clearly wasn’t in the cards. Disturbing pods of unmelted cheese and an alienating ingredient mix, to say nothing of this burrito’s loafing intangibility, also ensured a less-than-memorable outcome.

04/26/10Special Chile Verde Pork$7.308.42 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); beans (9); cheese (9); tortilla (8); rice (8); vegetables (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: size (7); meat (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Can one brilliant burrito yank a taqueria out of sub-mediocrity’s ghetto? Oh yes. In a single 8.42-mustache swoop, Zapata’s fortunes rose way the hell up, all because this intangibly delicious effort had its priorities in order. Spice crept in subtly from the periphery, while hot bites and melted Jack cheese played key roles throughout. Sturdy guac and remarkably crunchy green bell pepper anchored the veggie posse, while the refried beans maintained a game face all slab long. And the ingredient mix! So sharp. We could have done with a few more bites overall, and the pork, while tender and plentiful, lacked flavor in kind of the worst way. But it’s rare when a chile verde burrito doesn’t turn into a dripfest — this one never did — and hats off to the Zapata kitchen for finally sidestepping the scourge of lukewarm bites. Well played, bravo, etc. etc.

11/17/07Special Breakfast (Chorizo)$6.306.85 Mustaches
Swish: size (9); meat (8); beans (8); temperature (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: vegetables (7); eggs (7); cheese (6); sauciness (6); spiciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: tortilla (5); rice (4)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Hey, we didn’t want any rice in this one. And if we had wanted rice, we sure as hell didn’t want a metric ton of it. And if we had wanted a metric ton of rice, we would have preferred it to be smartly mixed in with all the other ingredients. You get the drift. The menu above Taq. Zapata's kitchen slyly didn’t mention rice in the breakfast burrito, but this morningtime slab, humongous as it was, had plenty of problems besides the unwanted (and unflavorful) granary element, which itself hogged a good lateral half of this foiled effort. A list of these adverb-modified letdowns would have to include: the sorrily unfortunate mix, which finally introduced Zapata’s lovingly pasty refried beans on bite no. 7; the patently ordinary level of intangibility; one of the most unappealingly chewy tortillas we’ve ever laid teeth on; and finally, by unpopular demand, the weirdly baffling anti-return of Invisi-guac™! Those of you still with us after that messily messy mess of a sentence will enjoy the good things we have to say about Taq. Zapata’s breakfast burrito – mainly, the on-target chorizo (marred only by unnecessary grease), and...hey, nice beans, alright. Clunk.

09/14/05Special Spicy Chicken$5.747.42 Mustaches
Emiliano Zapata may have been one revolutionary dude, but this burrito at his namesake burritoteria staged no coup on our taste buds. To its minor credit, Taq. Zapata’s special burrito (we chose it over their super burrito for its sour cream exclusion) was the portrait of consistency on our 10-Mustache Scale: a torrent of sevens and eights, with a few stray sixes levied due to an overly sticky tortilla and some partly melted jack cheese. Very respectably sized in every direction, but only mildly hot from end to end, this unadventurous slab was constrained by its own lack of ambition. Zapata’s spicy chicken may have been tastily impressive in its chunky moistness and politely fiery menace, and the peppery pico de gallo sure knew its way around the cutting board of good taste. And the pale, pea-spackled, and gentle rice made no enemies within the tortilla. Unfortunately, the refried beans remained too far under the radar, and far more shamefully, part of the tortilla became one with the foil at the burrito’s hind end. That’s never a good way to sign off.
11/30/03Super Carne Asada$5.827.07 Mustaches
Zapata’s steel-toed spice may have put the boot through our grill, but overly dry rice played too great a role in this burrito’s fortunes. And yet, the ultimate dealbreaker here was the fact that their beef is shredded – it’s of course all in the mouth of the beholder, but it’s just not our thing. Don’t they do that at Jack in the Box? In warmer news, at least the grim reaper of cold bites and his scythe of chilled lettuce were held at bay.