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Tesoro, El (O'Farrell) Civic Center / TenderloinOMR: 7.31
599 O'Farrell
cross street: Leavenworth
ph. 415/202-0540
Map Visits: 6
After delivering several strong foiled efforts throughout its first several years in business, times have turned tough lately at this bi-level taqueria set in the heart of the Tenderloin’s urban grit. And we continue to wonder why the overloaded treasure chest on its sign isn’t overloaded with burritos. Credit cards accepted. Breakfast and bottled beer available.

Will My Health Be Violated?

05/03/10Super Pollo Asado$6.956.58 Mustaches
Swish: size (8); tortilla (8); beans (8); ingredient mix (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: rice (7); vegetables (7); meat (6); sauciness (6); temperature (6)
Clang: cheese (5); spiciness (2)
Intangibility bonus: 0 (of 2)

When the most flavorful item on hand is the refried beans — or perhaps the horchata — trouble is usually imminent. And trouble was certainly found in our panel’s hands here in the form of a flavor-deficient and intangibly vacant pollo asado burrito, all full of cool bites and unmelted cheese. The fact that it was relatively hunky only made it stick around longer than it was welcome; by the time the tortilla burst wide open at the hind end in the closing bites, we didn’t even bother scooping up what had landed in our burrito basket. Still, the ingredient mix managed to be all-inclusive, and the tortilla did no harm. But pockmarked as it was with bland chicken, minimal spice, and the kind of guacamole that makes a person hate guacamole, there’s really no getting around the elephant in El Tesoro’s dining room: This slab pretty much sucked.

05/09/09Super Breakfast (Jamon)$6.957.67 Mustaches
Swish: size (9); tortilla (9); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); burstage abatement (9)
Shrug: meat (7); eggs (7); beans (7); vegetables (7); cheese (6); sauciness (6); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Things should have gone better here. The collision of guacamole and dual salsas shouldn’t have created such creeping gloop. Spice should have been burlier, more robust. Some of those grates of Jack cheese should have been better melted. And what was with the middling intangibility? This fairly monstrously sized burrito suffered from softness (perhaps the absence of rice was to blame), and everyone in town knows by now that Softness + Oversauciness --> Creeping gloop. The key ingredient troika of sliced ham, scrambled eggs, and refried beans made for a whole lot of sufficient unremarkability, seven-mustache style; same went for the OK, if unspectacular veggie posse. On the swish side of the balance sheet, we appreciated the much-grilled tortilla and outstanding mix, as well as the strong overall temperature. But it takes more than an all-star shortstop and dependable middle-relief to win in this league this day in age. El Tesoro is usually more on its game.

02/20/08Super Carne Asada$5.958.42 Mustaches
Swish: sauciness (10); size (9); beans (9); cheese (9); ingredient mix (9); burstage abatement (9); tortilla (8); rice (8); vegetables (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: meat (6); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

There wasn’t much to dislike here, other than spiciness that played it too safe, some dull carne asada, and that one awkward chunk of cartilage that accompanied the dull carne asada. In spite of these shortcomings, El Tesoro’s kitchen still patched together a winning slab, where the true stars were the extraordinary salsas (verde and rojo) and a mix that recognized the value of ingredient team play. A heaping batch of sloppy-delicious refried beans also won over our surly judges panel early on. Rice grains were plump and moist, the tortilla was capably grilled and gently flaky, and hordes of jack cheese made for a big melty...but the whole hulking package could have retained more heat throughout its stay in the plastic red basket in which it was delivered. Intangibility, however, fought the good fight as it topped out at the maximum two mustaches.

08/15/06Super Chile Verde (Pork)$5.957.92 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); size (9); vegetables (9); temperature (9); tortilla (8); meat (8); rice (8); beans (8)
Shrug: cheese (6); sauciness (6); spiciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Given all the acclaim our previous visit to El Tesoro garnered, the handful of shrugs this effort elicited came as a real surprise – in particular, the six-mustache sauciness, mainly due to the green tomatillo salsa’s somewhat off-kilter taste. Other substandard elements – the divisive ingredient mix, the overly subtle spice – contributed to this highly respected taqueria’s dip into our panel’s purgatorial region of good-but-not-great. The list of hoorays here includes: faultless construction; deliciously pasty refried beans; strong pico de gallo and avocado deployment; simple, unfettered brown rice; admirable overall temperature; and generous mini-slabs of pork that anchored the whole shebang. The hyper-grilled tortilla didn’t live up to all its visible hype, yet it was still fine and good. But even the maximum allowable intangibility bonus couldn’t lift this underperforming vessel up and over our crucial eight-mustache waterline. The El Tesoro kitchen is capable of more.

01/27/06Super Pollo BBQ$5.508.42 Mustaches
Decades from now, when we’re a-whittlin’ our balsawood canes on the back porch of our dead-boring retirement complex, we’ll surely recall the sauciest burritos of yore. El Tesoro’s slathery slab could top such a list. Rumors swirled that its chicken was re-grilled to order and topped with barbecue sauce on said grill; whatever the reason for its deliciousness, the meat deserved an ovation. From the top, this burrito meant business, its burly heft and length challenging our panel’s fattest asses to eat the whole thing. (The burrito, as it always has, lost.) A none-more-grilled, ten-mustache tortilla cradled a bevy of tasty moments, even if the overall ingredient mix broke the elements down into three regions much of the time (saucy chicken and refried beans, rice rice rice, and pretty much everything else). Heat was relentless throughout, although spice faded in and out at will. Melted cheese adroitly lined the tortilla interior, and while it was often nudged out of the way by the big bad meat, the standard-issue veggie contingent came through respectably. Unlike our first burrito here two months prior, this one boasted prominently intangible goodness - the kind of taste you remember when you’re aged and bored at some faceless Del Webb development between greater Sacramento’s northeast side and purgatory.
11/21/05Super al Pastor$5.508.33 Mustaches
El Tesoro’s entry into the Burritoeater annals demonstrated that even a high-scoring slab can get lost in its own mechanical mustache-rating resonance. Leading off was a wonderfully grilled tortilla that couldn’t have been grilled any more – flaky and aromatic, it almost smelled baked. Built, heated, and bulged to please, this burrito boasted a delicious salvo of melted cheese (jack? Oaxaca?) that penetrated all the right spots; it acted as the tastiest possible buffer between the tortilla and every other ingredient. Spice lacked immediacy, but still lingered after most bites, and short of some slightly segregated rice, we had no qualm with the overall ingredient mix. Even the pasty refried pinto beans and fine brown rice earned kudos from the panel. So, why all the implied shoulder-shrugs? The roundly sauced pork, barbecued as it was, was bland and lacked any sort of defining taste, and it fell prey to the occasional fatty cut. Additionally, we found ourselves less than overwhelmed by El Tesoro’s veggie mini-army - pico de gallo was fully absent in our slab, and while we appreciated the thick-chopped pieces of yellow onion, a mere dab of their guacamole most assuredly did not do us. A rock-solid performance, but despite what the numbers suggest, not one for the pantheon.