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Castillito, Taq. El (Golden Gate/Larkin) Civic Center / TenderloinOMR: 8.26
370 Golden Gate
cross street: Larkin/Hyde
ph. 415/292-7233
Map Visits: 11
With city bureaucrats, the fuzz, and regular Janes and Joes all chowing at this Civic Center stalwart at any given time — particularly during its busy, but famously efficient lunch rush — you can take this taqueria’s unique dynamic straight to the bank; the same goes for its often-sharp burritowork. It's the original Little Castle along this stretch of Golden Gate — the highly suspect El Castillito shop one block east is for boneheads. Breakfast, bottled beer, and Internet jukebox tunes all available. Cash only.

Will My Health Be Violated?

10/22/12Super Pollo Asado$7.567.83 Mustaches
Swish: size (10); beans (9); spiciness (9); burstage abatement (9); vegetables (8); sauciness (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); rice (7); cheese (6)
Clang: ingredient mix (5)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

There's no getting around it: This burly heavyweight slab had a handful of intractable problems hamper its fortunes. After all, 7.83 mustaches is a severe underperformance for this storied El Castillito shop. Suffering from a radically poor ingredient mix that imposed side-to-side segregation on the fair-enough rice and glorious refried beans (both on one side), tangy pico de gallo and respectable guacamole (holding down the middle), and plenteous, yet real dull pollo asado (on the other side), our lunch fell victim to the time-worn results of a lunkheaded mix: unmelted cheese and unhot bites. Not to horrific degrees, mind you, but still enough to where our panel bellowed out a "Hrumph!" or four in the kitchen's direction throughout this behemoth burrito's existence. This is El Castillito, yes? Where, then, was the avocado? At least spice kicked ass and took names like it often has here, even if the intangibility rating inexplicably landed in the one-mustache gutter.

04/07/11Super al Pastor$6.438.17 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); temperature (9); meat (8)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); sauciness (6); spiciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Sizable even by Castillito standards, this perfectly built burrito may not have been this shop’s finest effort, but it still had a hell of a lot going for it. Such as: a note-perfect grilled tortilla, acres of melted Jack cheese, and more avocado slices than there are dudes smoking hella weed in Civic Center Plaza around the way...or at least as many. Castillito’s usually sublime barbecue pork was merely tasty-n-saucy this time around, but what hamstrung our lunch’s mustachioed fortunes more than anything was its suspect ingredient mix — sauceless bites early on gave way to an overabundance of internal moisture later, while the meat was mostly absent until almost halfway in. And since we’re suddenly on a complaint roll here, couldn’t the refried beans have been a bit thicker? Yes, yes, we suppose so. Spiciness was also on the flat side; intangibility, however, conjured up enough of that old Castillito magic to send the whole production headlong into eight-mustache territory and beyond. This place never fails us.

05/05/10Super Carne Asada$6.438.33 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); meat (10); vegetables (9); temperature (9); burstage abatement (9); cheese (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: size (7); rice (7); beans (7); sauciness (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

This burrito may well have ratcheted up our maximum two-mustache intangibility had it only included carne asada inside its gorgeously grilled tortilla. No fooling: El Castillito’s steak on this evening was the kind butchers eat for breakfast — adroitly juicy, not a little smoky, and totally on the mark. So good. Elsewhere inside the perfectly crafted tortilla, spice hovered luridly throughout, and in typical Castillito fashion, avocado played a major role. Things could have been more thoroughly sauced and somewhat better mixed, and it’s also true that the slab came in a little on the short side. But why nitpick when the overall package was this top-notch?

07/04/09Super Carnitas$6.438.17 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); tortilla (9); cheese (9); vegetables (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); meat (6); beans (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

El Castillito burritos are known citywide for many wonderful things — marvelously grilled tortillas, scads of Jack cheese grates honorably melted upon those tortillas, burly heft, often sky-high intangibility. Strong carnitas performances, however, are not one of them. Squish-meat wasn’t the sole shortcoming here, but it was the most noticeably egregious, simply because there was so damn much of it. Carnitas ought to boast a bit of crispiness on the outside, but Castillito continues to avoid embracing this tenet, even all these years on. Other six-mustache efforts here included a paltry helping of refried beans and an ingredient mix that kept the mushy meat apart from most everything else. Other than all that, hey, rad burrito: Sizing was more than generous in every direction, while the grilled tortilla and melted Jack were each in typically glorious Castillito form. Spice crept in and held its ground throughout, while 100% hot bites and impervious burstage abatement provided benchmarks of perfection, top to bottom. And intangibility didn’t suffer for the burrito’s aforementioned faults; quite the contrary, in fact. Even on an off-day, El Castillito somehow comes through.

11/30/08Super Pollo Asado$6.438.33 Mustaches
Swish: size (9); tortilla (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); burstage abatement (9); temperature (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); beans (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

It boasted serious heft and a three-bites-wide cylindrical base, but it turned out that most of this enormous burrito’s extra real estate was filled out by thousands of grains of mildly flavorful Spanish rice. Sharing tent space with the rice in Camp Seven-Mustache were the flat-flavored chicken chunks and slightly overmatched (but tasty) refried beans; just up the scale, our panel felt as if the slab should have been hotter overall. While no elements here hit the perfect ten, more than half came awfully close: the crackly-grilled tortilla, the heavy-duty spice, the irrefutable sauciness (courtesy of the Little Castle’s hard-working salsa roja), all those melted grates of jack cheese. Other than a minor top-end sauce bleed and a few harmless drips late in the slab, construction remained solid throughout. The biggest problem was the somewhat clumsy ingredient mix, which kowtowed to the overabundance of rice just as it cordoned off all the avocado slices -- and the lion’s share of spice -- to the lower half. Some of that old Castillito magic was on leave, but enough of it hung around to knock the intangibility rating up to two mustaches. Also: onions!

11/04/08Super Pastor$6.438.58 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); temperature (9); tortilla (8); meat (8); cheese (8)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Its slightly outmatched refried beans and overly abundant, pale Spanish rice notwithstanding, El Castillito paraded a slew of smart ingredients en route to another stellar rating. At well over 20 bites, sizing was appropriately burly all around, while a generous dash of mean salsa roja made for subtly booming, top-to-bottom spice. Plentiful roast pork was imbued with tiny bits of delicious grilled onion; several avocado slices and sharp pico de gallo contributed additional flavor-cred. The mix could have pandered less to the encroaching rice, and the tortilla could have done with a bit more grill-time to promote toasty flakiness, but the cheesy inner tortilla lining and rock-solid construction kept everything on the good foot. Typical Castillito intangibility and a cavalcade of hot bites helped ensure a toppermost finish.

04/28/08Super Carne Asada$6.438.83 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); tortilla (9); beans (9); vegetables (9); ingredient mix (9); meat (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); sauciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

A bit light on the salsa and Spanish rice, but anvil-heavy on pretty much everything else, this stellar Castillito slab was this location’s highest-rated effort to date – impressive, considering all the high-powered performances we’ve been on the business end of here the last several years. Jumbo sizing (mainly in heft) and a typically flaky-grilled tortilla got our attention right away, while a champ vegetable contingent, all the melted cheese in the world, and a generous amount of juicy, thinly sliced beef kept it rapt throughout. Chopped onion was particularly out of hand, and it was OK with us. Solid spicing belied this burrito’s surprisingly tame sauce factor, but it wasn’t necessarily a dry just could have used a greater infusion of Castillito’s famous salsa. Given the lessened rice contribution, refried beans jumped at the opportunity to hog a bit of the supporting ingredient spotlight. All this, plus some real on-the-mark intangibility, sent this foiled food’s fortunes skyward.

02/15/07Super Breakfast (Chorizo)$6.608.69 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); tortilla (9); meat (9); eggs (9); cheese (9); spiciness (9)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); ingredient mix (7); sauciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

It’s tough to go wrong with an egg/chorizo mix this dense, particularly when the chorizo is some of the finest in town and the eggs are infused with tiny, yet surprisingly powerful bits of jalapeño. Perhaps we should have passed on the rice inclusion, but...these things happen in this line of work, and when they do, we enjoy the pale grains for what they are: tasty carbohydrates. Castillito’s refried beans, though marginalized by all of the above elements, were terrific when allowed the chance to shine through, and the fact that this legendary slabhouse’s veggie contingent earned ten mustaches shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Three-quarters of an avocado? Heaping helpings of chopped onion? Deliciously flammable pico de gallo? The first round of fist pumps is on us. Certain sections could have used additional salsa roja, and the ingredient mix was fine enough without succumbing to excellence. But other crucial factors such as flawlessly hot temperatures, shatterproof construction, and lengthy/girthy/hefty dimensions saw to this burrito’s spot in the first-class cabin of our judges panel’s early-morning flight. Nicely done.

07/19/06Super Carnitas$5.858.42 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); size (9); vegetables (9); temperature (9); tortilla (8); rice (8); beans (8); cheese (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

If the stellar, avocado-spackled vegetable medley wasn’t wowing our judges panel, then basic burrito fundamentals like proper heat and burstage abatement were. Meanwhile, a squadron of eight-mustache ratings - for the lightly grilled tortilla, the on-the-money Spanish rice and refried beans, and the graceful sauce level – spoke to unflappable consistency. If only the heaping helping of carnitas hadn’t been so fatty, particularly in the latter stages. Although cheese was an eight-mustache scorer, the presence of a few (only a few) unmelted shards of grated jack stood out. The ingredient mix mostly got it right, while spiciness seemed to improve with each bite. Did we mention the hugeosity? Sizing was generous here – over 20 bites were necessary to kill off this monster in the end. Nice lunch.

02/27/06Super Pollo Asado$5.858.08 Mustaches
Sure, eight mustaches and change is eight mustaches and change – and highly respectable change, at that. But, let’s face it: for an El Castillito slab-product, this burrito underperformed. Distantly lurking spice, an ingredient mix that could have used some sort of burrito spinner, and about half a metric ton of brown rice ensured a little disappointment at our foil-strewn table. All the rice seemed at loggerheads with the exceptional refried beans, while the fine salsa had difficulty penetrating certain areas (particularly the rice desert). Even Castillito’s specialty – fully melted cheese upon a mega-grilled tortilla – didn’t wield its usual sledgehammer, more due to the grilled-for-only-ten-seconds flour wrap than all the terrific, shredded jack melt-welded to the tortilla’s interior. The freshly grilled chicken was good-tastin’ and chunky, but not worth double scoop indulgement. Castillito’s veggie salvo was big on might and short on spite, with ever-present avocado and cilantro-fueled pico de gallo gang-whipping its way to nine-mustache glory. On the fundamental side of our ledger, it was a very warm burrito, and it would have garnered ten mustaches in the burstage abatement column were it not for a few late, napkin-raising drips. Sizing was long and hefty, and intangibility didn’t take the day off. But, come on, this is El Castillito. We expect greatness here, not just goodness.
02/12/05Super Breakfast (Chorizo)$5.608.75 Mustaches
Regardless of the location or hour of day, Castillito’s grill-operators never take prisoners – perfect tens are the norm here for melted cheese and flaky tortillas. Our only qualm was with the half-and-half look of the ingredient mix – veggies confined to one side, everything else to the other. If they fix that, we’d surely be looking down the barrel of a nine-’stacher. But when the sausage and the eggs become one, and when there’s avocado and it’s good avocado, and when every bite is a hot bite, it’s tough to imagine a better, more complete breakfast burrito in town.