cross street: 16th St.
Map Visits: 7
Shrug: rice (7); temperature (7); sauciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: cheese (5); burstage abatement (5); vegetables (4); spiciness (3)
Intangibility bonus: 0 (of 2)
Back when Burritoeater.com was a twinkle in the nascent Internet's eye, Taqueria La Cumbre was the first San Francisco burrito shop where our panel tied our horse to the post outside, sauntered in with our thumbs hooked on our belt, tipped our hat, and said, “Burrito, please.” This occurred toward the end of an era when La Cumbre was a true giant on the Mission — nay, San Francisco — taqueria scene. Indeed, entire decades were consumed as La Cumbre lorded over other long-gone slabberies in town (as well as Taq. Pancho Villa around the corner). These days, though, the old taqueria is so far over the hill, it's deep into the next valley, mired as it is in a six-mustache wasteland of slabular disgust.
Why? Look no further than this failure of a meal. Yes, the tortilla was smartly grilled; yes, the carne asada was juicy in all the right ways; and, OK, the refried beans sure had the knack. But apart from these successes and its respectable sizing, this slab was the portrait of burrito-making gone horribly wrong: lukewarm bites top to bottom; an ingredient “mix” that bunched all the vaguely melted cheese in only a couple spots and allowed way too much cilantro in the gate; the horridly ill-advised inclusion of guaca-cream, rather than actual guacamole; a near-total absence of spice; serious construction issues in the form of slouchy overall burrito-posture and a gaping maw in the tortilla's hind end; and, unshockingly enough, zero intangible charm. Of course, we've encountered all these unfortunate troubles in other burritos over the years, but there was a pure clanger here that was wholly new to our wizened panel of expert-dunces, and it begged one simple question: Why in the hell was this burrito wrapped in parchment paper??
Shrug: tortilla (7); burstage abatement (7); rice (6); vegetables (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: meat (5); beans (4); sauciness (4); spiciness (0)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)
Sure, we didn’t necessarily make it easy on La Cumbre’s kitchen with our laundry list of customizations to their fajita burrito, and while the foiled result was nothing short of interesting, it was also nothing short of distressingly disappointing. Since when does a fajita burrito include carrot and zucchini? Since tonight at La Cumbre, apparently. These are fine vegetables worthy of respect in pastas and other dishes, but our panel regards them as inappropriate in a fajita burrito — the vegetabular foundation of which ought to be built around grilled bell pepper and onion, dammit. Indeed, the slab was hot and burly, and the tortilla was wonderfully grilled; soon enough, however, that same tortilla became sodden with runny refried beans and a comical overabundance of salsa, and it was a miracle our meal didn’t suffer a full collapse at some point. Cheese (one of several requested add-ins) came up wonderfully gooey, but with such minimal chicken presence, this burrito was bound to the six-mustache ghetto. A complete absence of spice sealed the failed deal. p.s. One bonus intangibility mustache for somehow holding our panel’s disheartened interest throughout.
Shrug: beans (7); ingredient mix (7); temperature (6)
Clang: cheese (5)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)
Despite temperature inadequacies that resulted in more unmelted cheese than we would have preferred, La Cumbre’s old ’67 sedan made it over our eight-mustache summit, if only barely. Handsomely sized and — get ready for Applebees-ready marketing fluff — packed with hefty chunks of juicy steak, there was much to enjoy here, from the full docket of slab-friendly veggies and unyielding salsa roja to, uh, hefty chunks of, um, juicy steak. Spice burned slowly but ever-steadily from the top down, and the Spanish rice got it done a little better than the slightly lost-in-action refried beans. The Jack cheese situation improved late in the burrito, and there was certainly no shortage of the grates on hand, but what this meal could have used was a hot bite-ensuring stint in the steamer, post-foiling. Despite that, it deserved the maximum two-mustache intangibility bonus. Perhaps the hefty chunks of juicy steak had a little something to do with that.
Shrug: meat (7); vegetables (7); rice (6); ingredient mix (6); temperature (6)
Clang: beans (5); cheese (5); sauciness (5)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)
Due to the steadily ascending mustache ratings La Cumbre had earned throughout our first three on-record visits, our judges panel was eager to return to the Mission stalwart. Then the ingredient botch took hold: whole black beans (we’d ordered refried pintos), sour cream (boo, come on), and most egregiously, lettuce (we successfully requested its removal...kind of tough to remove the sour cream, though). So, we had plenty of reasons to be highly skeptical here, even before bite one. Burstage abatement was the strongest element of this otherwise troubled slab, but even the best construction practices in the world can’t save a dry burrito marred by unwarm bites, unmelted cheese, and unimpressive black beans. To La Cumbre’s credit, the sour cream we make every effort to avoid in our foiled foods was smartly applied via squeeze bottle, rather than in splotchy scoops, while the tortilla put on a fine, non-stick performance. Integration, however, suffered significantly at times, as demonstrated by the rice’s on-again / off-again relationship with other elements on hand, particularly that iffy bean contingent. We couldn’t grouse much about the lengthy size of the thing, and hearty spiciness persuaded us to swill beverage continuously. Finally, we imagined seeing pencil drawings of La Cumbre’s fried pork alongside phrase-dictionary entries for “harmlessly effective,” “fair enough,” and of course, “Burritoeater.com’s seven-mustache rating for meats.”
Shrug: meat (7); beans (7); sauciness (7); tortilla (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)
It was bulky enough, it was tasty enough, and by the 21st and final bite, we had to throw our hands up in surrender – at long last, an eight-mustache effort from this landmark burrito retailer. Not that this was a flawless ringer, but a number of top-shelf elements systemically bludgeoned our panel into submission by the final bell. Let’s start with the rambunctious spice, which hit a high threshold early on and never dropped off. Let’s continue with the potent vegetable posse – nothing particularly groundbreaking, just some mighty fine chopped onion, pico de gallo, cilantro, et al. Let’s also shout out the dual (and all-melted) jack/cheddar cheese action, the near-scorching temperature, and of course, the hulking dimensions. On the other hand, the ingredient mix sadly undercut some of the goodwill detailed above by cordoning off too many ingredients from one another. And given the size of La Cumbre’s grill, is it too much to ask for them to grill every tortilla by default? While we’ve got the inquisition crew out, how did the externally mega-sauced chicken turn out so internally parched? When was the last time one of our reviews ended with four consecutive inquiries? What’s the capital of Sonora?