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Cumbre, Taq. La MissionOMR: 6.77
515 Valencia
cross street: 16th St.
ph. 415/863-8205
Map Visits: 7
The Mission's de rigueur taqueria through the mid '90s, La Cumbre has since been eclipsed on San Francisco's taqueria cred report by a number of other burritoterias, despite no less an authority than the late Joey Ramone once hailing La Cumbre's work-in-foil as “the best burrito on Earth.” Opened in 1967, this neighborhood perennial is the second-oldest taqueria in town, after El Faro on Folsom, so there's just no way the Mission-style burrito was first concocted here, despite La Cumbre's high-profile claims to the contrary. Cheers to the friendly staff, plethora of meat choices on the menu, and the white-hot image of Adelita, Pancho Villa's fiery mistress, enlivening every tabletop in the place. Jeers to the weird fajita burritos and mediocre salsas. Bottled beer available. Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

10/06/13Super Carne Asada$8.506.50 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (9); meat (9); beans (9); size (8)
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 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??

09/26/11Fajita Grilled Chicken$9.006.08 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); cheese (9); size (8)
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.

03/17/09Super Carne Asada$7.958.00 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); size (8); tortilla (8); meat (8); rice (8)
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.

04/12/07Super Puerco$7.506.75 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (9); size (8); tortilla (8); spiciness (8)
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, “’s seven-mustache rating for meats.”

06/16/06Super Pollo en Chile Rojo$7.508.08 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); size (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); spiciness (9); rice (8); burstage abatement (8)
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?

07/05/05Super Chile Colorado Steak$7.257.83 Mustaches
Hefty, hulky, and bulky was the La Cumbre burrito, but truly great it was not. Still, there were enough positive moves here to further the notion that perhaps this old-time Mission standby is on its way back after a long, slow decline. Among the hopeful points: the aforementioned eye-popping size; heaping helpings of fine steak, all slathered in a rich red sauce; steady-handed role players in the form of Spanish rice and refried beans; fairly consistent end-to-end temperatures; totally macho spiciness; and, some tasty, well-melted cheese that hit the tortilla before the tortilla hit the steamer. So why the sub-eight-mustache overall rating? The ingredient mix didn’t know which way to go at times, having cordoned the rice on one side and most of the considerable veggie contingent toward the bottom of the slab. Furthermore, the steamed tortilla remained perfectly ordinary, while the loose wrap unnecessarily increased the cumbersomeness of it all, ultimately resulting in an overly runny foodpiece whose drippy misbehavior required about 800 napkins to combat. But despite it all, we called it a step in the right direction for this erstwhile legend on the scene, because we still believe.
07/17/03Deluxe Carne Asada$5.857.00 Mustaches
They’re still relatively well and good here after all these years, but the comparatively small size of their work and lack of defining elements have accelerated the buzzkill the last several years. Blazing salsa, capable steak, an above-average mix, and a long history will take a place only so far in a neighborhood bursting with over 35 taquerias.