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Azteca Taq., El BayviewOMR: 7.52
5298 3rd St.
cross street: Williams
ph. 415/822-1460
Map Visits: 6
This corner burrito shop sports the look and feel of a humbler Taq. Pancho Villa, from the cap-clad men and women behind the counter to the eerily similar menu (which features six types of vegetarian burritos and four types of prawn-inclusive burritos). It’s also as spotless as your mother’s living room. The buck's head mounted on the east wall, meanwhile, lends a certain hunter's-lodge elegance. Cash only. Bottled beer available. Closed Sundays.

Will My Health Be Violated?

03/26/12Especial Carnitas$6.757.08 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); size (9); rice (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); vegetables (7); temperature (7); beans (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: cheese (5); sauciness (4)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Flawless construction! Generous heft! Criminally pasty refried beans! Clangs! This visit to El Azteca ran the gamut of taqueria-triggered emotions...but by slab's end our scales had definitely tipped toward disappointment. While not all the cheese was unmelted, a disturbingly high percentage of it remained in its original form throughout, and along with a severe shortage of in-burrito salsa, these were a couple of cringe-worthy elements that grounded the whole damn blimp. A number of unwarm bites late in the slab also helped spell curtains in the wrong way, as did an ingredient mix that rendered one part of the burrito entirely green and white due to an unwanted coagulation of cilantro, guacamole, and unmelted cheese. So what did we enjoy here? The rice grains were thick and moist, and the heavily jalapeńofied pico de gallo was totally OK with us; the carnitas, though on the dry side, was capably flavorful. And the guy manning the register called us "boss." Alright.

02/19/10Especial Carne Asada y Nopales$6.757.67 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); temperature (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8); cheese (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); vegetables (7); sauciness (7); spiciness (7); meat (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Rare as it is to see nopales available behind a San Francisco burrito counter, we capitalized on this opportunity to enjoy a little cactus in our carne asada slab. And while the chile-like vegetable acquitted itself without trouble, it was El Azteca’s faceless, finely diced beef that failed to live up the promise it showed in the steam table tray. Despite its smart ingredient mix, this brick-dense burrito suffered from poor proportionality, as the burritotista overloaded the lightly steamed tortilla with plump-grained Spanish rice — a common, but still inexcusable misplay. Another silly addition was the creeping guaca-cream, and that’s always a lousy idea at the taqueria. At least the basics (burstage abatement, temperature) were hit square on the head, even if nothing tasted particularly outstanding and the intangibility hammer bent the one-mustache nail.

04/04/09Especial al Pastor$6.758.25 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); meat (9); vegetables (9); size (8); tortilla (8); rice (8); cheese (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: beans (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Expect all kinds of onions when you pony up for El Azteca’s pastor — diced green onion, chopped white onion, mega-grilled onion. So many onions, sure, but not so many to outdo this sizable slab’s exceptional pork. Dense, smoky, and generously flavorful, this has to be some of the finest meat-fare on the San Francisco taqueria scene. The ingredient mix suffered from a bit of inelegance, judging by how top-heavy the spicing was, and how the otherwise respectable refried beans got lost among all that rad pork. And wasn’t that an ingrown tortilla there? Pretty sure it was, but the kitchen didn’t mind grilling it for us (as well it shouldn't). Anyway, the mix improved in the lower half. Onions! The overall temperature could have used a boost, but at least the grates of Jack cheese were sufficiently melted. Along with the celebrated pork, the chopped bell pepper-enhanced vegetable contingent co-ruled the day. And there was no doubting intangibility’s up-front role throughout. Scallions!

09/08/07Especial Spicy Pork$6.758.25 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); rice (9); meat (8); beans (8); sauciness (8); ingredient mix (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); cheese (6); vegetables (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

So rarely do we meet a meat advertised as "spicy" that actually puts the fire-boot in, but El Azteca's pork hit all the high notes on our spiciness meter. So did this sizable slab's salsa. Attributes like these helped offset the less glorious elements at work here, such as the far too sticky tortilla, the moments of unmelted jack cheese, the bunchy cilantro, and the underthick guacamole. But that OMR up there is no lie – this was a solid effort that built upon El Azteca's milder success two years prior. The jumbo-grain rice was beautifully seasoned throughout, and the mix sidestepped the cilantro attack to imbue the burrito with a crucial sense of ingredient community. Terrific pico de gallo added a swashbuckling tang to most bites, while the pasty refrieds – short on actual bean content, but long on deliciousness – also earned their stripes. Tasty cuts of pork and impervious construction rounded out this impressive foiled meal.

10/04/05Especial Spicy Chicken$6.257.75 Mustaches
My, they were friendly. My, it was tidy. Best of all, El Azteca Taq. concocted a fine food-blimp for us. Not unilaterally devastating – unmelted plots of cheese and a mildly disappointing overall temperature saw to that – but given all that went right here, a plain fine burrito. Let’s take it from the bottom: although we weren’t subjected to any disastrously cold bites, parts of this burrito couldn’t get past the mere kinda-warm stage, despite its post-construction steamer lockdown. The dodgy, expected by-product – unmelted (jack) cheese – ensued. And what of the hind-end foil nearly swallowing the final bite for us? Aside from these missteps, it was pretty much full speed ahead on all other fronts, from the generally inoffensive ingredient mix and crazy-looking, but tasty orange sauce in which the chicken lounged, to the bloated Spanish rice and hell-bringing flourish of spice. Special kudos to the addition of much freshly chopped onion, which along with the sharp pico de gallo upped the veggie ante. The spicy chicken was actually spicy (sometimes it isn’t), tasty, and the recipient of adequate cook-time. And if this burrito had been sized in the men’s shoes department, it would have been a size 10, easy.
09/08/03Super Carne Asada$5.647.00 Mustaches
A titanic effort wasted by heavy lettuce inclusion, poorly chopped steak, and overmoistness. Much spicy kick reared up between all the salad-like bites, however.