the Intestinal Apocalypse Monthly Apparel Bazaar

Norteño, El South of MarketOMR: 8.42
cross street: Bryant/6th St.
ph. 415/756-1220
Map Visits: 13
All hail El Norteño, the unlikely but deserved 2008 recipient of's Great Mustache, awarded to the champion of our bi-annual Slab Scrum. (Never mind its baffling clangfest in our 2010 event.) Don’t be intimidated by this truck’s location amid bail bonds offices galore in the imposing shadow of the Hall of Justice; after all, Johnny and Janey Law — and all the Superfriends! — enjoy burritos, too. Tortas get top billing on the popular slabwagon’s lo-fi menu, which occasionally features (but doesn't list) lamb amongst a litany of variety meats on hand. Baa. Cash only, pretty much take-out only. Open real early, but closed/absent evenings and Sundays.

Will My Health Be Violated?

07/24/12Super Carne Asada$7.758.92 Mustaches
Swish: sauciness (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); beans (9); vegetables (9); size (8); tortilla (8); meat (8); rice (8); cheese (8)
Shrug: ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

El Norteño's finest performance in over five years had just about everything working in its favor, with only its ingredient mix coming in under our crucial eight-mustache waterline. Perhaps our favorite element was that certain yo no se que this foiled lunch seemed to possess in spades, making a two-mustache intangibility bonus inevitable. But we wouldn't want to short-sell everything else that made this sizable slab such a success, from its feverish spiciness and nonstop-go sauciness on through its flawless construction and endless parade of hot bites. The super-juicy carne asada may not have been bursting with flavor, but the refried beans' richness did its best to compensate. Smartly melted cheese and top-rank, spicy guacamole also garnered ticks on our panel's notepad, as did the strong veggie showing. Slabwagon ho!

12/27/11Super Pollo$7.758.08 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); temperature (10); tortilla (9); sauciness (9); size (8); beans (8); vegetables (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: rice (7); meat (6); cheese (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Although it deservedly scaled our eight-mustache saddle, El Norteño’s latest slab didn’t set our panel’s scoresheet on fire (a good thing perhaps, as we still take notes on paper). Spice nimbly toed the line between tastefully scorching and tastelessly incendiary, and the burrito-wide temperature was never an issue; we were also totally into the delightfully grilled tortilla and, whenever it appeared, the richly flavorful salsa verde. Holding down the veggie front was some very capable guacamole and pico de gallo that, while light on the tomato, was heavy on the onion, and you know how we usually feel about that. On the downside, several runs and drips created predictable burstage abatement errors throughout this slab’s stay on our plate, and while the rice was just happy to be there, the pollo lacked any sort of asado origin, which resulted in thoroughly underwhelming meat. The ingredient mix also could have been better, and although there was unmelted cheese here and there, it never made for major problems. Intangibility remained strong throughout, though, squishiness be damned. Onions!

11/24/10Super Carnitas$7.507.42 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); meat (9); cheese (9); size (8); vegetables (8)
Shrug: spiciness (7)
Clang: rice (5); beans (4); sauciness (4); ingredient mix (4)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Remember that time the French side won the World Cup? 1998, right? That was great. What a charming bunch of overachievers! Remember how the French squad fared in the next Cup? Last stinkin’ place. That was maybe not so great. What a lunkheaded bunch of stooges! Well, here’s your entry-level sports/Scrum analogy: France 1998 = El Norteño 2008; France 2002 = El Norteño 2010.

Even with a hellaciously grilled tortilla, leakproof construction, and clean sweep of hot bites — no small feat from a burrito truck on a 50-degree day — this fairly sized lunch was a letdown of the highest order, particularly in light of this slabwagon’s gutsy postseason performance two years prior. From the first bite downward, the ingredient mix was pretty much a disaster, with the meat relegated to one far side of the tortilla throughout. Then again, the carnitas — crispy and richly flavored; we liked it a lot — had good reason to stay away from the extra-lame rice and beans, the former pale and deeply sub-mediocre, the latter way too pasty and, frankly, disturbingly funny-tasting. Indeed, the exclusively rice/bean bites were a major drag, and there were far too many of them. Spice distribution was just as lousy, with certain bites hellaciously fiery but most others dull and toothless. Of course, that’s often the case when salsa is a rumor at best and the lion’s share of in-burrito irrigation comes from pork grease. The quietly all-melted cheese and valiant flotilla of avocado-anchored veggies did their best to overcome this raft of significant deficiencies, but good grief, what the hell happened here today?

10/12/09Super Lamb$7.508.75 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); temperature (10); tortilla (9); meat (9); cheese (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8); vegetables (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

It was nuttin but devastatingly flavorful mutton on our first return trip to San Francisco’s finest slabwagon since it sideswiped taqueria enthusiasts all over town throughout its triumphant 2008 Slab Scrum run. El Norteño’s lamb is one of our favorite tastes around...if only every taqueria roasted its meats this perfectly. (Even if it was a little greasy this time through — so what?) Only tomato was missing from the otherwise full complement of burrito-friendly veggies, as avocado slices, cilantro, and of course, much onion made it happen here, all slab long. Melted Jack cheese adroitly ringed (rang? anyone?) the inner tortilla, and spice sure was a slow-burning winner. The only shrug-inducing component here, the merely adequate ingredient mix, leaned too heavily on the (admittedly excellent) Spanish rice, which in turn blotted out the fine refried beans at times; on a similar note, the avocado slices were kind of bunched down at the hind end. But hey. Everything else here — particularly intangible credibility — was right on the mark. Got a silly aversion to burrito trucks? Get over it and get here, on the double.

12/20/08Super al Pastor$7.508.42 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7); spiciness (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

More than prodigious amounts of grilled onion, hot-to-touch slabwide temperatures, or a marvelously grilled tortilla, the main story here was the divisive mix, which fostered side-to-side ingredient segregation over wide swaths of this well-sized burrito’s real estate. The mix also leaned too heavily on (admittedly delicious) Spanish rice – although to be fair, the final pair of bites overcame these mixing ills to feature most every element gracefully and gloriously. We had high hopes for El Norteño’s pork, but it arrived micro-diced and struggled to make much of an impression on our pastor-loving judges panel. On the other hand, the terrific guacamole was mighty tasty and wonderfully glurgy, and we already noted all the rad grilled onion, didn’t we? Keeping with this burrito’s theme of inconsistent ingredient presence, spice arrived en masse but en fuego in the final third. Excellent refried beans, tip-top intangible goodness, and efficient service on a quiet weekend afternoon on Bryant made for more good times at San Francisco's finest slabwagon.

12/13/08Super Carne Asada$7.508.50 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); tortilla (9); meat (9); sauciness (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8); vegetables (8); spiciness (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: cheese (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Another on-the-money effort from our favorite slabwagon in town, where nothing less than full-on deliciousness is a virtual guarantee these days. With the only sub-swish element being a two-thirds melted (if still effective) gang of grated jack cheese, the proud run of success here didn’t know when to call it quits. A 50-degree outside temperature couldn’t stop the charging cavalcade of hot bites, just as a hearty dousing of peppery salsa verde enhanced everything else on hand, instead of just flooding things out. It didn’t look like much, but El Norteño’s carne asada came up big, its subtly smoky flavor adding to an already alchemic mix of flavor. Spice maintained a constant presence throughout all 17 bites, while Spanish rice and refried beans established a solid slabular foundation early on. Eight mustaches were in line for the equally fine vegetable ensemble, and the whole shebang was mixed to please. Intangible quality was never in doubt, and the few minor sauce drips that climbed up and over the tortilla’s rim were easily forgiven. El Norteño may or may not hit nine mustaches one day, but there’s plenty of glory in hitting eight-and-a-half as often as it does.

12/06/08Super Pollo$7.508.58 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); size (9); beans (9); burstage abatement (9); rice (8); vegetables (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7); ingredient mix (7); cheese (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

El Norteño’s first clang-free effort in some time performed strongly on a number of fronts. Nothing short of a hot bite occurred top to bottom, and we can’t recall the last time we had a tortilla so thoroughly grilled. Minute, but powerful flakes of dried habañero helped pin the spiciness rating square against the ceiling, while a set of excellent refried beans played a unusually pivotal role throughout. There were enough of most items in every bite to warrant a seven-mustache ingredient mix rating, although the shreds of jack cheese (90% melted) seemed content to hide off on one side of this lengthy, 20-bite scud. A little grease on the hands of our always-tidy judges panel was no big thing. As for all that tender chicken – and there was plenty to contend with – it lacked big flavor, but still managed to provide enough gravitas to anchor the whole event. All the usual veggie suspects and a generous dousing of salsa verde each earned eight mustaches, and this lunch’s intangible charms were irrefutable.

11/26/08Super Lamb$7.508.25 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); meat (9); rice (9); size (8); beans (8)
Shrug: vegetables (7); sauciness (7)
Clang: ingredient mix (5); cheese (4)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Fighting off the chill of twin clangs (ingredient mix, cheese) with four ten-mustache blow torches, El Norteño’s savvy kitchen ensured this slabwagon an ultraselect berth in the semifinals of our 2008 Slab Scrum. Dense heft and an exhaustively grilled (and really quite delightfully fragrant) tortilla were our first impressions of this smartly constructed lunch. By the time burrito-mortality intervened and its 15 bites were in the rear view mirror, memories of mighty tasty lamb and aggressive spice insurgency remained fresh in the minds of our judges panel. Equally impressive was the extra-flavorful rice, as well as the all-hot-all-the-time aesthetic; meanwhile, refried beans admirably held the pasty fort. Unfailing intangibility more than lived up to the two-mustache bonus hype – particularly impressive, considering how piteously minor a role cheese played here, or how this burrito suffered from side-to-side ingredient segregation and poor sauce dispersal. But the robust chunks of tender, stringy lamb made for a unique slabular centerpiece, and we always appreciate when a layer of guacamole runs around halfway around the interior of a tortilla. Quality food.

11/07/08Super al Pastor$7.508.50 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); temperature (10); size (9); beans (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); burstage abatement (9); tortilla (8); meat (8)
Shrug: rice (7); sauciness (7)
Clang: ingredient mix (5)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Its nine-mustache ambitions scuttled by a terribly divisive ingredient mix, this buxom burrito nonetheless fared well enough in most other categories to ring up another impressive rating for this high-flying slabwagon. The piddly-poor mix was the unavoidable fatal flaw here, of course – there was simply no getting around how unfairly marginalized the stellar vegetables were, or how the bunchy Spanish rice ganged up on other elements at times. The solidly flavorful pork was smartly sauced, but the galling overabundance of rice guttered any chance of a full-on sauce-revolution. All kinds of heat emanated from every angle, however, as a 100% run of hot bites was fueled by robust habañero bits. Outstanding refried beans, a respectably grilled tortilla, and much melted jack helped promote unfailing intangibility. 21 bites strong, this burrito failed to allow room for a dessert churro – fair enough, since El Norteño doesn’t carry them anyway.

05/23/08Super Carnitas$7.258.25 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); beans (8); cheese (8); vegetables (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: sauciness (4)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

It was the sort of burrito we had to root for, despite the odds. On one hand, we saw all that was great about it – the take-no-prisoners grilled tortilla, the extraordinary grasp of heat/construction fundamentals, the devastating spice – and we thought it could overcome the laggard sauciness. And to a certain extent, it did, given the burrito’s excellent overall rating. But in retrospect, we can’t help but consider how, with some additional saucy punch, El Norteño could have had a third consecutive 8.50-plus effort on Burritoeater record. It wasn’t to be, but it was certainly no fault of the tiny, yet incorrigible bits of habañero scattered about this sizable slab, or the rough-and-tumble guacamole that anchored a solid veggie contingent. In its own orbit, the Spanish rice was still good (if dry), and while the externally crispy carnitas was aesthetically charming, it lacked the flavor-hammer suggested by its enticingly rustic appearance. We weren’t offended by the few unmelted grates of jack cheese on hand, and the refried beans got it done with quietly pasty flair. It’s just a drag whenever we’re given no choice but to end one of these silly reviews by rhyming paucity with saucity.

07/05/07Super Carne Asada$6.508.50 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); spiciness (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); size (8); beans (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); cheese (7); sauciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Infernal in every imaginable way, this sharp slab employed strong fundamentals, scorching spice, and irrefutable intangibility to continue El Norteño’s winning ways. We were suitably pleased with the integrative ingredient mix, which did well to give the (slightly dry) rice a voice amongst the tall trees of plentiful steak and top-shelf vegetables. The carne asada didn’t say anything offensive or spill a colorful drink on our white trousers – it just lacked that certain yo no se que that sets eight-mustache meats apart from the less-hairy competition. Strangely, the relationship between grated jack cheese and an ideal melting temperature was off and on, although seeing as how cheese earned seven mustaches, it clearly wasn’t too troublesome of an issue. We enjoyed El Norteño’s refried beans and brilliant tortilla-grilling acumen, as well as our lunch’s burstage-proof nature. Sauciness certainly could have played a more significant role, but these things happen. And finally, this burrito appeared to include 61 avocados and 38 white onions, all nice and sliced and diced, so here’s to all that.

03/06/07Super Pollo$6.508.92 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); vegetables (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); size (8); meat (8); rice (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: beans (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Were it not for a set of overly sludgy refried beans, El Norteño surely would have brought the nine-mustache sledgehammer down upon our grizzled panel of judges, and everyone would have gone home ecstatic. Still, bean mediocrity aside, this was essentially a weakness-free effort, with an array of skyscraping element ratings leading the delicious charge. The joyous run of hot bites was jump-started by the fragrantly grilled tortilla, on which approximately 81 jack slices were melted. The result was a near-flood of gooey cheese in nearly every bite, a tactic that never fails to blaze a path straight to our panel’s hearts. El Norteño’s roasty and pepper-flecked salsa roja laid bare its fiery intent from bite one onward. Our reaction: repeated beverage-swilling. Kindly note the ten mustaches awarded for this burrito’s vegetables, due in no small part to a full avocado’s worth of mushy greenery accompanying an ideal amount of diced onion, cilantro, and delectable, tomato-rich pico de gallo. Good times on the veggie front. The boiled chicken, though a shade on the squishy side, compensated by offering slippery hints of a once-boisterous marinade, while the gracefully moist Spanish rice played its supporting role smartly. A sharp ingredient mix tied it all together in a fairly integrated package, and the whole thing was sized as a super burrito ought to be. Fun lunch.

04/16/05Super al Pastor$5.507.00 Mustaches
We don’t mean to turn this into a philosophical inquiry, but what does it mean when a burrito awash in sauce comes up alarmingly dry? Such a paucity of internal moisture was the main story here at the El Norteño truck, where the charred-beyond-recognition pork was drowned in some sort of iffy sauce that was completely absorbed by this slab’s meat and overabundance of rice. Large cuts of jalapeño pepper spearheaded some surprisingly lethal spice attacks every few bites, but the unsatisfactory ingredient mix kept it from rising above the fray, while it also sequestered the blackened pork on one side and one side only. Disappointing vegetable content as well – only a dab of guacamole was spotted/tasted throughout. At least all the bites were hot.