the Intestinal Apocalypse Monthly Apparel Bazaar

Espiga de Oro, La MissionOMR: 8.81
2916 24th St.
cross street: Florida
ph. 415/826-1363
Map Visits: 9
When masa is sold by the pound and burritos built around chicharonnes (deep-fried pork skins) are on the menu, you can pretty much figure you’re light years from Chipotle or Rubio’s. On a purely quality-of-burritowork level, the Ear of Gold lays waste to the taqueria competition along 24th St.’s storied Slab Row; beyond that, the friendly shop is simply a pleasant little place to park yourself for a meal, with a dining counter against the wall and a few humble tables set further away from the open-air entrance. And the grilled tortillas! Housemade and unassailably off the charts, these tortillas. The place closes by 7PM most evenings, mainly because these people need their rest — it opens daily at 5:00 in the blessed AM. So, yes, breakfast is available. (So are assorted vegetables, including fresh tomatillos.) Your post-ordering patience here is requested, but the wait is likely more than worth it. Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

12/07/13Super Carne Asada$7.999.25 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); vegetables (10); spiciness (10); ingredient mix (10); temperature (10); meat (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8)
Shrug: sauciness (7)
Clang: don't be ridiculous
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

What do you get when you combine: San Francisco's finest tortilla, ruthlessly grilled and aromatic; juicy, smartly chopped carne asada; cheese that was clearly melted by an all-pro cheesemelter-specialist in La Espiga de Oro's magical (it's magical!) kitchen; spice that could summon several neighborhood fire engines; the sort of shrewd ingredient mix that, if ingredient mixes were capable of such things, could impart the meaning of life, how to win friends, and where to find the best dentist in its infinite ten-mustache wisdom, all while wearing an awkward, Merlin-like purple pointy-cap with stars and moons on it; a best-supporting-actor foundation of refried beans and Mexican rice; hot bites!, and a lot of them; bonehead-proof construction; a whole slew of sliced, note-perfect avocado, to say nothing of full-on bitchin, brightly flavorful pico de gallo; and that certain yo no se que we all seek in burritos (and life)?

(Audience, reading from black-and-white teleprompter in toneless unison: “What do you get, Burritoeater panel of judge-doofuses?”)

You get 9.25 glorious mustaches and the run-with-it opportunity to take this whole 11-year, 1000-burrito escapade out on the good foot. Onions!

11/07/12Super Carne Asada$7.258.67 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); vegetables (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); beans (9); cheese (9); size (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); sauciness (7); spiciness (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Oh!, what a menacingly grilled tortilla, and it suited this slightly stumpy, yet girthy burrito to a T. Other elements here worth trumpeting included heavy avocado presence, super-extra-flavorful pico de gallo, and all the hot bites and all-pro construction we could ever hope to expect from one of San Francisco's toppermost-rank taquerias. If anything, this intangibly foolproof lunch fell short of our nine-mustache promised land due to its peripheral (if consistent) spice and capably shrugalicious carne asada, and to a lesser extent because of a solid ingredient mix that would have rated better had it positioned the perfectly pasty refried beans more equitably about the slab. We'll now close with some shorter sentences: A blend of all-melted Jack and cheddar merited applause from our crotchety panel of judge-doofuses. Best of all, zero clangs. Then we bought 15 pounds of masa (not really).

04/06/12Super Pollo$7.258.75 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); beans (9); cheese (9); sauciness (9); vegetables (8); ingredient mix (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); spiciness (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

All that separated this gargantuan slab from this storied little taqueria's third trip to our nine-mustache promised land was some politely peripheral spiciness, slightly mushed-up rice, and less-than-moist grilled poultry. Other than these minor, shrug-level shortfalls, it was yet another festival of radness-in-a-tortilla, starting with the tortilla itself that was peerlessly grilled and flaky almost beyond comprehension. A succession of hot bites followed, with stooge-proof construction ensuring no ingredient pratfalls would occur. Everything was richly sauced, with occasional avocado slices kicking the veggie quotient up a notch. As for the chicken, what it lacked in juiciness, it almost compensated for in moderate flavor and entertaining char action. Melted cheese (two kinds) added drama (ooh) to most bites (yes!), and even if the mix accentuated the rice in the top half and the full-on ragin' refried beans in the lower half, it all worked out OK by slab's end. Intangible charm was never, ever in doubt. This was the sort of burrito you just end up chain-biting.

10/23/11Super Chile Relleno$6.998.45 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); tortilla (9); temperature (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); beans (8); vegetables (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: sauciness (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Long, slender, and, quite frankly, pretty damn sexy if you ask us, our foiled dunch at La Espiga de Oro on this toasty autumn Sunday yielded plenty of “uh huh”s and “oh yeah”s from our grizzled panel of slabular veterans. Our off-the-menu order of a chile relleno burrito threw the kitchen for a minor loop, but with the exception of the fact that our second bite included a fat stem (!), the smart folks working hard back there pretty much nailed it. Spice levels in our meatless, yet remarkably dense slab fluctuated throughout, but never too dramatically, while the star element here was undoubtedly cheese cheese cheese — almost more than we knew what to do with (almost). Cheese inside the chile relleno. Cheese around the chile relleno. Cheese sticking to the foil at the hind-end burstage point. Cheese telling us how much it liked our note-taking style at the taqueria. Cheese everywhere. Nine mustaches went out to the typically on-point La Espiga tortilla and the twin foundational elements of temperature and burstage abatement, and for very good reason. All the relleno action hogged a bit too much of the inner tortilla, hence the slightly laggard ingredient mix rating. Intangibility? Incalculable.

12/23/10Super Carnitas$6.498.58 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); meat (8); beans (8)
Shrug: rice (7); spiciness (7); sauciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

While we garnered much enjoyment from this hefty slab, it’s not unreasonable to say that it was La Espiga de Oro’s most unspectacular foiled effort on Burritoeater record. The main shortcoming here was unaggressive sauciness, while the middle-of-the-road rice and polite spice could have exhibited more brassiness as well. All the other La Espiga hallmarks were on hand, including the requisite killer-grilled homegrown tortilla, plenteous avocado slices, and Chinatown-like density from the ingredient mix. A metric ton of carnitas saw to it that our panel wouldn’t leave hungry, but while we had no qualms with its fine taste, its texture left something to be desired — and that something was crispiness. A whole lot of melted cheese did the direct opposite of harm, cool bites were nowhere to be found, construction was all to the good, and intangible charm provided all kinds of fun. But while this was a great burrito, it was still a cut below La Espiga’s finest.

12/05/10Super Carne Asada$6.499.25 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); vegetables (10); spiciness (10); ingredient mix (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); temperature (9); rice (8); beans (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

It’s the rare 9.25-mustache burrito that rings up such a gaudy Overall Mustache Rating so stealthily...but of course, it’s the rare burrito that rings up such a gaudy 9.25-mustache rating in the first place. Our panel reckoned we had something in the highest eights or maybe lowest nines in its hands here, but the third-highest OMR ever (to date)?! We were just honored to be seated at the same table as this masterfoodpiece. There’s no need to go into drool-inducing detail over La Espiga’s typically fierce-grilled tortillawork (see every review below), although a few words about much melted Jack making its way into each bite wouldn’t be unwarranted here — the few words we’ll go with are cheesetacular, cheesetastic, and cheesealicious. Spice was the portrait of graceful power, or perhaps powerful grace; however we characterize it, this burrito’s persistent spice perfectly toed the line that separates brash from supplementary, just as pepper-fire should. We’re pretty sure the ingredient mix couldn’t have been any better, and there was certainly no room for complaint re: construction. So many avocado slices and such onion-rich pico de gallo led the vegetabular charge all slab long, and being all big-sized and frequently hot earned this foiled brick-o’-happy another couple nine-mustache marks on our scoresheet. The Spanish rice was real nice and the refried beans were the same, and while the carne asada was the sole element to perform at shrug-like levels overall, it still had some nice, juicy moments along the way. Major intangible cred, meanwhile, furthered the rising La Espiga de Oro legend.

11/18/10Super Pollo Asado$6.499.08 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); rice (9); vegetables (9); ingredient mix (9); size (8); meat (8); beans (8); sauciness (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: no elements elicited shrugs
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

No shrugs, and certainly no clangs — just a series of swishes that invariably led to mustaches, mustaches, mustaches. (Translation for new readers: This was a very fine burrito. One of the finest ever, in fact.) La Espiga de Oro apparently doesn’t know how to produce anything other than a perfectly grilled tortilla; its kitchen also seems to strongly grasp the importance of imbuing burritos with that certain yo no se que that directly translates to 17-mustache intangibility — not bad, considering our intangibility bonus scale only goes to 2. Our foiled lunch’s grilled chicken may not have been the best we’ve ever had, but it was nicely seasoned and arrived in no small amount of chopped chunks. We couldn’t have asked for more cheese from a Tillamook sales guy, and its level of meltedness drew zero concern from our most critical panel members. Spice floated in and out of top-range territory, while burly avocado slices and quietly contributive pico de gallo ensured a notable veggie presence. Rice? Charmingly sauce-touched throughout. Refried beans? Oh hell yes. Ingredient mix? Just about perfect...not unlike this burrito.

10/07/10Super Carnitas$6.258.00 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); size (9); beans (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); ingredient mix (9); burstage abatement (9); meat (8); spiciness (8); temperature (8)
Shrug: cheese (6)
Clang: rice (0)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Double the meat, zero the rice...but more on that in a second. Durably spicy and smartly built...ah, screw it, let’s jump right to it: La Espiga de Oro’s kitchen simply bungled the rice inclusion here. This burrito’s ingredient mix totally nailed it except for one major component of a Mission-style super burrito — no rice, at all. The inexcusable grain-shutout threatened to overshadow the fact that this mighty hefty, mighty fine slab ruled in so many other ways, evinced by the fully respectable rating it ratcheted up even with a zero-mustache monkeywrench in its midst. The grilled tortilla was no less wondrous than that which we enjoyed two days prior (see below), while La Espiga’s refried beans stepped up their game in a big way. The ultramega-cartload of pork here may have been some sort of offhanded attempt to compensate for the complete absence of rice, and even if the carnitas had the good-taste thing down pat (which it did), it seemed almost boiled rather than fried, sharing more in common texturally with pot-cooked chicken than fried pork. Sauciness? Such high-quality...almost best-quality (but not quite). On the whole, the big lunch should have demonstrated a greater affinity for heat, a fact that became apparent when our panel spotted moments of undermelted cheese within the all-time tortilla. But not even those failings and the unwitting rice boycott could squash this burrito’s two-mustache intangibility ambitions.

10/05/10Super Carne Asada$6.258.83 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); meat (9); sauciness (9); spiciness (9); rice (8); vegetables (8)
Shrug: beans (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

First things first: This megahefty/ultragirthsome afternoon slab featured the finest tortilla our panel’s ever had, and that is no joke — it couldn’t have looked, smelled, or tasted any better. So, 37 figurative mustaches just for the tortilla (and ten literal ones). Moving on, other elements that kicked all kinds of ass and took everyone’s name within a half-mile included the burrito basics of all-hot bites and airtight construction, as well as a fusillade of melted cheese that even the kitchen at El Castillito would be hard-pressed to top. La Espiga de Oro’s carne asada was properly juicy and had clearly been freshly grilled, and it deserved to be better mixed into the fabric of the whole burrito. Indeed, the two weaknesses here — all that prevented a ridiculous nine-mustache-plus rating on a debut visit — were the ingredient mix and the refried beans that took the pasty shtick a little overboard, just never tasting all that rad. Spiciness, however, maintained a certain grace throughout, and that Spanish rice sure was on-point. Avocado slices were appropriately generous, and two-mustache intangibility was never in doubt. Not quite genius, but pretty damn sharp nonetheless.