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Castillito, Taq. El CastroOMR: 8.37
136 Church
cross street: Duboce/14th St.
ph. 415/621-3428
Map Visits: 17
With its signature, flaky-grilled tortillas and perfectly melted cheese sent straight from some intergalactic fromage-nirvana, the Little Castle’s dungeon of deliciousness rarely lets down its loyalists. The late '00s brought a fresh layer of muralwork coating most every inch of this downstairs taqueria's ceiling, a design touch that only adds to the room's considerable legend. Ordinary chips are mitigated by extraordinary salsas, and holy mackerel, will you just look at the size of that juicer behind the counter. Breakfast available. Same goes for bottled beer. Open late. Cash only.

Will My Health Be Violated?

09/07/13Super al Pastor$7.498.67 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); meat (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); size (8); beans (8)
Shrug: rice (7); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

When San Francisco anthropologists of the 26th century don their scholarly-thinking caps and dig through the detritus of the city's culture 500 years prior, they're sure to come to some immediate conclusions: the new Bay Bridge span was a real swift idea; the trend of bearded, red-plaid-wearing men seemingly impersonating Amish lumberjacks was one of the stranger ones to possess the era; and El Castillito sure had the al pastor burrito knack. This rightly sized, richly flavorful slab had our panel's heart in its hand from bite one on down. All the usual Castillito trademarks made this foiled food the delicious success it was, from the gentle pads of melted cheese along the inside of the gloriously grilled tortilla, on through the tiny bits of pineapple and delectable sauce that draped every small chunk of roasted pork. Spiciness clearly could have been more robust, but between the consistent run of hot bites, smooth ingredient mix, heavy-duty avocado input, and infinite intangible charm, the overall rating didn't suffer much. Then a guy in a blue Facebook logo T-shirt walked by.

07/30/12Super Carnitas$7.498.08 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); vegetables (9); beans (8); cheese (8); sauciness (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); rice (7); ingredient mix (7); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

At first glance, this probably looks like just another solid burrito at a popular San Francisco taqueria. But it doesn't require much in the way of Joe Slab-like sleuthing skills to determine that 8.08 mustaches is a bit of an underperformance for this storied El Castillito shop. Look no further than the individual ratings for cheese (a mere eight) and tortilla (a very mere seven), plus a substandard one-mustache intangibility bonus, as the chief hinge points of a Little Castle slab that dipped a little too low on the Mustache Scale for our liking. And while our panel bore witness to plenty of exceptional element performances — check that admirable collection of tens, nines, and even eights above — it was the tortilla that wasn't grilled nearly enough, the approaching-bland carnitas, and the middling spiciness, to say nothing of this dinner dirigible's scuffling intangible charm, that we'll remember with melancholy at the Old Burrito Reviewer Folks Home several decades from now.

10/30/11Super Pollo$7.498.42 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); vegetables (9); spiciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7); beans (7); sauciness (7); rice (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

The ultramega-grilled tortilla and super-melted cheese may have strongly implied, Hell yes, you pile of burritoeating stooges, but with an inglorious ingredient mix and some marginalized and mushy rice taking hold, this fully burly slab was destined for mere greatness rather than spectacularness. Dutiful, light-hued refried beans and a bunch of chunky, yet just-happy-to-be-here grilled chicken filled out the “Shrug” portion of our Castillito dance card, while solid spice and a heaping helping of avocado slices helped hold the eight-mustache line throughout our dunch’s existence. Two-mustache intangibility was never in doubt, and anytime a burrito ratchets up tens for both temperature and burstage abatement, it’s OK with us. Onions!

11/12/10Super Carne Asada$7.498.00 Mustaches
Swish: cheese (10); vegetables (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); meat (9); temperature (9); size (8)
Shrug: beans (7); spiciness (7); rice (6)
Clang: ingredient mix (5); sauciness (4)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

3:45 PM: Enter judges panel, one of whom mumbles, Who’s the new guy on burrito duty?

While many Castillito hallmarks were fully evident here — the buxom avocado slices and pepper-pelted pico de gallo, the melted cheese in all the right places, the wisely grilled tortilla — there was no getting around the fact that this burrito's ill-advised ingredient mix prevented any meat/rice interaction. Even more egregiously, Mister Apprentice Slabmaker Fella behind the burrito counter failed to sauce up our slab much. Well, damn. The mushy (and overly plenteous) brown rice wasn’t helping, either, but at least the paleface’d refried beans did well to claim the middle of the road as their own. Spice remained strictly peripheral throughout and was particularly well-suited to our seven-mustache rating, while the freshly grilled beef was surprisingly flavorful considering how ordinary it looked going in. Castillito being Castillito, however, intangibility was pretty much on smash top to bottom.

4:00 PM: Enter Mister Veteran Slabmaker Fella behind the counter. Well, damn.

02/15/10Super Pastor$7.498.42 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); meat (9); vegetables (9); size (8); tortilla (8); beans (8); cheese (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); sauciness (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

We’ve had some damn good burritos at this Castillito shop over the years; we’ve also had some outstanding ones. File this one in the former category, although we hoped it would have landed in the latter pile. Sizable, but not to the point of jumbo-outrageousness, this pork-packed slab featured level-headed spiciness, a briefly grilled tortilla, and three smartly melted cheese slices. Sensing a trend here? Bucking some longtime Little Castle habits, this burrito seemed downright obedient — almost restrained, even. The rice may have been a little heavy-handed at times, especially when the ingredient mix failed to allow it to intermingle with the salsa roja. But unsurprisingly, Castillito’s mightily sauced pastor was the strong suit here, holding court on pretty much every bite. Hot bites, crash-proof construction, and intangibility were all on the money throughout. And of course, avocado slices — a rad handful of ‘em — made it happen all burrito long. But for a taqueria known for its improv-style slabs, El Castillito’s greatness on this day seemed sort of rehearsed.

07/19/09Super Breakfast (Chorizo)$6.308.54 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); size (9); tortilla (9); eggs (9); cheese (9); sauciness (9); burstage abatement (9); meat (8); vegetables (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); ingredient mix (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Back on its heavy-duty game after a pair of merely satisfactory efforts in 2007-08, the subterranean Castillito continued to cement its spot in San Francisco’s breakfast burrito hall of fame. Yeah, we clanged it by failing to say no to rice (as we generally do for egg-inclusive slabs), but this big, long food still ratcheted up an OMR north of 8.50, so we didn’t get too down about our fielding error. After awhile, these Castillito reviews pretty much write themselves — as long as we come up with different ways to articulate how the tortilla was superbly grilled, how the multiple slices of Jack were adroitly melted upon said tortilla, how intangibility yet again flew off the meter, how everything tasted real delicious all together, and how it was constructed all way pro-like, we’ve basically done our job. OK, so the ingredient mix could have been stronger overall, and the overly pale refried beans were a bit of a disappointment. (There, we took off our fan suit and donned our critical hat, for that one sentence.) Still, all this, and now champ folk art all over the ceiling. You really can’t lose.

08/04/08Super Pollo$6.498.17 Mustaches
Swish: vegetables (10); burstage abatement (10); tortilla (9); cheese (9); temperature (9); size (8); meat (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: beans (7); rice (6); sauciness (6); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Buoyed by still another unbeatable contingent of various vegetables – rich pico de gallo, an extra splash of chopped onion, and of course, half an avocado, artistically sliced – as well as all the usual grilled tortilla / melted cheese steez, but hamstrung by a suspect ingredient mix that cordoned off the shrug-causing refried beans and strangely bla-hannnnnd rice, this burrito still answered the Castillito bell, even as it raised a few concerns. It also seemed to skimp on the salsa more than it should have, and although spiciness was poorly distributed (mostly down to the lower third of the girthsome blimp), at least it ramped up to full-on bitchin’ levels by slab’s end. The grilled chicken did its work effectively without completely taking over the whole production, and there was still enough of that Castillito magic to warrant a double-mustache infusion of intangibility. But this was no spectacular burrito.

10/17/07Super Carnitas$6.497.92 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); cheese (10); temperature (10); burstage abatement (10); vegetables (9)
Shrug: size (7); rice (7); ingredient mix (7); meat (6); beans (6); sauciness (6); spiciness (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

Where? Where was the love? This burrito’s final score – remarkably substandard by El Castillito standards – fell just short of our coveted eight-mustache bar, and although it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of any number of shortcomings here, the saddest gaffe was in this slab’s lack of intangible allure. Aside from the lack of contributing salsa, or the dearth of refried beans or overabundance of carnitas, the one element that was missing more than any other was that certain yo no se que we pine for every time we de-foil. Castillito’s refrieds on this evening were surprisingly thin, the fried pork was too soft and shockingly bland, and the whole thing came in on the slightly undersized side. Of course, there was still plenty to be happy about, from Castillito’s typically ace melted-cheese-on-grilled-tortilla stunt right on down to the game-face’d vegetable armada (anchored by half an avocado, neatly sliced). Temperature and burstage abatement were equally champ, but the Little Castle’s usually reliable intangibility went on mysterious leave, and, well, here we are, 7.92 mustaches later.

11/03/06Super Carne Asada$6.498.25 Mustaches
Swish: temperature (10); size (9); tortilla (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); spiciness (9); rice (8)
Shrug: meat (7); beans (7); sauciness (7); burstage abatement (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Though hamstrung by a number of mildly irritating defects, this hefty and hulky slab still trucked through our crucial eight-mustache barrier, and then some. Chief shortcomings? Start with the persistent grease-drip, continue with the lack of tortilla security that enabled said persistent grease-drip, and finish it up with the ingredient mix that lent way too much attention to the bunched gang of carne asada that dominated most of the burrito. We may have been a little more lenient with the meat’s rating had it delivered a more powerful flavor punch, but fact is, it suffered from a certain inescapable blandness. And it’s a shame that the fine set of refried beans was so overmatched by everything else. As for the happy stuff: all hot bites, all the time; real big sizing, all around; the Little Castle's usual grilled tortilla / melted cheese shenanigans; lip-blasting, jalapeño-fired spiciness; avocado and guacamole, plus all our favorite pico de gallo fixins; and that certain intangible something(s) that helped this hardworking lunch overcome all those burstage and mix hurdles.

10/06/06Super Pastor$6.498.83 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); meat (10); burstage abatement (10); size (9); cheese (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); temperature (9); beans (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Other than its mediocre ingredient mix and slightly pale rice grains, this was a hunky portrait-in-foil of the great Castillito near the top of its game. The freshly grilled, basted barbecue pork proved itself progressively unassailable, and the magnificent wrap only tightened this address’ stranglehold as the home of San Francisco’s finest melted cheese-inclusive tortillawork. The twin pairing of avocado and guacamole did its delicious thing, and all the chopped onion brought a bit of extra power to the formidable pico de gallo / cilantro party. Impeccable burstage abatement countered any drippy designs the meat’s plentiful sauce may have harbored, and for those of you still with us after that ridiculous turn of phrase, spice levels topped out at or around fierce. Spice consistency, however, ebbed and flowed, and some bunched pork mid-slab helped drop the ingredient mix rating down a mustache or two. Still, long and hefty dimensions, mostly ace ingredients, and incalculable intangibility all made for more plumage in Castillito’s feathered cap of slabular cred.

07/21/06Super Breakfast (Chorizo)$6.498.54 Mustaches
Swish: tortilla (10); temperature (10); meat (9); eggs (9); cheese (9); sauciness (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); vegetables (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: rice (7); beans (7); ingredient mix (6)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Good, very good. A powerful chorizo/egg scramble dominated this white-hot breakfast slab top to bottom, with a robust salsa roja kissing most every single bite with delicious flavor-fire. Naturally, Castillito’s phenomenal tortilla grilling / cheese melting tag team came up golden yet again, and given its near-scalding introductory temperature, this burrito truly was a beautiful thing. And without a couple of our ordering flubs, this one could have scored even higher: the rice addition was probably a gratuitous maneuver, and while we ought to have requested avocado instead of guacamole, it’s tough to grouse over eight mustaches earned for vegetables. The sole sore point here was the ingredient mix, or lack thereof, as the excellent, but liberally applied meat and eggs crowded everything else off the slabular superhighway. But rarely has salsa been employed to such exceptional effect – only a modicum of greasiness prevented a perfect sauciness rating.

04/14/06Super Pollo$6.498.92 Mustaches
It only makes sense to start with the tortilla and go from there: The flour wrap spent a good minute-plus on the storied El Castillito grill, the last half of which it spent absorbing four slices of thick jack cheese; concurrently, our order of chicken grilled nearby. Combined with a boisterous vegetable contingent and a spice-heat index that could conceivably be classified as a weapon of mass destruction by some, this burrito was a 20-bite tour de force. Judging by harmless breaches in a few tortilla tuck-spots, there’s an outside chance the tortilla was a tad overstuffed – this was one buxom slab. We would have been foolish to refuse their offer to include both avocado and guacamole along with the usual cilantro / onion / pico de gallo suspects, although such colorful domination caused some minor temperature downturns at the outset. The rice was relatively pale, but robust, while the overwhelmed-by-it-all refried beans were the one underperforming element on hand. Castillito’s plentiful, sauce-slathered chicken pulled all the strings inside the tortilla, ensuring a maximum two-mustache intangibility bonus. All told, it was nearly one for the ages. Holy Toledo.
10/30/05Super Pastor$6.498.33 Mustaches
Not even a $1.50 price hike could sully the glory of another exceptional slab just up the block from Our Lady of Safeway. With a few minor improvements - sharper-tasting rice, less spice-shyness from the salsa roja, and most of all, a better-integrated ingredient mix – this elegantly packaged, outsized food-blimp could have scraped the nine-mustache sky. But its performance hardly merited any dismissive scoffs. Must we again trumpet how El Castillito’s virtuosic tortilla-grilling and cheese slice-melting skills are firmly entrenched in San Francisco taqueria lore amongst the pantheon of hellacious one-two punches? And the avocado slices! An unassailable vegetable salvo here deftly supported heaping helpings of marinated, powerfully tangy pork; if only both camps had blended more gracefully with the light-brown rice / refried beans foundation. All this and only one napkin used? Therein lies the true wonder of El Castillito: Eat a delicious and crash-free burrito, save a tree.
02/12/04Super Carne Asada$4.998.08 Mustaches
Less tragic issues such as underwhelming refried beans and dull steak were overshadowed by what shall forever be known as the Great Sour Cream Gaffe of the 2004 Burrito Playoffs, in which the globby and overly intrusive supporting ingredient played the role of that one guy at the party who extends the lampshade-on-the-head gag a bit too long (or at all). The seemingly easiest categories in which a burrito can achieve virtual perfection – temperature and burstage abatement - were indeed nailed cleanly here, but it was too little too late.
02/03/04Super Carne Asada$4.998.70 Mustaches
The carne asada was missing a certain deliciousness on this visit, though it still graded out very respectably. Most noticeably, this burrito didn't display nearly the peppery kick the previous effort had, which begs the question: Which part of "And make it real spicy, willya" didn't they understand?. Nevertheless, no major misgivings here, and to its credit, the tortilla was markedly improved in its grill-time. Why can't all burritoterias work cheese-related wonders like the El Castillitos do?
01/16/04Super Carne Asada$4.998.78 Mustaches
Wise placement of three slices of cheese on the already-grilling tortilla started things off on the right foot, creating a delicious layer of adhesion on the wrap-device's interior. Notably tasty steak was well-chopped and craftily marinated – a true focal point, as it should be. Never shy about sauce and spice, El Castillito's burrito always sports hefty chunks of sliced avocado and chopped onion, and here's proof that a minor helping of shredded lettuce doesn't have to ruin everything in sight. Brown-ish rice and refried beans provided the support they should, and the crew behind the counter deserves a weekly bonus for yeoman construction work.
06/03/03Super Carne Asada$4.998.75 Mustaches
Stunning from the get-go -- not even from first taste, but first sniff. Astonishing ingredient mix and perfectly melted cheese meant business. Mighty tasty.