San Francisco Restaurant Resolution: Week Two — La Taqueria

For our second weekend of new-to-us restaurant exploration (read this first if you missed the original premise), the Pirate Queen chose what many diners consider the best place in The City to score authentic Mexican food. We needed a no-frills, hassle-free stop on our way out of town for a concert, and La Taqueria on Mission fit the bill.

La Taqueria: Best in the world? I think not.

The prosaically named La Taqueria frequently appears on lists of San Francisco’s tastiest budget-friendly eateries. Its carnitas taco ranks at #4 on 7×7’s 2012 Big Eat, the local magazine’s annual checklist of “100 Things to Eat Before You Die.” When you enter the restaurant, you’re greeted by an entire wall plastered with dining awards and honors, in addition to a blazing neon sign that boasts, “The Best Tacos and Burritos in the Whole World.” That’s a lofty standard for the Mission District, home to more taquerias than you can shake your sombrero at. So, we went in with high expectations. Did La Taqueria deliver?

Well… sort of.

The Pirate Queen ordered two tacos, one filled with carne asada and one with chorizo. I mixed things up differently, pairing a carne asada burrito with the highly touted carnitas taco. We shared a basket of chips mounded with the house salsa. All five of our items proved delicious. The meats were uniformly well-cooked, tender, and flavorful. The beans in my burrito were nicely seasoned and boiled whole rather than refried. The chips offered good solid crunch, and the salsa accompanying them tasted fresh and bright.

But I kept looking at that sign, and asking myself, “Is this really the best taco and burrito in the whole world?” Bite after bite, the answer came back, “Not so much.”

Tacos at La Taqueria

I’m not even sure that La Taqueria serves the best tacos and burritos in the Mission, much less the entire planet. They’re good, yes, but not exceptional. In fact, the last burrito I ate in the neighborhood, at El Toro (on Valencia, between 16th and 17th Streets), was at least the equal of my La Taqueria example, and might have been just a skosh better. It was certainly bigger, and perhaps better value for the money. That’s one of the challenges at La Taqueria. Unlike most of their Mission competitors, they only make burritos in a single modest size, which pales in comparison to the deluxe and super options at other taquerias. If you have a decent-sized appetite, you’ll need to add at least an extra taco to your order so you don’t walk away still hungry.

The quality of the fare at La Taqueria is unquestionably high. Little complaints bugged me, though. Both the carnitas and the carne asada contained far too much juice for the amount of meat. While I have no issue with moist meat as opposed to the dry and tough variety, an overabundance of liquid results in limp tortillas and an overall soggy finished product. My burrito and taco both proved too waterlogged to be consumed out of hand, leaving me to poke into them with a flimsy plastic fork. That’s not my ideal taco- or burrito-eating experience.

I had a similar issue with the chips-and-salsa combination. There was absolutely nothing wrong with either element on its own. (I prefer a lighter, less dense tortilla chip, but that’s strictly an individual aesthetic.) However, I’d rather have my salsa served in a separate container, so that I can apply it to individual chips as I dine, thus maintaining chip integrity. La Taqueria dumps the salsa on top of the chips like cheese on a bad ballpark nacho, and achieves the same unfortunate effect — sodden chips that are both difficult to handle and less than pleasant to eat, tasty though they might be.

Chips and salsa at La Taqueria

As taquerias go, La Taqueria provides a better than average atmosphere for your culinary pleasure. The walls of the funky dining area are festooned with posters from old Mexican films. I got a chuckle from the visual pun created by the poster for a movie entitled “A.T.M.” mounted immediately above the ATM. The furnishings are simple yet comfortable, and there’s patio seating out front if you care to watch vagrants meandering by as you nosh. Counter service was efficient, if not particularly engaging. Once we placed our order, food was dispensed with lightning quickness.

Clearly, thousands of folks — many of whom paraded in and out of the restaurant during our dining hour — hold La Taqueria in much higher esteem. All of the points I make above are subjective. I certainly enjoyed the flavors of my repast at La Taqueria, and I wouldn’t mind eating there again. With so much nearby competition for my Mexican cuisine dollars, though, I’m sure that I’ll probably find my way into several other joints in the Mission before I circle back around to this one.

On the Uncle Swan scale, La Taqueria rates three tailfeathers out of a possible five. The Pirate Queen, less easily impressed than I, lobbied for two and a half, but I’m in a generous mood. You could certainly do far worse than this if your tastebuds are in a Mexican frame of mind, but I’m equally certain that you could do better, too. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to check that carnitas taco off your bucket list.

You’ll find La Taqueria at 2889 Mission Street (between 24th and 25th Streets) in San Francisco.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Food Glorious Food, Listology, My Home Town, San Francisco Restaurant Resolution, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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