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San Francisco Burrito

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San Francisco burrito is a type of burrito, originally a Mexican-American food, that originated in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco burrito is distinguished from a regular burrito partly by the amount of rice and other side dishes included in the package, and partly by its sheer size. This type of burrito was first created in the city's Mission District, and thus it is also often called a Mission burrito or Mission-style burrito.

As the New York-based writer Calvin Trillin described it, "In San Francisco, the burrito has been refined and embellished in much the same way that pizza has been refined and embellished in New York and Chicago." Since its likely beginnings in the 1960s, the style has spread widely through the San Francisco Bay Area, and variations on it have spread throughout the United States.

The San Francisco-style burrito is a specialty of many taquerias in the Mission (and the greater San Francisco Bay Area), who, contrary to their name, usually make more burritos than tacos. The aluminum foil holds a large flour tortilla which is wrapped and folded around a variety of ingredients. A food critic working for the San Francisco Chronicle counted hundreds of taquerias in the Bay Area, and noted that the question of which taqueria makes the best burrito can "encourage fierce loyalty and ferocious debate".


Two key technologies that made the San Francisco burrito possible are the large flour tortilla and tortilla steamers, which together increase the flexibility, stretch, and size of the resulting tortilla. The tortilla steamer saturates the gluten-heavy tortilla with moisture and heat, which increase the capacity of the tortilla to stretch without breaking. This in turn allows for the size of the San Francisco burrito. Corn tortillas, the original indigenous pre-Columbian form of the tortilla, cannot achieve either the size or the flexibility of the flour tortilla, and thus cannot be used to make a San Francisco burrito. A few San Francisco taquerias grill the tortillas instead of steaming them, using heat and oil instead of steam; and a few grill the finished product before the final step of wrapping it in aluminum foil.

The aluminum foil wrapping, which is present whether the customer is eating in the restaurant or taking out, acts as a structural support to ensure that the tortilla does not rupture. One of the main difficulties of the San Francisco burrito is the issue of structural integrity, but skilled burrito makers consistently produce huge burritos that do not burst when handled or eaten. A successful large burrito depends on an understanding of the outer limit of potential burrito volume, correct steam hydration, proper wrapping/folding technique, and assuring that excess liquid has been removed from the burrito ingredients prior to inclusion.

Most San Francisco burrito purveyors use a modified assembly line. Most or all possible burrito ingredients are laid out in a mise en place of metal serving containers, heated from below, and in front of a counter. The preparation area is shielded by glass or plastic from the customer. Workers move the tortilla along the counter, quickly scooping successive ingredients onto the tortilla. They then fold and tighten the tortilla around the large bundle of ingredients, and wrap a sheet of aluminum foil around the completed burrito. Some taquerias mix the ingredients together on a grill just prior to placement in the tortilla.

The basic ingredients of the San Francisco burrito include the large flour tortilla, Spanish rice, beans (frijoles, usually with a choice of refried, pinto or black), a choice of a single main filling, and the customer's choice of salsa, ranging from hot to mild. Most taquerias also offer a "super" burrito which includes a choice of meat and all of the available non-meat burrito ingredients. This usually includes sliced fresh avocado or guacamole, cheese (queso), and sour cream (crema).

For meat fillings, almost all San Francisco taquerias offer a choice of stewed or grilled chicken (pollo or pollo asado), grilled beef steak (carne asada), barbecued pork (al pastor) and braised shredded pork (carnitas); many also offer additional ingredients, including pork stewed in green chile sauce (chile verde), beef stewed in red chile sauce (chile colorado), Mexican sausage (chorizo), beef tongue (lengua), stewed and shredded beef (machaca), stewed beef head (cabeza), beef brain (sesos), beef eyeball (ojo) and prawns (camarones). Many taquerias also offer vegetable or tofu fillings to accommodate their vegetarian customers. Other fillings offered in San Francisco taquerias include birria (goat meat), camarones diablos (extra-spicy shrimp), carne deshebrada (shredded beef with red chile sauce), carne molida (ground beef), chicharróns (fried pork rinds, stewed), barbacoa (marinated lamb, sometimes pork is substituted), pescado (fish, usually fried or grilled tilapia and sometimes salmon), picadillo (ground beef with chopped chiles and tomatoes), mole (chicken stewed in a chile and chocolate sauce), nopales (prickly pear cactus), and tripas (beef tripe).

Many taquerias also provide corn tortilla chips to accompany the burrito as a side dish, along with free salsa. There are also "salsa bars" at many local establishments, allowing the diner to use different kinds of salsa to customize and enhance the taste of their chosen burrito.

Eating Style

According to Andrea Schulte-Peevers and Sara Benson in their 2006 travel guide Lonely Planet California, it is customary for diners eating San Francisco burritos to forgo utensils entirely and to eat the burrito with their hands, tearing the foil gradually down as they eat from above, but keeping the foil on the bottom to continue to support the structure of the uneaten portion. Adding salsa to the burrito before each subsequent bite is a popular practice.

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