It’s entirely possible that it’s been a year since I’ve had a San Francisco burrito.
Over the last 10 months I’ve been going through something of a health nut phase, attempting to eat in a manner more friendly to my body. The monster tubes of carbohydrate and fat that are the burritos of SF’s taquerias don’t exactly fit in with my new habits, so they have been eschewed. Well, until this past Sunday anyway. Sunday is the night that I am home alone, the night that my dinner plans are entirely up to me. Which sucks, because I despise making decisions, especially when it comes to what I’m going to put in my face. I’ve been known to spend literal hours trying to decide which restaurant to order delivery from, only to give up and eat gardenburgers and microwaved mac & cheese. Such is the glamourous life I live. This past Sunday it seemed I was doomed to play out the same scenario; I was poring over the menus on delivery.com, trying to decide which Thai place had the cheapest noodles…but I didn’t feel like anymore damn noodles. And pizza was out too, just not in the mood. I had a sudden urge for the comfort of creamy beans and cheese; I wanted a burrito, damn it! For once on a Sunday night, the idea of leaving my house wasn’t completely abhorret to me, so I decided to walk to El Tesoro on Geary for take out.
El Tesoro is a fairly standard San Francisco taqueria except that it is in a nice little Mexican market. This is a pretty awesome market to go to if you want a large selection of Bimbos treats, chicharrones or canned seafood. Also, a good place to go if you want to make pickled eggs a la Joe Jost’s (I use this guy’s recipe) because they carried the jarred yellow peppers that are integral to the recipe. El Tesoro’s kitchen is in the corner of the market, they have a small seating area that seems like it would be pleasant enough to sit in if you don’t live two blocks away. I ordered a chile verde super burrito, which comes with guacamole and sour cream in addition to the regular fixings; beans and rice, salsa and cheese. It usually bothers me that super burritos almost always come with guacamole AND sour cream, because I really only want the guac, but if you ask for no sour cream you still pay the full price, and adding guacamole to a regular is more expensive…it’s complicated. That evening, however, I was feeling decadent, so the sour cream was okay. I was also feeling a bit parched, and I noticed they had big plastic barrels of colorful liquid chilling on a hotel pan full of ice. They were making my mouth water. I ordered a strawberry agua fresca and started sucking it down while I hit up the salsa bar.
They had some interesting stuff at the salsa bar, like a creamy looking green salsa and whole pickled jalapenos. I wasn’t feeling too adventurous so I went with a standard pico de gallo and a darker red, less chunky salsa with lots of chile seeds. My burrito was finished so I took it and started my walk home, still sipping on my agua fresca.
When I’d started drinking it I was wowed by the freshness of the flavor. It was definitely real fruit, not those from powder drinks you’ll sometimes find. There were chunks of strawberry and tiny seeds coming up through the straw and there was a slight pulpy texture to the sweet liquid. I was enjoying it until I got about two blocks away from El Tesoro. That’s when I started noticing an odd, off flavor. It was like when I was a kid and my dad would chop onions, then use the same knife and board to chop up watermelon. The predominate flavor was the sweet fruit, but there would be a definite onion note. Yum. I decided to cool it on the agua fresca until I got home.
When I got home and took the burrito out of the bag I was pretty surprised by how large it was. I know it’s been a while since I’ve bought burrito, but I’m pretty sure this was larger than average. I unwrapped the foil and got down to business.
The burrito was similar to the agua fresca. I started off pleased with my first few bites. Everything seemed standard. Then things started to go bad. There were two distinct sides to this burrito, one with rice beans and sour cream, one with cheese meat and guacamole. The cheesy meaty side was fine, the pork was a tiny bit dry but it had a good sour tang from the tomatillo sauce, the cheese was standard white taqueria cheese, gooey and salty, holding everything together. The rice side was bad, real bad. It seems that all the liquid from the chile verde had migrated into the rice where it mixed with the sour cream to create a puddle that surrounded the rice. This had the obvious downside of giving me a soggy burrito, but it also took away the positive attribute of sour cream, which is its thick creaminess. Instead the sour cream was turned into a milky mess. This is something you will almost never hear me say, but the garlic in the rice was much too strong; it was funky and musty and quite unpleasant. To pull all this subpar-ness together, the final touch was that this burrito had not been finished on the grill. It was steamed to heat it and make it pliable, filled with stuff, folded up and wrapped with foil and that’s it. People. Come on. You need to grill a burrito after you fold it up! That’s all there is to it! I imagine if, instead of a gummy, moist, chilly tortilla soaking up that foul sour cream liquid I’d had a crisp, warm tortilla, pockmarked with toasty brown spots this would have been a much more enjoyable meal. It still wouldn’t be able to measure up to the greats, but it would have been palatable. As it was, I was unable to finish more than half of this burrito. I tried eating only the meaty cheesy side for a while, but it wasn’t working. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge for Steve. The tortilla chips were pretty much the same story. The chips themselves had that odd bitter aftertaste that chips sometimes have; I think it’s from being fried in old oil but I’m not sure, and they were slicked with grease. The salsa had the same funky old garlic flavor that plagued the rice, the pico de gallo was slightly better than the pureed stuff.
Overall, El Tesoro was a disappointment. I paid 9 and a half bucks for my burrito and agua fresca, which seemed a little steep to me at the time and seems even steeper now, considering the quality of the food I received. If I were going to try El Tesoro again, I’d probably skip the sour cream and go for a grilled meat like carne asada or carnitas to minimize juiciness. The fact is that I probably won’t go back. There are plenty of other taquerias in the area and it’s not worth it to me to give this El Tesoro another try (There’s another location on O’Farrell that I will be visiting sometime in the future. It’s supposed to be better.). Maybe I’d pick something up if I were coming in to buy my yellow peppers, but it’s unlikely. If you still want to try El Tesoro, or if you want to buy some yellow peppers for your own pickled eggs, you’ll be glad to know that this block of Geary is pretty low on the scary-meter. The north side of the block is lined with legit store fronts which draws in the normals and repels the unsavories. To wrap up, you will be safe from tweekers if you decide to visit this taqueria, but you will not be safe from off-flavored food and unwarranted slightly high prices. Better to avoid.
El Tesoro Geary
No website – phone number is 415-474-0530