Steve and I decided one sunny Saturday to take our bikes out to Angel Island. I’d read that there’s a nice flat-ish bike trail out there that picturesquely circles the island. It was the first time that I was really excited about something bike related and, I dunno, it felt pretty good. It felt good to get up early on a Saturday morning and bike through nearly deserted city streets to the Ferry Building and drink delicious Four Barrel coffee from Out the Door while looking out on the lovely bay. This experience was only slightly marred by the LoveFest (or LovEvolution or whatever the hell it is) revellers arriving by ferry from across the water and by the fact that Steve has something of a panic attack whenever he encounters too much moneyed douchebaggery.
So what does this have to do with the Tenderloin? Well, we also decided on this fine day that it might be nice to mix it up and have a scenic backdrop against which to take photos for this blog, and that we should pick up lunch in the Tenderloin and take it with us to the island. I hemmed and hawed a little trying to decide what to take (I considered Vietnamese sandwiches and dim sum) before agreeing with Steve’s decision, which was made quickly and decisively: he was getting a burrito from El Castillito.
El Castillito is a block away from Galaxcy Pizza, and I’ve already expounded on the virtues of the area in that post. Suffice it to say, it is much more pleasant down there in the morning, before all the smells have had time to bake to ripeness in the sunshine and many of the nearby inhabitants are still sleeping. Still El Castillito is a pleasant enough place to eat in, the people running the joint are pleasant and the tables are reasonably clean. It is a standard taqueria, you order at a counter in front of the grill where you can watch your meal being prepared.
They ask you what you want, probably throw your meat on the grill, ask what beans you’d like, spicy or mild salsa
Here’s Steve’s grilled Chicken burrito getting ready to be rolled up and passed over to the cashier, who rings you up, asks if you want any drinks or chips and sends you on your merry way.
Prices are pretty San Francisco standard, maybe a little low even; about 5 bucks for a regular no guac no cheese burrito, 6 and a half for a super. The torta, which is what I ordered, is crazy cheap at just under 5 dollars, that’s for a sandwich that could easily feed two people on a regular day. They have a fairly good meat selection, all the standards plus cabeza and lengua, which you won’t always find. No tripas and sesos, sorry. I’m not quite sure that those are available at any Tenderloin taquerias, but I guess I’ll soon find out.
We packed up our grub and set out to the sea. We had heard rumors that the weekend would be windy and cold, but the first half of that Saturday was as nice as any I’ve ever seen. When we got to Angel Island we found out we’d (actually I’d) been duped: while the bike trail was paved and was a mostly easy ride, it was not very near the shore, in fact to get to the trail you had to climb a pretty steep stretch of unpaved switchbacks. After that though, it was smooth sailing (except for one particularly intense hill rivalling many in San Francisco. You’ve been warned.) After our first jaunt around the island we decided to break for lunch. We sat at a picnic bench under the shade of some eucalyptus trees and got out the spread.
As you can see, they’re a little worse for the wear. I ended up with a torta partly because I really like tortas, and partly because I believed for some reason that it would hold up better in Steve’s messenger bag than a burrito would. Turns out that is not the case.
Ugh, all squished. All the lovely toastiness from the grill was lost. The torta contains meat, cheese, tomato, lettuce and avocado; none of those items sounded too wet to me, but maybe it was just the steam that was caught in the foil wrap that did it. The carne asada was still tasty, the avocado still creamy, but in whole it was a little less than fully satisfying.
Doesn’t Steve’s burrito look dry? It’s still retaining some grill crispness, and the perfectly cooked rice still has some bite to it, distracting from any other mushiness that might be happening. And it tastes good, even though I am not a huge fan of the grilled chicken at this El Castillito location. It reminds me of Chinese food chicken, smooth little nuggets of meat, as opposed to the shredded or rough chopped chicken I’m accustomed to in Mexican dishes.
So, lessons learned. Next time I’m planning a picnic I’ll pack burritos instead of tortas. And your lesson learned? If you’re at City Hall or the Court House, or otherwise in the area and you have a hankering for quality taqueria fare, El Castillito Taqueria is your best bet. Also, be careful because there are two El Castillitos on Golden Gate, the one this post is about is between Larkin and Hyde. The other one is between Hyde and Leavenworth. There seems to be a good Yelp debate going on about which is better, though at this time they both have four star ratings. A good way to remember which is which is this is the Castillito next to the Wells Fargo ATM, the other one is near to a Bank of America ATM. Confusing, right? There are quite a few El Castillitos in San Francisco, I’m not sure of the exact number, but this one is my second favorite. My first favorite is the one on Church between Market and Duboce.
El Castillito Taqueria
370 Golden Gate