In Eater SF’s new series, Highly Opinionated, Eater editors delve into one specific, oft-debated food obsession in San Francisco. This month, as a part of our deep dive into all things cylindrical and hot, we take on the burrito — from a vegan neo-fusion favorite to a breakfast burrito that’ll prepare you to take on anything the day might throw your way.
There’s already been a lot of time, thought, and, frankly, caloric intake invested in determining the best burrito in San Francisco. And for many people, the conversation starts and ends with Mission District standard-bearers like La Taq and El Farolito, both of which make excellent oversize burritos, or Taqueria La Cumbre and El Faro, both of which claim to have invented the Mission style.
But the truth is the ideal burrito depends on a lot of factors: a personal preference for a certain kind of protein, a willingness — or lack thereof — to take down a burrito as big as a child’s forearm, interest in locating the fork and knife required to enjoy a saucy “wet”-style number, and, on a more practical level, the time of day. Considering all of that, Eater SF editors conducted rigorous scientific research (read: ate a lot of burritos) in a citywide search for three we can comfortably call the best in town. From a customizable breakfast burrito to a vegan Filipino-Mexican fusion stunner, here are Eater editor’s favorite burritos in San Francisco.
For the early risers: Il Canto Cafe’s grilled breakfast burrito with sausage, potato, and red onion
I love burritos of all kinds, and breakfast burritos are a personal favorite. But not all breakfast burritos are created equal. To understand why I love Il Canto Cafe’s the most, you first have to understand that, to me, the most offensive thing a restaurant can do is overstuff a burrito with too many potatoes. The potato-to-everything-else ratio is key. At Il Canto, potatoes are optional, alleviating any fears the root vegetable will be heavily leaned on as filler — and, even if added as an extra, Il Canto doesn’t go overboard.
Being able to customize a breakfast burrito, as you can at Il Canto, is also a godsend. Most places offer only one type, typically either a bacon version or an overly-meaty number, often called a “meat tornado,” with two or more types of meat folded in. And while in those situations I will usually opt for bacon, what I appreciate about Il Canto is that I can also have my actual favorite: a simple, breakfast sausage burrito. To me, the ratio was just right; you want about one-fourth to one-third of the burrito to be your protein, in relation to the remaining ratio of eggs/vegetables, etc. Whatever protein you pick, expect it to be folded into soft scrambled eggs mixed with bell pepper, green onions, and Sriracha. The whole mix is then enrobed in a mild chipotle sauce that blends into the melted cheese to create a subtly spicy dressing, giving the burrito some zing. It’s an invigorating additional ingredient.
To top things off, Il Canto Cafe grills its breakfast burritos. The grill marks give the tortilla some texture, contributing a nice bite to offset the softer, cheesy interior. It also doesn’t hurt that despite the early hour, the Il Canto Cafe crew is cheery every time I visit, ready to make my breakfast burrito and send me on my way. Il Canto Cafe, 475 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
— Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF Deputy Editor
For seafood lovers: Chuy’s Fiestas’s Super Shrimp Burrito
The colorful chalkboard menus at Chuy’s Fiestas on Folsom Street in the Mission absolutely swim with fresh seafood. Spend some time on the covered back patio and you might see a massive molcajete mixto walk by, sporting six blush-colored prawns perched around the edge of a bowl brimming with chicken, beef, and thick slices of avocado, as well as many rustic mugs of micheladas with Tajin-dusted rims and shrimp garnishes. Which is to say, if you’re looking for a break from the heartier, more carnivorous options in the area, then you’ve found an appropriate spot to indulge in an acidic platter of aguachile verde or a taco that sees supple, made-in-house tortillas wrapped around pieces of crispy fried tilapia.
My recommendation then should come as little surprise: a Super Shrimp Burrito, stuffed with all the usual ingredients, plus a smattering of curly crustaceans. It’s the restaurant’s version of the neighborhood’s signature style but gone on a beachy vacation. While the sheer heft of a standard Mission-style burrito has the power to induce an involuntary nap, Chuy’s shrimp burrito makes things a little more manageable. They’re filled with the requisite rice and your choice of refried or black beans — I favor black beans in a seafood burrito — but unlike competitors, Chuy’s exercises a touch of restraint, so the rice and beans don’t overshadow the rest of the filling.
What shines through brilliantly, however, is the pico de gallo, which offers little in the way of heat, but lots of spice thanks to an ample scattering of piquant red onion. And the texture of the rough-chopped tomatoes and onions pales only in comparison to the firmness of the shrimp, those little c-shaped treasures swaddled cozily inside a tender tortilla with handsome leopard spots. Chuy’s sticks to tradition with the inclusion of guacamole that runs messily into the sour cream, rather than slices of fresh avocado. But I love the way the whole thing gets just the right amount of messy — rivulets of shrimp juices mixing with tomato drippings, sour cream, and globs of guacamole. You’ll definitely want a stack of napkins. Chuy’s Fiestas, 2341 Folsom Street, San Francisco
— Lauren Saria, Eater SF Editor
For the nontraditionalists: Señor Sisig’s “Señor” Sisig Burrito with vegan chicken
As longtime incumbent mayor of flavor town Guy Fieri once put it: “It’s not Asian, it’s not Mexican, it’s Señor Sisig.” The Filipino fusion restaurant lays claim to San Francisco’s finest example of a burrito that waters the dish’s Mexican roots, while also amplifying its potential for deliciousness. The shop’s vegan “chicken” burrito, which can be made with corn tortillas for the gluten-sensitive diners out there, perfectly zhushes up the regional staple even as it barrels through tradition.
The cilantro cream and fresh pinto beans embrace a wall of adobo garlic rice, softened by a side ramekin of salt, pepper, and vinegar. That accompaniment is no throwaway: The addition of something spicy and sour is a staple in founder Gil Payumos’ Pinoy cuisine. The grilled soy protein — chewy and flavorful with a zip of lemon — comes courtesy of Oakland’s Layonna Vegetarian and would soar through the vegan meat equivalent of the Turing test, a bit lighter than chicken adobo but in that flavor ballpark.
No mere substitution, the Kapampangan cuisine staple gets to shine in all of its marinated glory and without any of the heaviness often associated with eating a burrito. Yes, the silog burrito with an egg-less egg is fire, and the California-style stuffed with french fries is also a legit pick, but the correct vegan choice remains the “chicken” option thanks to that rich, creamy layer of beans, totally absent on either of the other options. The pico de gallo, to many a footnote rather than a defining factor, adds a textural balance with its fresh tomatoes and accompanying splash of juice. This burrito is craveable. The balance of salt and fat had my brain ordering my mouth to devour every last bite. San Francisco invented the Mission-style burrito, but if you ask me, it’s Señor Sisig who perfected it. Señor Sisig, 990 Valencia Street, San Francisco
— Paolo Bicchieri, Eater SF reporter