El Mundo de Mando: A Texas Taco Blogger's Crawl Through the Mission

Categories: La Vida Taco
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Mando Rayo
The holy trinity at Taqueria Pancho Villa.
Austin, Tex., taco blogger Mando Rayo (aka El Mundo de Mando of TacoJournalism) was in Cali this week, getting his first-ever taste of S.F. flavor. How did the Mission stack up to taco culture in Central Texas? Read on, homie.

Ahh, San Francisco: What a great city. You are home to Journey, Rice-A-Roni, trolleys, and most important ... tacos! I was told that tacos would be hard to find in the city by the bay but, alas, I have found you, your moms, your tias y tus cousins right in the heart of a gentri-barrio, the Mission. A place where you can start with a greasy torta de lengua, hacer hambre in an old-school cantina, top it off with a taco todo organico and finish it con un café con los hipsters, hippies, and one Taco Journalist with a sí, se puede attitude!

My goal was to get a good taste of the taco scene in San Francisco, and I think I got a pretty good start with the help of my taco-eating compadres: Lindsey Simon from dishola, Angela, Ruthie, and Ixchel. Not only did we eat tacos, we explored the Mission, its beautiful murals, and good coffee. We even ventured into Central America. Nice!

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Mando Rayo
La Taqueria's off-menu carnitas taco dorado.
We started at La Taqueria (2889 Mission at 25th St.). We actually pounced on the doors 'cuz we were hungry and we heard that they made a mean taco dorado (which isn't on the menu). I ordered the carnitas taco dorado -- it's a taco with a soft corn tortilla on top of a fried corn tortilla with melted cheese in between, stuffed with your favorite carne, frijoles de la hoya/ranchero style, fresh salsa, avocado slices y crema. Just for looks, this taco got a 5 taco rating -- that's tops on the TacoJournalism system! Once I got that sucka into my mouth, I was in heaven. The carnitas were really tasty, reminded me of the times back home when we used to make carnitas fresh off the pig, diqueada style. The combination of the soft and hard tortillas, the messiness of the crema and salsa, the richness of the beans and the goodness of the carnitas took me back in time living between borders, to a place called El Paso/Juarez (don't laugh!). Ay, que rico!

Next stop was Papalote (3409 24th St. at Valencia). This place definitely had a trendy vibe (hipster alert, hipster alert!), with Stevie Wonder/James Brown paintings and "organic" written all over the walls (not that there's anything wrong with that). I tried the chile verde taco -- pork smothered in a serrano chile sauce. Sounds good, right? Well, if you like sabores then you won't like this taco -- it was just really difficult to find the spices and flavors. Somehow they managed to suck the charm out of a pig and the kick out of a serrano. Mebbe they had an off day? I will say that they sure know how to present a nice taco plate (it was all pretty!), and their creamy salsa did leave a good impression. Next!

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Mando Rayo
We decided to give our bellies a break (yeah, right!) and check out the cool murals in Balmy Alley. On the way, we got in line at El Farolito (2777 Mission at 24th St.), a dingy Mexican joint that was just begging for a visit from the local health inspector -- yeah, my kinda place! I ordered one carne asada taquito. This was the first place that actually had Texas-style prices -- $1.99 per taco. The taco was good but not great. I did like that they cooked the tortilla with the carne, which really made the sabores soak through. Anyway, I was really getting full and it was time to ... hacer hambre. That's pretty much beer and tequila time; literally means to make yourself hungry. So we killed our cravings at the Carlos Club (3278 24th St. at Mission). The place was great! An old-school cantina with lots of Mexicans, musicos, a chi-chi ra-ra waitress (tons of lipstick, big booty, tiny skirt) and murals with nalga-butts all over the place! I wouldn't recommend this place for everyone. Only if you like hardcore Latino stylez!

Visions of Latino pride, Cantinflas, vintage Mexican cinema, Frida Kahlo, and Victorion, El Defensor de la Mision filled Balmy Alley. It was really inspiring to see an homage to Latino culture. That's a great thing about the nuestra cultura -- history, familia, traditions y cultura are important to us. These things keep us going, motivate us to always look forward. As my abuelita used to say, "Siempre pa' adelante, nunca pa' atras!" As we headed back to our last stop, we had to make a couple of pitstops at El Paraiso Café (1198 Treat at 24th St.) for some good made-to-order pupusas (fried cornmeal tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, chorizo, and other forms of carnes). I think the mural of Central America lured us in. We kept it simple and ordered one with queso. We were not disappointed. It was fresh and cheesy and the manteca probably kicked the flavor up a notch!

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Mando Rayo
El Mundo de Mando (right) with Ixchel at La Taqueria.
We were now on the last leg of our tour de tacos and we needed an extra kick -- coffee kick, that is. So we stopped by Philz Coffee (3101 24th St. at Folsom) the one-drip-at-a-time joint. That definitely hit the spot and did its job! I was buzzing after a nice cup of the Turkish. I really liked that they mixed in the cream and sugar when they prepared it: All you have to do is enjoy! So this gave me the pilas to head 10 more blocks to our final destination, Taqueria Pancho Villa (3071 16th St. at Valencia). I don't know if it was the walk or the coffee but I was ready for another triple order of tacos. We walked into the packed, cafeteria-style Mexican joint and were ready for the grand finale! I ordered three tacos -- carnitas, chicken y carne asada. They were all good, but the one that really stood out was the chicken taco: It was grilled to perfection. I gotta say, I was pretty impressed, not only with the sabores of the tacos but with the salsa bar (three red, two green, pico, and jalapeños asados) and Taco Happy Hour: $1 tacos and $2 beers, Mon.-Fri., 3-5 p.m. What a deal! So Pancho Villa was a good final stop, the kind of place where you eat and sweat at the same time. Yeah, it was that good!

Sadly, the S.F. Taco Tour had to come to an end. My belly, my friends, and I thank you for the good times. I hope to come back and try these things you call burritos (kidding: I [heart] them too!). Hasta la proxima!


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