5/03/2013 12:00:00 PM

Mission Burrito: Why Replicating It Outside of San Francisco Is a Problem

The original Mission burrito from El Faro (Image via Flickr/wallyg)
Lack of access to fresh California ingredients is just one reason that locales outside of the Bay Area have trouble capturing the magic of a San Francisco Mission District style burrito, thought to have originated in 1961 at El Faro. The burrito was not invented here, but the basketball-sized flour tortilla-wrapped burrito did come from this fair city. It doesn't seem like it would be rocket science to recreate it, but — like a New York bagel — it often fails to turn out the same when made in other places.

"Maybe it's just something in the water?" muses Charles "Beano" Hodgkins of Burrito Eater, a site that tirelessly scours San Francisco for the best specimen in a pursuit known as the Slab Scrum. "Is that why a lot of bagels in San Francisco kind of suck, too? Either way, San Francisco and the Bay Area's clearly got that certain yo no se que when it comes to burritos."

But why? Another local burrito blogger might just have the answer.
"If there's one overarching difference between SF burritos and reproduced SF burritos with regard to method, it would be blending," asserts Casey Deeha of Bay Area Review of Burritos. "Chipotle, for example, along with chained burritos restaurants such as La Salsa and Salsa Fresh, all produce burritos that are what I like to say compartmentalized in that they there always seems to be clear compartments of ingredients. Take a Chipotle burrito and cut it in half and you'll see a section for sour cream, a section for al dente-non-Mexican-rice, a section for lettuce, etcetera. Biting through such a concoction only highlights the collection of these ingredients rather than a blend of these ingredients."

Deeha finds it ironic that Chipotle founder Steve Ells took his ideas from the Mission, something he discussed in a recent interview with Hugo Ontiveros of El Faro. He also thinks it could be a matter of cultural heritage and sense of place why a Mission-style burrito is thought to taste the best in San Francisco.

"Anyone who's traveled to any destination and sampled the local/canonical/signature cuisine will vouch for this argument," he says. "I can't explain this concisely other than to say that I believe that we share a complicit relationship with our environment which affects our perception."

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