Tacos in The Mission: El Gallo Giro Taco Truck & La Taqueria – San Francisco, CA

Follow Me Foodie to The Mission District in San Francisco!

The Mission: Tacos… in The Mission.

See – The Mission: Bakeries, Pastries & Pies… in The Mission.

It would be a waste to miss out on Mexican food in San Francisco. Being from Vancouver, BC where Mexican and Latin food is limited, I look forward to it every time I’m in the US. Even in Seattle there is often better and more authentic Mexican food than what I can get in Vancouver. So when it was time for Follow Me Foodie to San Francisco, Mexican food was on the map.

It might sound unusual to explore Mexican food outside of Mexico, but San Francisco and the Bay Area is known for some of “the best” Mexican food in North America. Most of the Mexican and Latin eateries are located in The Mission District of San Francisco, so I set aside a day to explore it. If I lived there I would explore it more in depth, but given my limited time, I had to be selective.

Mission District San Francisco (1)In terms of the food scene, part of the area is widely known for its many restaurants and especially for their Mexican and Latin eateries. Mexican and Central American immigrants settled here in the 1940-1960’s and they introduced the neighbourhood to authentic Mexican and Latin flavours. Nowadays the district has changed and The Mission has become one of the young, hot, hip, “hipster”, and happening food scenes in San Francisco.

Mission District - San Francisco (2)The issue of gentrification is apparent and debated, but it is a lively neighbourhood with eclectic culture and vibe. Some argue The Mission has lost its identity in the deconstruction and reconstruction of the area, but as a tourist it was harder to relate and sympathize. I appreciated it for what it is now although it is a shame I can not really compare it to what it once was. It has deeply rooted history, but the Mexican and Latin representation and food scene is still strong.

Mission District - San Francisco (3)The restaurants that have opened in the last 5 or so years, as well as the ones that are currently opening, are more trendy, stylized and sometimes upscale. It is a whole new audience and food scene. The food culture in The Mission is growing, albeit a different direction from the original, and I would take the time to experience all aspects of it.

This article maps out the four areas of The Mission and gives a nice summary. “Generally speaking, the 24th Street area is the culturally rich heart of the Mission, the stretch from Dolores Street through to Valencia Street is young and upscale, the area around 16th and Valencia streets hops with nightlife and the industrial area near Bryant Street has some hip, trendy restaurants.” (SFGate)

I could easily spend a few days just exploring taquerias, pupuserias, bakeries or “the newcomers”. I had enough time to do two of the four (pupusas will have to wait until next time, and there are way too many new places to try) and I still scratched the surface. The Mission is a must visit for any food enthusiast visiting San Francisco and it is a good taste of what is to come on the West Coast.

Follow Me Foodie to Tacos & Mexican Food in The Mission!

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (9)First off, there is a lot more to Mexican food than tacos and burritos, but I had to narrow my focus. Not having a taco in The Mission would be like skipping a croissant in Paris, so I committed to tacos on this occasion. As I mentioned above, the area is full of Mexican and Latin eateries and they can not be compared. If I had time I would have tried them both, but I also had the Tasting Menu at benu that evening so pacing was key.

The photo above was taken at La Taqueria and it could not be more true. A taco sounds like a simple thing, equivalent to the American sandwich or hot dog, but there are things to consider when “judging” them. Sure, in the end it comes down to whether or not it tasted good and whether or not you liked it, but if you’re serious about your tacos than you won’t let the little things slide. These little details can set apart a good taco from an amazing one that’s worth going back for and recommending.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (11)This San Francisco Chronicle article from Bill Addison sums it up better than I can. Note the name. You don’t have to be Mexican to know Mexican food, you just have to be familiar with it. I had to mention that because it really bothers me when people say “I have a ____ friend, so he would know if it was good ____ food”. Anyway, food is personal and based on experience.

Addison tried 300 tacos and 100 burritos in ten weeks to find “the best” in the Bay Area, so I kind of trust his opinion. What to look for in a taco and burrito still holds merit, but so much has changed in the taco scene since 2006 that his picks would likely need an update. He is now the food editor and restaurant critic for Atlanta Magazine.

I, on the other hand, didn’t have the same luxury to do the same (not sure if indulging in 300 tacos and 100 burritos is a “luxury”, but I would do it in the name of research), however I did try two places…

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (2)Restaurant: El Gallo Giro Taco Truck
Cuisine: Mexican/Tacos
Last visited: May 7, 2013
Location: San Francisco, CA (Mission)
Address: 902 Treat Ave
Phone: n/a
Transit: Folsom St & 22nd St
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4
Service: n/a
Ambiance: n/a
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Mexican family owned/operated
  • Authentic tacos
  • House made tortillas & condiments
  • Hidden gem
  • Local favourite
  • Budget friendly

**Recommendations: Chicken taco, Carnitas taco, Al Pastor taco

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (3)I actually did not use Addison’s picks, restaurant reviews, or “best of” lists to find El Gallo Giro Taco Truck. I would not have easily found it on my own and there is not much written about it either. It really is a local favourite and it’s located randomly in a parking lot. I got the recommendation from Chef-owner Mourad Lahlou of Aziza and he specifically told me to order their chicken taco.

I was already excited upon arrival. The majority of the clientele were all Mexican and they treated El Gallo Giro Taco Truck as their go-to favourite. It looked legit and it felt legit. The true test was if their food tasted legit, and I’m happy to say it was.

If you’re looking for authentic Mexican tacos with homestyle recipes then this is the spot. They were no-fuss tacos at extremely affordable prices (even compared to competitors) and they make all the sauces and marinades in house. It could get better than this, but I was quite satisfied having this as my one experience for authentic Mexican tacos in the Mission. Mission completed… for now.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (9) El Gallo Giro Taco Truck menu. When you’re paying $1.50/taco it’s a bang for your buck… and a half.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (10)Tacos de Chicharron were the special of the day. I asked for recommendations from two Mexican men who claimed to be regulars and they recommended “everything”. That answer never helps, but they eventually said the Tacos de Chicharron was their all time favourite and must try. Done deal.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (4)Tacos - 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • $1.50/taco
  • I ordered 3 tacos and my plate came to $4.50. Ridiculously cheap.
  • The plate looked like a taco salad and I couldn’t tell what was what.
  • This style of plating is very typical and authentic though.
  • These were real Mexican tacos, not Californian or Tex-Mex ones.
  • They served the tacos with spicy raw radishes, pickled carrot slices, pickled jalapenos, and a lemon wedge, which is very traditional.
  • You eat them in between bites of the taco to help with digestion (cuts grease) and to cleanse the palate.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (7)**Carnitas Taco - 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • $1.50/taco
  • Carnitas is my favourite. It’s pretty much pulled pork although the word means “little meats”.
  • This was fried and braised pork which was fried again before serving.
  • The pork was moist and a bit greasy (as expected), but there was a good amount and it was nice and crispy.
  • The pork was savoury, but the flavour wasn’t as complex or flavourful as other carnitas I’ve had before so it could get better.
  • The double tortilla shells were house made and very soft and tender which is great.
  • It was topped with grilled onions, cilantro and a house made salsa.
  • It wasn’t my favourite carnitas taco, but I would still order it again.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (8)**Chicken Taco5/6 (Excellent)

  • $1.50/taco
  • This was the one I came for and was strongly recommended to try.
  • The double tortilla shells were generously filled with morsels of succulent skinless chicken.
  • The chicken was dark meat and it was super tender, juicy and well spiced.
  • Dark meat chicken is always like that though so I wasn’t necessarily surprised.
  • It was marinated likely overnight in a mild serrano chili and paprika sauce (?).
  • Many places shred the chicken so I liked that this one was in chunks.
  • Again, the tortilla shells were house made and very soft and tender which is great.
  • It was topped with grilled onions, cilantro and a house made salsa.
  • “It’s just a chicken taco” crossed my mind, so I don’t want to over hype it. It was still an excellent chicken taco, but it is a dark meat chicken taco.

El Gallo Giro Tacos Food Truck San Francisco (6)Tacos de Chicharron - 2/6 (Okay)

  • $1.50/taco
  • This was a heart attack taco, but perhaps the most preferred by Mexican palates. If you don’t have a Mexican palate, this could be acquired.
  • It was my first time trying Tacos de Chicharron and I’ll keep trying it until I like it.
  • Chicharron is fried pork rinds and I was expecting them to be crispy, but they were very soft and gelatinous. It was pure fat.
  • It was chunks of chicharron and the fried pork rinds seemed to be soaked in a sauce so it was almost like a chicharron stew.
  • The texture was like soggy prawn chips and it was very jelly like.
  • It was not chewy and it was super tender like beef tendon, but it just didn’t do it for me and I like beef tendon and chicharron.
  • It was just too indulgent (even for me), and next to the soft tortilla shells I just wanted more texture.
  • This is traditional though so I can’t argue with that, although traditionally chicharron should be served with salsa verde even in a taco.
  • The sauce it was soaked in seemed like the same mild serrano chili and paprika sauce (?) used for the chicken, but thinner.
  • I really needed those pickled carrots, spicy radishes and squeeze of lemon for this taco.

El Gallo Giro Taco Truck on Urbanspoon
La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (7)Restaurant: La Taqueria
Cuisine: Mexican/Tacos
Last visited: May 7, 2013
Location: San Francisco, CA (Mission)
Address: 2889 Mission St
Phone: (415) 285-7117
Transit: 24th St. Mission
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 2.5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Mexican family owned/operated
  • Local favourite/very popular
  • House made tortillas & condiments
  • Grilled upon order steak
  • Californian-Mexican style tacos
  • Quick/casual
  • Family friendly
  • Budget friendly
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Serves beer
  • Eat in/Take out
  • No delivery
  • Mon-Sun 11am-9pm

**Recommendations: Order the Lengua (Tongue) Taco dorados style (off the menu) with avocado, salsa and cheese. Carnitas Taco dorados style (off the menu) and the works (avocado, beans, salsa, cheese and sour cream). Agua fresca (refreshing Mexican drink made with seasonal fruit).

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (19)La Taqueria was my next and final taco stop. I know, how sad, I only ate 5 tacos… but again, I had a lot of restaurants ahead of me to try. I can’t compare this to El Gallo Giro Taco Truck because they are totally different. El Gallo Giro Taco Truck was authentic Mexican and La Taqueria was more Californian-Mexican. The clientele at La Taqueria was mixed and I could appreciate both places for different reasons. They satisfy a different customer, although some could easily overlap, like me. I really enjoyed both and would revisit each as a local or tourist.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (12)La Taqueria is one of the most popular taquerias in The Mission for tacos and burritos. They have been around since the 1970’s, and despite all the changes in The Mission District, they have a loyal clientele and are apparently very consistent.

I was hesitant because it looked touristy to me, and the only thing missing were signed photographs of all the famous celebrities that have eaten there. I don’t even know if any have, but it looked like one of those place. Instead, the walls were covered with numerous awards and accolades La Taqueria has earned over the years.

I came in unaware of all the hype so I was not disappointed, although I was a bit surprised it was considered “the best” because it was not traditional Mexican. I haven’t tried enough taquerias in The Mission to say, but I could accept this as being one of “the best“, but I’d leave room for contenders.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (3)As soon as I saw the fresh steaks on the grill I regained my confidence. It was a great sign! The steak was grilled upon order and the slow braised meats like the carnitas (pork shoulder/butt) and lengua (tongue) were done in advance and scooped from a steam table. It is expected for those types of meats since they take longer to prepare and cook.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (2)This was another good sign, although nothing to get too excited about either. Almost every taco shop in The Mission makes their own fresh salsa and guacamole, so this becomes standard rather than impressive. The steak was roughly chopped instead of shredded and everything was made to order so it was guaranteed fresh. Again, most taco shops are making things to order so that should be expected as well.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (15)Another sign of a good taco shop! I am not sure if they make their own corn tortillas, and at the volume they do I’d be impressed if they did. Again, in The Mission homemade corn tortillas are quite standard, but these were larger in size.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (8)La Taqueria menu

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (16)Compared to the many other taco shops in The Mission they are known as the pricier place (especially after all the add on’s), but people say their meats are better than the competition. It’s tacos though, so “expensive” is never that expensive. It’s street food, but it is all relative. La Taqueria tacos are much larger than most places, but the burritos are apparently a bit smaller. They are known for their “no rice” burritos as well, but I did not try them. They reminded me of less fancy Chipotle tacos, but half the size.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (4)**Lengua (Tongue) Taco4/6 (Very good)

  • $3.75
  • I would recommend the tongue taco, but I should have ordered it another way. It would have been so much better.
  • Make sure to order it “Dorados style” (off the menu option).
  • Tacos-Dorados means fried tacos, or literally “golden tacos”.
  • Dorados style is when they deep fry one tortilla shell and “glue” a soft tortilla shell around it with a layer of melted cheese in between. Sign me up.
  • Taco el Dorato is what Taco Bell calls a “Gordita”, but it’s not.
  • Gorditas are authentic to Mexican cuisine, but they are Mexican style pita pockets made from corn flour, so incomparable to fried tacos.
  • Taco Bell gorditas are more representable of Dorados style tacos than authentic Mexican gorditas.
  • I should have also ordered this with avocado, mild salsa and queso (Mexican white cheese).
  • The toppings like guacamole and sour cream are not “authentic Mexican”, but good is good.
  • These are more Californian-Mexican style tacos and I appreciated it as that.
  • The beef tongue was incredibly tender, soft and moist and it was really well made.
  • If you have never tried tongue it just tastes like beef brisket. I love it.
  • It’s a rich meat, but it is not gamey or bumpy or “tongue” like. Get over it. It’s delicious.
  • The meat itself was bland though as to why I should have ordered it with avocado, salsa and cheese.
  • The avocado was guacamole instead of wedges and it was topped with raw onions and cilantro to cut the richness of the meat.
  • With the double soft tacos shells (which could have been softer like at El Gallo Giro Taco Truck) and the soft beef tongue, I just needed texture; so I should have ordered it Dorados style.

La Taqueria Tacos San Francisco (6)**Carnitas (Pork) Taco Dorados Style5/6 (Excellent!)

  • $3.75 + $.50 (cheese) + $1.20 (avocado) $5.54
  • I had directives to order this otherwise I would have never discovered it.
  • Make sure to order it “Dorados style” (off the menu option).
  • Tacos-Dorados means fried tacos, or literally “golden tacos”.
  • Dorados style is when they deep fry one tortilla shell and “glue” a soft tortilla shell around it with a layer of melted cheese in between. Sign me up.
  • Taco el Dorato is what Taco Bell calls a “Gordita”, but it’s not.
  • Gorditas are authentic to Mexican cuisine, but they are Mexican style pita pockets made from corn flour, so incomparable to fried tacos.
  • Taco Bell gorditas are more representable of Dorados style tacos than authentic Mexican gorditas.
  • Carnitas is my favourite type of taco filling and it is generally most popular.
  • I was debating between the carne asada (grilled beef) since they were grilling them on the spot, or the carnitas, but the owner suggested carnitas.
  • It had beans, melted queso (Mexican white cheese) and generous amounts of Mexican pulled pork, fresh guacamole and mild salsa.
  • Again, the avocado was guacamole instead of wedges, but it was fresh and so was the salsa.
  • It was a fully loaded taco minus the sour cream. Next time I’m adding the sour cream.
  • The only reason I didn’t add it was because it wasn’t in my “directives”.
  • Again it was a Californian-Mexican style taco since authentic Mexican tacos don’t have guacamole and sour cream. I still enjoyed it regardless.
  • The Mexican pulled pork (carnitas) wasn’t that flavourful, but it was seasoned.
  • I was hoping they would fry it until crispy like at El Gallo Giro Taco Truck, but it was all soft.
  • It was very moist, but I preferred the carnitas alone at El Gallo Giro Taco Truck.
  • The tortilla shells were softer there too, but the style incomparable.
  • I loved the crispy taco shell though and it really made the biggest difference. It was the draw back!
  • It was pulled pork nachos conveniently wrapped up in taco form. What’s not to love?

La Taqueria on Urbanspoon

 

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