A long time favorite for their “unbeatable” burritos, there is little to argue with when it comes to the taste of their salsa, to which Bobby Flay attributed his defeat in Food Network’s Burrito Showdown. They now sell this “secret weapon” sell by the jar for $6.99, on-line, at their two locations and at Bay Area Whole Food stores. If you are looking to bring some Mexican spice to your next home-made south-of-the-border meal, this is a great way to go!
However, readers of this column know Why a taco is Mexican food and a burrito is not, so this reviewer would have to argue with the Bay Area Guardian readers who voted Papalote “Best Mexican Restaurant”…. best burrito, OK, but Paplote features Mexican-style food, adapted for an American palate, not Mexican cuisine. When it comes to “Cali-Mex” cuisine, (OK, this is not yet defined by Wikipedia, so we will define it for you here: a Mexican approach to cooking techniques, toned-down Mexican seasonings combined with fresh California-style ingredients, which can range from just great fresh veggies and fresh-grilled meats to “local, organic and sustainable”), Papalote fits the bill: a sign in the window boasts “Did you know? Our rice [and] all our beans [are] vegan, we do not use any lard (this is another discussion, as authentic Mexican cooking often does us pork lard, which does NOT deserve the bad rap it gets), we do not use any MSG, our produce is hand-picked daily, our meats and seafood are delivered fresh, daily). Chiptole has to be considered one of the leaders in Cali-Mex restaurants, with their “Food with integrity” story; but the menus of both eateries are quite similar, and so is the end result.
Does Papolote it beat the competition when it comes to this style of Mexican food in San Francisco? No doubt… for starters, unlike the myriad burrito and taco eateries that present steam trays from which to choose your fillings, everything at Papalote is grilled fresh to order, so, of course, its better! And then there’s the salsa. But beyond this, what? For starters, the guacamole has so little jalapeño or serrano chili (see Timing and texture: the secret to a great guacamole) that a baby could eat it. Likewise, the consistency of the refried black beans reminded me of baby food, or at least gravy, if not soup.The carne asada was so tough and chewy that even with the steak knife we requested, it was a battle to cut, much less to eat.