The Best Taco Near 24th Street?
At each location we ordered at least one taco with carnitas along with a couple more filling options that looked appealing. In a few rare cases, carnitas were not an option so we used our best judgment. On to the results!
El Gallo Giro ($1.50)
Figures that the best tacos of the day would come from a truck, and a very friendly one at that. They're best known for their extraordinarily tender and flavorful chicken, but everything we tried was outstanding.
The Tortilla: 7/10 Soft, though slightly dry
The Filling: 15/15 Textbook carnitas—tender, flavorful, juicy, and nicely crisped. Equally good were the carne asada and roasted chicken. Into pork fat? The chicharrones are thick slices of pork belly cooked down with beans. Delicious.
The Toppings: 5/5 The salsa is bright, fresh, complex, and hot, while the onions and cilantro (applied sparingly) are as freshly cut as you could hope for. Ditto for the radish chunks.
El Gallo Giro, Truck parked from 10:30 to 5, Monday through Saturday on 23rd Street and Treat Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110; map
Taqueria Vallarta ($1.50)
It's got a real taqueria feel to it, with a dozen varieties of steamed or grilled meats piled around a large circular comal. Ask the cook to get your filling extra hot, and he'll pull a bit out to the center to crisp up on the hot cast iron plate.
The Tortilla: 8/10 Cooked on the circular comal, helping it soak in the collected juices from the steaming meats around it.
The Filling: 13/15 Very flavorful and all perfectly cooked. The meats are kept in close proximity to each other, so that they feed off of each others' steam slowly building flavor. Extra crisp is the way to go.
The Toppings: 5/5 The only place that offered grilled or fresh onions, along with grilled jalapeños, you can also help yourself to ultra-fresh cilantro, onions, and great salsa (the green is better).
Taqueria Vallarta, 3039 24th Street; San Francisco, CA 94110-4131; (415) 826-8116; map
Taqueria San Francisco ($2.25 per taco)
Nice amenities here including large (but scruffy) tables with a couple salsa and pico de gallo on each one. The tortillas are tiny, but stuffed to the brim, making them difficult to pick up.
The Tortilla: 7/10 Perfectly softened, but no charring.
The Filling: 12/15 Very flavorful, well cooked carnitas, with a few crisp bits here and there. The tripe is particularly crisp and delicious, and the chorizo was the best we tried.
The Toppings: 4/5 great salsa and fresh onions and cilantro.
Taqueria San Francisco, 2794 24th Street; San Francisco, CA 94110-4263; (415) 641-1770; map
La Espiga de Oro ($2.35 per taco)
Piles of deep-fried pork belly line the glass cases near the entrance, and with good reason—they're the best thing in the shop.
The Tortilla: 6/10 A little dry, bordering on crunchy in parts.
The Filling: 11/15 Love the chicharrones, though the carnitas were slightly undercooked and chewy and the chorizo, while juicy, were overwhelmed with too much cumin and cinnamon.
The Toppings: 4/5 Plenty of fresh cilantro, and punchy salsa.
La Espiga de Oro, 2916 24th Street; San Francisco, CA 94110-4127; (415) 826-1363; map
La Palma ($2.39 for machine-made, $2.99 for hand-made tortillas)
The taqueria is tucked into the back of a Mexican grocery where you can also get yourself some fresh masa, and pretty much every other ingredient you need to throw your own taco party.
La Palma, 2884 24th St; San Francisco, CA 94110-4233; (415) 647-1500; map
Casa Sanchez ($2.30 per taco)
A neighborhood institution, if you've got the corn-riding vaquero tattooed on your body, you dine for free. Supposedly. Things here move pretty slowly, and things don't look promising when the taco fillings are pulled out of individually-bagged portions, but forget what you saw—their flavor tells all.
The Tortilla: 7/10 properly softened, but minimal charring
The Filling: 10/15 The tastiest Al Pastor we had, and beefy carnitas that were chopped into tender submission (they could have used more charring).
The Toppings: 3/5 Make sure you ask for none of the bland salsa or lettuce that come by default, instead adding onions, cilantro, and the better hot salsa yourself at the bar.
Casa Sanchez, 2778 24th Street; San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 282-2402; map
La Taqueria ($3.50 per taco)
By far the most expensive per taco, and they give you a few touches that might make it worth it for some. Neatly wrapped, the tacos are easy to eat, and there's plenty of clean dining space inside. It's perhaps the most touristy of the lot, and you'll find more than a bit of gringification here. How about some melted American cheese on the tortillas?
The Tortilla: 6/10 Fresh and well softened. No charring though.
The Filling: 8/15 The carne asada is the best option here, with nice charring. Carnitas and cabeza, on the other hand, are tender, but have no flavor beyond a little salt.
The Toppings: 3/5 Very fresh onions and cilantro, but a pico de gallo made with bland, pale pink tomatoes should be left on the side. The green salsa on the tables is hot, but that's about it.
La Taqueria, 2889 Mission Street; San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 285-7117;map
El Farolito ($1.95 per taco)
Its location right next to the BART station makes it a prime stop for late-night hunger pangs. They're more well known for their gigantic burritos, and rightly so—just a look at the overstuffed tacos, and you can tell that they were made by burrito-makers.
The Tortilla: 4/10 Soft, but weak—they collapsed half way through eating.
The Filling: 7/15 Nicely charred carne asada and tender, flavorful carnitas (they needed some more crisping), but the lengua tasted of stale refrigerator.
The Toppings: 4/5 Excellent salsa, and fresh onions and cilantro.
El Farolito, 2779 Mission Street; San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 826-4870; map
La Gallinita ($1.50 per taco)
It's certainly got the looks of a taqueria—fluorescent lighting, crammed into the back of a butchery, very cheap, but looks are deceiving. The tacos here are tender, but that's about it.
The Tortilla: 3/10 Flexible and tender, but stale around the ages.
The Filling: 5/15 Both the carnitas and lengua are tender, but bland, gristly, and completely lacking in any crisp bits. Several chunks of bone and connective tissue.
The Toppings: 2/5 There's a serve-yourself salsa and topping bar, but the salsas aren't really worth the effort of scooping.
La Gallinita, 2989 24th Street; San Francisco, CA 94110-4133; (415) 826-4600; map
El Tonayenses ($1.75 per taco)
Rumor has it that the trucks are better than the brick-and-mortar location, but when I asked, I was told that the fillings are all produced in-house, then packed onto the trucks in the morning. Perhaps there's some magic transformation that takes place en route?
The Tortilla: 2/10 Small, dry, and unheated
The Filling: 3/15 Carnitas and Carne asada are both intensely garlic flavored. It tastes steamed more than anything.
The Toppings: 4/5 Fresh cilantro and onions, and a flavorful salsa, tired lemon slices and radishes that looked days old.
El Tonayense, 3150 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 550-9192; map
Papalote Mexican Grill ($5.95 for 2 tacos)
I'm not sure what attracts people to this decidedly yuppified taqueria. I'm guessing it's the cleanliness large chunks of grilled beef and shrimp, and vegan-friendly menu (try soyrizo—really). Certainly fresher, higher quality proteins than most of the other taquerias, but completely lacking in flavor.
The Tortilla: 1/10 A single large corn tortilla per order, barely heated through, and brittle to the point that it broke when trying to fold it.
The Filling: 4/15 Mildly flavorful grilled steak sliced so thick that they must be eaten with a fork and knife. Tempeh-based chorizo that tastes of chili powder and ketchup. No thanks.
The Toppings: 1/5 Roughly chopped Romaine lettuce and bland supermarket tomatoes have no place near a taco. At least the house-made salsa is good. This is a steak salad, not a taco, by any means.
Papalote Mexican Grill, 3409 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 970-8815; map