Everyone knows you go to the Mission for a grease-bomb burrito stuffed with a whole slew of cow parts. But where can you get a vegetarian alternative that's more than beans, salsa, and excessive rice? In search of answers and lunch, we disembarked BART at 24th and Mission to look for meatless options that don't need carne to have substance and flavor.
We unwrapped a crop of winners, from the chile relleno at El Farolito that oozed cheese to the fried plantain hulk at Little Chihuahua. We even found a vegan triumph at Curry Up Now, with a creation involving a potato pea samosa with chickpeas, onions, and pulao rice.
Often, we opted to make our burritos "super" by paying $1 to $1.50 more for jack cheese, guacamole or pieces of avocado, and sour cream or its richer relative, crema. We especially liked the upgrade at El Farolito, Tacos El Paisano and La Palma, where they melt cheese onto the tortilla as it heats on the grill. While you can't go wrong with going super, all of our picks are also terrific naked or with a few drips of the always-available red or green salsa.
Nothing we ate advertised chicken, pork, or beef, but they weren't necessarily vegetarian. Lard and chicken stock occasionally appeared in the tortillas, rice, and beans. You can easily avoid meat products, however, if you know what to ask:
"Is there lard (Spanish: manteca) in the beans?"
Taqueria Vallarta and La Palma make their refried beans with lard, but the whole beans are vegetarian.
"Is there lard (Spanish: manteca) in the tortilla?"
All the spots we visited said their tortillas were made with vegetable oil.
"Is there chicken stock (Spanish: caldo de pollo or consumo de pollo) or lard (Spanish: manteca) in the rice?"
Taqueria Vallarta uses chicken stock in its rice. La Palma uses lard.
On each slide, we've labeled whether the above three ingredients contain meat.
One warning before you hit the photos: If you are a vegetarian or vegan whose gastrointestinal system would collapse if it collided with a speck of meat grease, beware the flat top. Most of these taquerias cook their meat and veggies on this type of smooth grill, sometimes right next to each other. You can't be sure a trace of animal didn't attach to your broccoli floret.
Hungry yet? Check out the slideshow »
About the author: From San Francisco to New York and back to San Francisco, Alissa Merksamer is a food adventurer who'll try almost anything once. She's a frequent snacker and seeker of free samples. Check out her blog Glamorous Snacker and follow her on twitter @glamsnack.