A Brief History Of San Francisco's Mission-Style Burritos

It's no secret that California is known to be home to some of the best Mexican food in the U.S. Due to the heavy Chicano population in the state, it's not difficult to find authentic, mouth-watering Mexican food on practically every street corner, notably in the southern part of the Golden State. But San Francisco? The Bay Area's most famous city located in northern California is usually equated with sourdough bread and Ghirardelli chocolate. And, as it turns out, their mission-style burritos. The Mission District is one of San Francisco's Latin American quarters historically known for its food and culture, and it's here where a unique type of burrito was born.

Mission-style burritos are — in a word — gargantuan. A giant flour tortilla is filled with rice, beans, a meat of choice like carne asada or carnitas, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole or avocado. The behemoth creation is expertly rolled up as tight as a Cuban cigar and typically measures in at around eight inches in length, not to mention such girth that the meal must be wrapped in foil to minimize the chances of explosion. Griddling the burrito until crisp and brown on the outside is either a requirement or an option depending on which purist you ask. On that note, though rice is part of the original mission-burrito recipe, today, some say they would skip the rice, (via San Francisco Magazine). Still, the burrito has gained such notoriety that it's become a must-eat for tourists from all over the world along with chowder in a bread bowl and cioppino at Fisherman's Wharf.

Named for a neighborhood

The Mission District of San Francisco is the city's oldest neighborhood and was originally home to the Native American Ohlone tribe. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, since their displacement by Spanish colonizers, the area has been everything from feeding grounds for livestock to a settlement area for several groups of immigrants including Italians, Germans, Irish, Mexicans, and Latin Americans. It was during the 1950s and 60s that the Mission District saw a strong influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants who naturally set up businesses like bodegas, fruit stands, and eateries.

Two restaurants, Taqueria La Cumbre and El Faro, both of which remain popular Mexican restaurants today, claim to have originated what is known as the Mission-style burrito, per San Francisco Magazine. In a bold bid to state its case, La Cumbre has adorned its storefront with the words "Birthplace of the Mission Style Burrito." La Cumbre even boasts the date of the discovery: September 29, 1969.

But El Faro also stakes claim to the creation, boasting a founding date of September 26, 1961, when they turned two six-inch tortillas into one large burrito. The two eateries' rivalry helped spread the word of the signature dish and drew in local residents by the droves with low-cost, filling, and tasty meals. The reputation of these burritos was originally spread by word of mouth, then by publication and television, and finally through the rise of social media. Today, Mission-style burritos are one of the reasons San Francisco is a top food destination in America.

Burritos by city

The rivalry between Taqueria La Cumbre and El Faro is far from the only rivalry in the world of burritos. All in all, San Diego, Los Angeles, and even Texas have their own unique styles of the beloved Mexican food and insist that theirs reigns supreme. San Diego has coined what it calls the California burrito. Size-wise, it rivals the Mission style but instead of bulking up the interior of the tortilla with rice and beans, a California burrito includes french fries, creating what is possibly the most epic meal you could have after a morning of intense surfing ... or a night of heavy drinking.

Further north in Los Angeles, the Angelenos prefer their burritos a bit smaller. An LA-style burrito is filled with guisado – a saucy stewed meat — beans, salsa, chile, and cheese. There is no extra carb bulk in the form of rice or potatoes, but it's not unusual to include guacamole and sour cream in an LA burrito. Meanwhile, Texas is known for another unique burrito style that falls into the category of Tex-Mex cuisine. This one, too, is a huge dish, utilizing a large flour tortilla filled with beans, meat, cheese, and lettuce, and covered with enchilada sauce and melted cheese. It's typically eaten with a knife and fork.

Never had a Mission-style burrito? Well, if you've ever ordered a burrito from Chipotle, you've partaken in the burrito style made famous by San Francisco. It might not be truly authentic, but you get the idea.