Battle Royale: Papalote vs. Street Taco

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Claudia Sanchez
Staff Writer

Mexican food is a huge part of Californian culture. Whether you’re from L.A, San Francisco, or anywhere in between, you probably have an opinion on where the best, most authentic taco is, or who makes the best burritos. Mexican food, like burritos and tacos, is great for students on the go because they provide a filling meal while also being portable.

Luckily we have Papalote and Street Taco within walking distance from USF. Next time you crave a burrito or some tacos, and nothing else will do, don’t go all the way downtown or to the Mission because we have two great restaurants in the area.

One of the best parts of both of these restaurants is definitely the locations. Papalote has two restaurants, one on Fulton St. and another on 24th St. The Fulton St. Papalote is directly across from Lucky Supermarket, so you could potentially grocery shop and congratulate yourself with a meal afterwards. Street Taco is located on Haight St., and it’s the perfect place to replenish after a long shopping day.

Walking into Papalote is a multisensory experience. The restaurant is large, has welcoming servers, and its walls are bright red and lined with portraits of saints, artists, and other artwork (some of which is available for purchase) and the entire restaurant smells like a delicious mix of savory meat and salsa. SF Weekly recently voted Papalote as the makers of the best burrito in all of San Francisco, so they have a lot to prove.

Papalote is renowned for their secret salsa (which they also package and sell for $7 a jar) and it is truly one of the best salsas I’ve ever had; it has a great texture and the right kick of spice. The burritos are a good size; they’re big enough to leave you stuffed, but not big enough to make you feel like you never want to eat again. However, their burritos as a whole are pretty average; the meat tends to be a bit dry and the pico de gallo needs a bit more lemon, but the salsas and portion size make up for it. Their willingness to cater to vegetarians and vegans is also a bonus. Their rice and beans are guaranteed vegan and they offer a lot of options like soy chorizo, marinated tofu, vegan mole and veggies. Another benefit of Papalote is their larger menu which also offers breakfast and other classic Mexican food, like mole and fajitas. In regards to pricing, a full meal at Papalote would cost around $10 to $15. Their burritos range from $6.25 to $12.25 and you can create a super burrito (a burrito with guacamole, sour cream, and and cheese) for 99 cents extra; the tacos and quesadillas range from $5 to $10.

Ultimately, while Papalote is good as a whole, it doesn’t stack up to truly great Mexican restaurants like El Farolito or Taqueria Cancun in the Mission, despite being praised for having the “best burrito in San Francisco.” While Papalote offers a lot of protein options, their food isn’t particularly memorable. Papalote is also not very affordable for college students with the average price for a burrito being $11, but it’s a good choice due to its proximity and wide range of vegan and vegetarian options.

Street Taco is the opposite of Papalote upon first inspection; their restaurant is small, crowded, and minimalistic. Unlike Papalote, there are no bright red walls; instead, they chose white with small red, green, and yellow accents. The restaurant is so small you can see most of the kitchen from your seat, especially the vertical rotisserie that they use to grill chicken and al pastor pork. This proximity to the kitchen creates this great smell of slowly roasting meats and vegetables.

When it comes to the food, it is simple and savory. They offer a variety of protein from chicken and carne asada to more traditional Mexican proteins like nopales (cactus) and alambres (chicken or beef cooked with peppers and cheese). While they are not as vegan-friendly as Papalote, Street Taco still offers vegan rice, beans, and veggies as a filler for burritos and tacos. The burritos are also a bit smaller than Papalote’s, but they are more flavorful. The chicken is savory and properly seasoned, the pico de gallo has the right amount of spice, and everything tastes fresh as a whole. Their burritos’ freshness might have something to do with the fact that they buy their products locally and make their own flour tortillas. Street taco has a smaller menu offering burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and a couple salad selections. Their prices are slightly cheaper at $6.50 for a cheese quesadilla to about $11 for a shrimp super burrito (the most expensive item on the menu).

Street Taco, while not perfect, offers memorable and well cooked food. Despite its simple menu, there is a lot of room for the customers to customize their meal. While not as vegan-friendly as Papalote, they still offer some veggie-based options. What I truly appreciate about Street Taco is their perfectly toasted handmade tortillas.

Based on price and taste I would say that Street Taco wins when stacked up against Papalote. Their food is seasoned better and it is a bit cheaper than Papalote.  In a perfect world, Papalote and Street Taco would team up and create San Francisco’s real “Best Burrito,” by combining Street Taco’s burritos and Papalote’s salsa. But until then, we’ll just have to buy Papalote’s salsa to add to all of our burritos.

Photo credits: Nichole Rosanova/Foghorn

Papalote
1777 Fulton St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Street Taco
1607 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117

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