"[C]ritics Casey Deeha, Chipp Oatlay, Sal Savirdy and 'El Presidente Mole' promise to provide 'not merely a description of burritos, but a more writerly experience that gives the attention to burritos that they deserve.' Yep. You heard it here, folks. - Jay Barmann, SF Grubfest

"[Casey Deeha] also thinks it could be a matter of cultural heritage and sense of place why a Mission-style burrito is thought to taste the best in San Francisco." - Tamara Palmer, Zagat

"Bay Area Review of Burritos -a must read for anyone remotely interested in foil-wrapped tube food" - Kevin Montgomery, Up Town Almanac

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Taqueria Talavera, Solano Ave., Albany

Written By Casey Deeha

Recently, my son - for his birthday - requested some rather expensive basketball shoes associated in some spurious way to Lebron James. While, at eleven years old, his skills as a young player are developing very well, I find justifying such an expense very difficult - I should think that Lebron himself might concede that he would play close to his current form wearing some Air Jordans from the good ol' '80s... I explain to my son that those shoes were most likely crafted by an eleven year old - very unlike himself - somewhere in Indonesia in the eleventh hour of this boy's arduous shift. And that perhaps shortly after he helped weave that final stitch of the L in Lebron's name across the heal of the shoe, that he most likely finished the Rebok shoe for some other overly paid sporting star - that, indeed, these shoes are mostly made in similar if not the same factory. "Appearance is not everything," I said as a responsible father as I curl my toes within my Campers.

Is it everything? I'd like to think that I adopt the function-is-aesthetic philosophy from the lovely modernists. However, it's not necessarily that easy is it...

Regardless, when one walks into Taqueria Talavera, one is confronted by a rather pleasing aesthetic - I was excited for the salsa bar looked well groomed... For anyone who puts this much effort into the aesthetic must equal the amount of effort put into the taste of their burritos.

I confess - I have been here twice. On the first occasion, I ordered the veggie; on the second the fish burrito. In both instances, I was very excited given the atmosphere - thinking that I would sit to have a feast that would rival taquerias in the likes of El Faro or La Cumbre tucked away on Solano ave., buried within the depths on Albany. In both instances, unfortunately, I was disappointed. The burritos were much like a packed buffet of a burrito ingredients, in the hopes that the size would compensate for the lack of originality which I hoped would equal the decor. I still had a modest enjoyment of these burritos, but in the first instance, the veggie was bland and the fish, like many fish burritos, was sequestered amidst a sea of rice, beans and veggies.

I left slightly unsatisfied but not upset. I peered down at my shoes and thought, 'I should just buy those damn shoes for my son'.

Salsa Rating: Disappointingly Mild  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Burrito Eater Is Calling Curtains!

Written by Casey Deeha

Our esteemed colleague and respected brother-in-arms is calling time on his decade long burrito reviewing experiment. During his tenure, Charles Hodgkins will have reviewed one thousand burritos - that's 1000 for those who hate numerals spelled out. A remarkable feat.

We wish him well and will hold a vigil for the legacy he has provided to us burrito afficianados. To Charles, we say this: we shall continue your experiment and while we may not adopt your systematic grading process, we shall extend your territory to the Everest of burrito viewing - the Bay!

For an excellent overview of Charles' fine-tuned burrito knowledge, read Rose Garrett's interview for The Eater San Francisco.

We wish you well!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Avatar's Punjabi Burritos, Mill Valley, Marin

Written By Casey Deeha

When Darwin, on one fateful day, decided to publish the Origin of Species, he brought into the consciousness of humanity a recognition that we change as a reaction to our changing environment - we evolve. What I find startling about this revelation is that the act of evolution, that is - the actual happening of evolution was an event that was always taking place... Darwin simply recognized it and gave it a name. However, to recognize this event gave our species power - a power to react to our own reaction to the changing environment: to, in a sense, choose our own evolutionary path.

Indeed, the culinary landscape is constantly changing and shifting to meet our ever merging cultural needs. The supposed 'fusion' restaurant is ever more ubiquitous and has become a staple characteristic of the culinary side of California. In the UK, serving a green or yellow Thai curry in pubs is common place despite the incredibly disparate political connection between the two countries (the king of Thailand used to own Manchester City FC at one point but that's about it). This 'fusion' of national foods only reflects (hopefully) the fusion of our cultures. However - the question is there: is this culinary adaptation a positive change?

I mean - who am I or any of us to fight the winds change. At Avatar's Punjabi Burritos, I found an Indian and Mexican cuisine mixed in a California bowl courtesy of the tortilla as an intermixed DNA. I introduce you to the curried chicken burrito: wrapped in whole wheat Indian bread includes fresh curried garbanzo beans, basmati rice, fresh herb salsa, seasonal fruit chutney, carrot pickle, non-fat yogurt and tamarind sauce. Interesting - isn't it. And where some purists may argue that this is no burrito, I say don't be surprised if you find yourself falling off the culinary evolutionary chain at some point. Embrace the change.

The burrito itself was satisfying and, indeed, it did taste like a chicken curry stuffed within a tortilla. In a way, I would prefer some more 'fusion' - more mixing of the DNA. Perhaps throw in some avocado or pico de gallo as it is very similar to the 'fresh herb salsa'... and what about some cheese? I suppose that at some point we have a world where everyone looks similar from thousands of years of interracial mixing - and similarly I want a time where the Indian and Mexican cuisines can combine to create the perfect hybrid. On top of this, the decor and ambiance of the place was severely lacking amdist an area dripping with wealth. 

I suppose Darwin never had this in mind when floating on the trusty Beagle.


Salsa Rating: Warmly Satisfying 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rubios, Bay Street Emeryville Mall, Emeryville

Written By Casey Deeha

For anyone who has read my review of Los Cantaros in Emeryville, will know that the area has certainly come a long way since the title 'mudflats' was the suitable name for the location. Even passing through the twentieth century, Emeryville, as an area of the Bay, took on various personas as a less desirable destination for the inquisitive local. In fact, from 1939 to 1970, amongst the various industries that ruled Emeryville with an iron fist, the area was famously known for a massive animated neon sign showing a can of red paint tilting, spilling and covering a globe of the earth, with the slogan "We Cover the Earth" which sat atop of the Sherwin-Williams paint company' s factory. This rather Dr. Eckleburg's-Eyes-esque harbinger of profit adorned and dominated the East Bay as city goers passed into San Francisco.

I can run with metaphorical significance of the imagery here, but reluctantly refrain. Needless to say, the Bay Street Mall poses no real difference as a  harbinger to those about to pass the cathedral-like east span of the new bridge. Thus, the question looms however: has Emeryville improved?

Today we have the illustrious Bay Street Mall, a monolithic representation of what ensnares gentrification - a hodge podge of various colored buildings that bare more resemblance to Main Street USA at Disneyland than a veritable collection of new-build apartments with accompanying chain stores; at least Disneyland is honest in its intention. Buried within the 'food court' of this mass is Rubio's - a chain among chains of the Mexican culinary genre. And for those readers who are familiar with my thematic oeuvre will know that I approach this pseudo-taqueria very cynically. As an afficinado however, I am bound by the creed of my people - to approach burritos without prejudgement.

For all those who are in the know, Rubio's is known for their fish tacos and I take this into consideration as a Burrito Afficianado. I order the beer battered fish burrito with black beans. The salsa bar is meager but the 'red salsa' will suffice. I order and patiently take my place in the outside patio to turn my Eckleburg eyes on the Wasteland of Emeryville. Eager shoppers pass by equipped with their Gap and ibags completely unaware of my ninja presence - I think quickly of the great moment in Invasion of the Body Snatchers when Donald Southerland's character realized that they can walk amongst inhabited bodies by taking away the human gestures that otherwise convey emotion. I sit blandly and unhappily. I fit in perfectly. My fish burrito arrives and I crack a slight smile and worry that the alien infestation can smell my human emotion. I quickly take a bite - pure tortilla. I take another and, for fear of my sanity by being in such a place longer than I must, I finish the burrito in one fell swoop. I swallow, sit back and contemplate for I am pleasantly surprised. It's not bad. In fact, I quite enjoyed the burrito for the fish was well battered and remained the central piece of the ensemble given that many fish burritos allow too many ingredients to dominate the main protagonist as in my experience of The Burrito Shop in Oakland. The fish is crispy and light and works with the heat of the day.

I say well done Rubios and begin to consider a trip to the friggin i-store below. Is there an alien conversion taking place within my soul - am I falling into the collective... was there in fact a sense of relief when I find that Donald Southerland's character in the last shot of the film has been finally amalgamated into the hive?

I'm. Not. Sure.

Salsa Rating: Surprisingly and Moderately Hot

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cactus Cafe, Etc..., Oak Rd, Walnut Creek

Written by Casey Deeha

The monolithic industry desserts are the new landscapes which are producing the infamous 'reverse commutes'. It as if the gods of modernity said: 'it's much to easy for these mere mortals to navigate a one way traffic commute that is all too predictable - let's give them a challenge'... and boom - we have drab commerce buildings masquerading as modernist architecture growing like Chia Pets in places such as Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Livermore, Danville and the like.

But Lo! Workers of the Bay unite - at least those workers with an inkling of culture who cling to the idea that they are not cattle to be herded into the city center for the god of industry; rather - they reverse their commute to the suburban tract desserts to whittle their working day away safely anonymous within sterile office layouts.

It is here where I lay our latest burrito scene - Cactus Cafe - a veritable hodge-podge of various food stuffs, chiefly the Breakfast Burrito.

Characters in business dress shuffle themselves in like well trained ants - one after the other - all complete with blue tooth and clickity clackity shoes. I am skeptical to say the least... I feel like Jason, lost within the labyrinth of these ever expanding homogeneous Borg-like business buildings. Standing in Cactus Cafe, I know that I am tucked away within the innards of one of these behemoths, but have not the real understanding of where I am. For comfort, I opt for the breakfast burrito - the familiar of eggs, bacon, avocado, onion, pico de gallo and cheese surely should yoke my compass for inward direction amidst sameness peppered with profit. I hope but am not optimistic. My cynicism is fueled by these peoples' collective contribution to our financial times. I am patient and give my order hoping the Minotaur is not lurking under the shallow waters of the necessary water features seen through the window - a man takes a drag off a cigarette looking forlorn.

I receive my burrito and sit down at the Ikeaed tables. The ingredients are moderately mixed and the familiar comes rushing back for my identity to remember my own Id - it is 'OK'. Not the best, but what would you expect under such environmental circumstances - who would have a creme de brule in the Arctic? (I would but it would be weird). Not the best breakfast burrito, but satisfies the familiar and I am grateful.

I left searching for different pastures - Oakland beckons.

Salsa Rating - Moderately Warm

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Island Taqueria, Park St. Alameda

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Written by Casey Deeha

An 'Island' is a fitting image to describe my experience of Island Taqueria by way of analogy. When one thinks of an island, duplicity can deliver two aspects: a paradise and/or a claustrophobic trap. In the first instance, one only has to watch some episodes of Magnum P.I. to relish in Magnum's Hawaii island paradise; in the latter, one can watch Lost to get a good understanding of how an island paradise can become the seventh circle of hell.

I was hopeful for Island Taqueria as it dawned some of the hallmarks of a classic and well-worn taqueria: garish colors, sparse Mexican decorations, and overtly sexual and badly painted images of Aztec men and women. However, my expectation of an island paradise would quickly turn into Aztec hell and I would be left still searching for a decent burrito in the non-metaphorical island of Alameda, which in itself is becoming more of an island of bad burritos. Where the image of the robust Aztec man with a flaming sanguine head dress carrying a voluptuous woman might harness impressions of heroism and pride, I envision a slightly more morose tale of a woman attempting to recover from that crazy man's burrito concoction. It is as if the man loured this innocent woman into his island cave for a first date only to pummel her with what has become only marginally better than the burrito I had at Taqueria Las Comadres II in Montclair, which can now be dubbed the penultimate worst burrito of BARB (Bay Area Review of Burritos). 

It was a promising sight at first given that the size of the burrito was massive. However, upon picking up this island beast, I immediately noticed the gaping spaces inside indicating a very loosely rolled burrito, which was sadly confirmed when picking it up - all (yes all) the contents immediately fell out and I was forced to adjust my burrito eating methods. It wouldn't have mattered - the pinto beans were cold, the cheese wasn't melted, there was too much lettuce, the salsa was bland and there was absolutely no blend, and the tortilla was dry and cold. It was a shameful experience. 

Sal, who was with me, was feeling ill and had her head on the table having opted out of a burrito. I was jealous of her even though she was suffering from nausea, which was some overwhelmingly fitting pathetic fallacy. With Sal's groans and the Aztec man's bludgeoning burrito hell, I wanted to escape this island metaphorically and literally. I only hope that Aztec man walked to the beach with that woman and fell to his knees crying, 'what have I done!?', which coincidentally was what I was saying as I rubbed my stomach and cast my sails for better shores.

Salsa Rating: cold watery salsa

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Taqueria Cancun-Sabor Mexicano, 2134 Allston Way, Berkeley

Written by Sal Savirdy

Not having had a personal recommendation for Taqueria Cancun-Sabor Mexicano, I invest in some pre-date online background checks (it's what a girl needs to do nowadays to avoid the creepy guys, right?). My investigation reveals quite the prospective profile.  Not only do the burritos promise to be tasty and original, the sourced ingredients dig deeper than the average Joe; this taqueria uses vegetables from their very own Saldana farm and the extra refined and well- thought out burrito accoutrements include access to a 17 piece salsa bar. 

First date, I want to know where I stand with the basics, and opt for a super chicken and a super veggie burrito (of course I'm going to finish them both).  My food is with me almost immediately, so, add to the already numerically blessed scoreboard the remarkable speed of service and cancun sabor mexicano looks like a sure fire bet to take home to meet the folks. 

The size of the burrito is a little more modest than average but I'm OK with that, sometimes size really doesn't matter and it's what you do with it that counts. Tasting, however, reveals an unexpectedly mediocre burrito on both super chicken and veggie accounts. The chicken has some texturally interesting (if not initially slightly alarming), crunchy elements, but the aspect of super in both burrito cases seems to evade me somewhat (at least give me girth)- there seems to be a marked lack of sour cream or guacamole in either.

What almost salvages the entire experience is the raw indulgence of navigating the salsa bar's 17 varieties. Although the Pumpkin seed salsa, just seems to be nothing other than just revolting, unfortunately, the strawberry is just, fine.

The other way my date tries to distract from his lesser advantages is to get me drunk first. And you can do this quite easily at cancun sabor because marvelously, they have beer on tap. I really mean the marvelously element of this; draft beer is pretty important. 

Perhaps I'll give Cancun Sabor a second chance. Given the beautiful interior, farmed vegetables and extensive menu possibilities, it could have just been that there are some ends needed tying up (please not literally) or a bad mix of personalities, but in the world of dating (particularly when dating taquerias) it's hard to find the excuse to give second chances, especially after such a disappointment, when quite frankly, hay muchos peces en el mer.

(And most especially when it's so damned difficult to park nearby).

Salsa rating: potentially the strawberry one.