The year was 2014, and FiveThirtyEight's Burrito Bracket had elevated data journalism to new heights. Just kidding, that was a waste of time and money, as the winner, La Taqueria, was a pretty obvious pick (for good or ill, depending on your leanings).
That's also sort of what OC Weekly writer Gustavo Arellano reveals in a piece this week explaining why a potential underdog candidate, the Mission's El Castillito, was excluded from the running altogether — and why, in his words, it should have won.
A curious afterlife has emerged over a burrito that wasn't considered because of me: El Castillito in San Francisco, on Mission and 17th streets. During our Burrito Bracket deliberations, I specifically excluded the spot from deliberations because I felt that my sentimentality over the place—I've eaten here once a year since 2000, drawn to its ruddy al pastor, silky-smooth beans and rice, toothsome tortillas, and a television perpetually tuned to soccer matches—clouded my objectivity in saying it's the best burrito in the world.
In 2014, Arellano was already playing up how sad it was that he'd been responsible for overlooking the spot, with head burrito correspondent Anna Maria Barry-Jester adding that she too would "always remember El Castillito as the one that got away." Barry-Jester quotes chef David Chang as saying of El Castillito: “I don’t know. It might be the best burrito I’ve ever eaten.”
Folks, just relax. You can still go there. If anything, you've done everyone a service by not putting it on a pedestal or blowing up its spot, so to speak. It's going to be okay.
The occasion for Arellano to look back once again and wonder what could have been: In Bon Appétit this month, local food writer John Birdsall wrote a feature story on burritos. In it, he sings the praises of the humble taqueria between 16th and 17th on Mission Street.
Bearded bros are nowhere in sight on the Mission Street sidewalk in front of El Castillito. There’s only a mighty cliff of a man, sucking at the remaining inch of what must have been an epic blunt. Nearby, businesses sell car insurance and cheap bleached jeans—this is the kind of place where the Mission burrito was nurtured.
Birdsall later exclaims of the El Castillito burrito that "This could be the best Mission burrito in San Francisco. This could be the best Mission burrito in the world. Damn, I’ll go Chang one better: This is the best burrito I’ve ever eaten." How could it come to be?
Maybe it’s survived, with original Mission soul intact, by building enough of a wall to obscure it from the tourists, the techies, and the condo buyers. That’s some irony: The most authentic Mission burrito is also the most obscure. Long may it roll.
So don't tell anyone I guess? Oops.