La Pasadita: Round 1 Review

#1. La Pasadita
1140 N Ashland
Carne Asada Burrito
$5.00 (no extras)

La Pasadita has quite a reputation among chow-hounds and burritophiles, but it might do a little bit of a number on the uninitiated. In fact, on my first visit a couple of years ago, it did a number on me too. This visit had come after a very long morning: my laptop had completely broken down, and I had located a repair shop on Ashland Avenue. After taking the Division bus eight blocks too far westbound (I had juxtaposed Ashland and Western in my mind -- perhaps the result of a hangover), I finally located the repair shop, only to be told that the laptop's motherboard was damaged and that I might as well buy a new machine. Seeking some comfort food, I found my way into La Pasadita and ordered a carne asada burrito. It was reasonably good, but my Chipolte-damaged palate was looking for something different: a Mission-style burrito full of cheese, beans, guacamole, and every other accoutrement that you can think of. Instead, La Pasadita's burritos are of a different breed, something which probably had its roots in the street vendors of northern Mexico rather than the kitchens of San Francisco.

The Food: That's right: La Pasadita's burritos do not contain beans. They do not contain cheese. They do not contain sour cream, and certainly not guacamole. They do not contain tomatoes. In fact, you cannot even order most of these things on the side; tomatoes and sour cream, available for 50c each, are the lone exceptions. The standard ingredients in the burrito are onion, cilantro, and your choice of meat; that is all. (Note: this applies only to the 1140 N. Ashland location, which is where I ate today. The 1132 N. Ashland location next door includes a significantly wider menu as well as table service).

So this is a burrito for which the meat very much has to speak for itself. And fortunately, it does. La Pasadita's steak is cut into thin slices and grilled on a skillet to order. The charcoal flavor really shines through, and while the meat probably wouldn't be served at David Burke's Primehouse, its quality is well above par for taqueria standards. The meat does contain a little bit of lean fat (just the perfect amount to my tastes, actually). On the other hand, because of the preparation method involved, the burrito is distinctly not greasy, and it goes down easily before and after.

The onions and cilantro are fresh-tasting, and that's about all they really need to be to complement the meat. Similarly, the green salsa is reasonably potent, but not overpowering even in relatively heavy doses; the grilled steak retains the dominant position in the flavor bouquet. Because of its simplicity, the burrito is decidely more impressive in the first three bites than the last three, but the portion size is just right, so that's not a major concern.

The Experience: There are actually three La Pasaditas located essentially right next door to one another: the two that I've mentioned, plus a third location on 1141 N. Ashland which serves as more of a takeout joint. I would recommend the 1140 N. Ashland location if you're after a quick bite, but to reiterate its menu is very minimal: just five different kinds of fillings (which I believe are carne asada, lengua, pork al pastor, veggie, and chile relleno; chicken is NOT among them) and two different "vessels" (tacos and burritos). You'll have to head south a few steps if you want to try another permutation.

Whichever location I've been to, La Pasadita has always done a brisk business at just about any time of day or night, and this afternoon was no exception. There were perhaps 25 or 30 customers that cycled through the restaurant in the 20 minutes or so that I was there. I was one of just two gringos among them; although that ratio has been higher on past visits, this speaks to the fact that this is a real, functioning taqueria, and not just some landing spot for drunken hipsters (hey, it takes one to know one).

The counter girl was a little sassy in a way that's a tiny bit reminiscent of The Wiener's Circle, but not rude by any means. There is a very ample seating area, and one of the line cooks will bring your food out to you. Turnaround time is not instantaneous, but remember -- they don't keep their steak sitting around in a vat, and you don't want them to. Overall, my (lofty) expectations were met, and it's going to be a tough act for Flash Taco to follow.

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