Almost four years ago I moved to the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, into a one-room carriage house shaped like a perfect square surrounded by a virtual botanical garden. It was nestled behind a Victorian home, hidden from view by flowering bouginvilleas. The carriage house had floor to ceiling windows which flooded the room with light, a cobblestone floor, a teensy tiny kitchen, a wood burning fireplace (the only source of heat), and a bathroom that my friends called the “shower WC”, because the toilet/shower/sink were all squeezed into one miniscule room without partitions. The entire room got drenched during shower time, so, timing was everything. The sleeping loft was accessed by a rickety ladder, which I climbed every night while balancing Rocco (my Boston terrier) on one hip. It took me a week, after I moved in, to get up the courage to climb that ladder, and when I finally did it took me another week to climb up with Rocco; and thereafter I would say a nightly prayer that he wouldn’t walk off the edge in the middle of the night and end up splattered on the stones 20 feet below.
My neighbor who lived in the Victorian home was an older gentleman, in his 60's. A couch potato named B, who did nothing all day but watch television, drink Jack Daniels, and dream of being Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Twenty years earlier, he moved to San Francisco from Austin, Texas, where he had been working as a rent collector. He decided to leave Texas soon after one of his delinquent renters poured a can of paint on his head and he had to drive home in his fire engine red 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, covered in Smurf blue paint. He disliked animals, but loved Rocco. So, Rocco and I would walk up the stone path from our little square house to his, and I would listen to his stories about Marilyn and La Liz, while Rocco dozed on his lap.
Though I only lived in the carriage house for a year, Rocco and I are still friends with B; and we still live in the Mission. That experience signifies all that is wonderful about what I think is the most original, and diverse neighborhood in San Francisco. It is the place where you can live in a carriage house built in the 1800’s, an oasis behind an 8 foot bamboo fence where time seems to slow to a crawl; but then easily step out into the chaos and grittiness of a vibrant neighborhood scene.
Colorful street art and building murals, traveling mariachis, taquerias and carnicerias, performance art, outdoor concerts and random dance parties, mom and pop bodegas, sidewalk produce bins, activist bookstores and book readings, community gardens and hidden gardens, people watching, avant-garde theater, Dolores Park, coffee shops and dive bars, food trucks and food carts, Ice Cream Crawl, pirate supply store, vintage everywhere, the Mime Troupe, swanky lounges, The Tamale Lady, galleries, every type of food (Mexican, Peruvian, Greek, El Salvadorian, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Vegan, Freegan), sunshine (best weather in a city of micro-climates), and home to the famous Mission style burrito.
The Mission is hip, gritty, passionate, edgy, sexy, original, ethnic, artistic, historic, rambunctious, unpretentious and at times pretentious, beautifully sketchy, sometimes down and dirty, but always very cool; and I’m falling in love with it all over again. From sordid to elite, all roads lead to the Mission. And I call it home; at least for the next five days.
And I wasn't joking about that burrito. It is indeed famous. Ferocious debates have raged about which taqueria makes the best burrito, and loyalties run fierce. My personal favorite is La Taqueria, on the corner of Mission street and 25th street. At La Taqueria, the lines are long, but the burritos are huge and worth the wait. They were kind enough to allow me in their kitchen and teach me the art of creating the perfect Mission burrito. And in true Mission style, I'm spreading the love and sharing what I learned with you.
Mission Style Grilled Steak Burrito
Grilled Steak Burritos:
- 4 burrito size flour tortillas
- 1 pound top sirloin, or similar
- 1 small onion (optional)
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- 1 cup Spanish rice
- 1 cup pinto, refried or black beans
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 recipe Guacamole
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1 small jalapano, seeded and finelychopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 of a small bunch of cilantro, chopped
- Juice of 1 lime (or to taste)
Pico de Gallo:
- 1 tablespoon diced, seeded jalapeno
- 1 tablespoon diced onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup diced, seeded tomato
- 2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- Salt and pepper
Prepare the guacamole. Seed and peel avocados. Mash avocado with the back of a fork. For larger batches, a potato masher works well. Season mashed avocado with salt and pepper. Add jalapeno, onion, cilantro and tomato and combine. Add lime and combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Prepare the Spanish rice. In a saucepan heat 1 teaspoon oil and add 1/2 cup rice, 3/4 cup chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir and cover. Turn the heat down to low and allow to cook for 17 minutes. Do not lift the lid or stir during cooking. Fluff rice with a fork when done. Makes 1 1/2 cups rice.
Prepare the beans. For pinto/refried beans, combine one can refried beans and one can drained pinto beans. Add two pieces cooked bacon and allow to simmer over low heat.
Prepare the Pico de Gallo. Make the Guacamole at the same time; the ingredients are identical with the exception of avocado. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the Grilled Steak. Season to taste and grill to desired temperature. I prefer a medium temperature and a simple seasoning of salt, pepper and chipotle powder. Grill other veggies such as onion and pepper, too, if you choose to add those.
Roll the burritos! On a flour tortilla, layer amounts of beans, cheese, meat, grilled veggies (if using any), guacamole, pico de gallo and rice. With wet fingertips, fold over sides of the tortilla and roll up. Serve with your favorite hot sauce.
After rolling the burrito, and for extra crispiness, you can place it on a hot skillet or grill and cook until golden brown on both sides.