Friends, a beloved Mission institution is in tremendous danger.
You see, Nate Silver, a renowned statistician and journalist who rose to fame by correctly predicting 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election, just so happens to be a self-proclaimed burritophile. So naturally, as Editor-In-Chief of FiveThirtyEight, a data-driven journalism site, he’s thrown significant (well, in the world of burrito-ranking) resources at trimming down data gathered from 67,391 burrito-serving establishments on Yelp into a nationwide 64-burrito bracket.
Of the 64 burritos that made the bracket, which was broken into four regions – South, West, Northeast, and California (yes, I agree, California should have had its own competition) – San Francisco’s own HRD Coffee Shop, El Farolito, La Taqueria, and, of course, Taqueria Cancún, made the cut.
On the road all summer to consume and score burritos from each taqueria, shack, truck, and eatery on the list is Anna Maria Barry-Jester, possessor of quite possibly the world’s best job. As it stands, the competition is three out of four reviews through round 2. Still alive from the four San Francisco qualifiers are La Taqueria, which blitzed past competition from lesser Southern California opponents in round 1 before sneaking into the finals, and underdog Taqueria Cancún, which outmuscled much stiffer competition in the opening round against local rivals HRD and Farolito, along with Sacramento’s Chando’s Tacos. Cancún faces a much easier slate in round 2, with its only serious threat being Delicious Mexican Eatery in El Paso, Texas. Barry-Jester called Cancún’s round 1 win a “major upset,” but I wasn’t in the least bit surprised.
Full disclosure: I live on San Carlos Street in between 19th and 20th, which puts me right around the corner from Cancún. If I haven’t had at least one burrito from that heaven-on-Earth in any given week, I’m either out of town or having a serious existential crisis. I constantly shout to anyone who will listen that the Cancún al pastor burrito is far and away the city’s best burrito, and it’s about time my claims were given validation. Yes, those shouts come with plenty of bias, but I have tried burritos from all over SF, including the three others in FiveThirtyEight’s original bracket. El Farolito is great, but it’s also overrated. I said it.
So here’s the thing. As thrilling as it first was to discover I haven’t just been blowing smoke about my taqueria around the corner, a dark, troubling reality has since entered my mind: if Cancún wins this dance, its charming, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere will not be long for this world. This affects us all.
Three-quarters of the way through Round 2, you can see the effects of FiveThirtyEight’s competition on Cancún’s already cramped interior. The place has always been busy during dinner and late weekend nights, but now the standard wraparound line during rush hours extends down the hallway in the back before making its signature U-turn. This isn’t the linear progression that can be attributed to just word of mouth. This is the Internet starting to cause cracks in the dam.
RUN, people. Run and get yourself a super burrito filled with pure delight before you find yourself at the end of the line outside 16th and Mission Bart. San Francisco is one of the world’s culinary capitals, so it won’t take long for international tourists and transplants from all over the Bay Area to flood Cancún’s colorful, paper-cutout-lined interior if Barry-Jester crowns it a champion.
You worry about these things as a citizen of San Francisco (and the world, really), you know? What happens when Cancún gets nationwide fame? Price increases? Widespread franchising? Sponsorships? Mascots? Action figures? God forbid. At the very least, burrito innards would be mixed way faster than they already are to push customers out the door faster, resulting in less uniform ingredient distribution throughout. This very real possibility can be viewed as nothing less than an absolute tragedy.
To quote Adam Sandler’s character in Spanglish, discussing the ideal review for his restaurant, “Three and a quarter stars [out of four]…yes, that would be perfect…you just missed out on excellence. You’re right below the radar, where you get to mind your own business.” Let’s forget for a moment that Spanglish is an exceedingly average film and Sandler is never one to take seriously. This is actually a good concept, and exactly what I wish for Taqueria Cancún.
The establishment’s employees work incredibly hard and produce world-class food at an affordable price. It’d be a shame to deprive them of that under-the-radar, high-class quality they’ve honed over the years by involuntarily opening the local treasure’s doors to the whole world. So here’s to them (hopefully) not quite winning this thing.
Keep it secret, keep it safe. I ❤ you, Cancún.
Photo by Jan Zeschky via Flickr