Unwrapping The Mission Burrito, San Francisco’s Mysterious Culinary Creation


David Pemberton

Let me tell you about the first time I ever saw a Mission-style burrito. I was walking home from my favorite comic shop in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s a part of town known for its rich Latino culture, colorful graffiti, tall palm trees, and a tight knit community. I was still new to the area and, on this specific evening, I was very, very drunk. I hiccuped my way down Mission Street, stumbling as I tried to pull up the address of the nearest BART station on my phone.

The illumination from the screen blazed like a beacon that screamed “I’M NEW HERE, DEFINITELY NOT A LOCAL.” And that’s when I bumped into Charlie.

Charlie was attacking a woman in a blue dress in the middle of Mission Street, just a block or two from the BART station. She was pulling on the woman’s dress and yelling words I couldn’t understand as the woman smacked back with her purse, trying to shake free.

I shoved myself in between the two women and yelled “Hey! Cool it!”

It wasn’t my best line. Like I said, I was drunk.

The woman in the blue dress ran away immediately. I turned to Charlie, sluggishly, just in time to see her slash at me with a knife.

“Christ on a bike!” I screamed, like a child. In an act of absolute luck—the kind of luck that makes you believe in God—I caught Charlie’s wrist and took the knife out of her hand.

{Don’t worry mom, it was just a steak knife. You need a really long knife to reach the important stuff.}

Charlie immediately broke down in tears. I stumbled back a bit, trying to figure out what to do, trying my best to determine the most appropriate course of action. I put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not going to call the cops… but please do not stab me.”

I handed her back the knife. Like I said, I was drunk.

Charlie didn’t stop crying right away. Instead, she went on, between sobs, about how hungry she was. I didn’t have any cash on me, but I did have a card, so I asked her if I could buy her dinner. She immediately pointed to La Corneta, a taqueria across the street from where we were standing.

I sat on the curb with Charlie while she unwrapped a gargantuan burrito. It was stuffed with chicken and pinto beans and pico de gallo, all inside a fresh steamed tortilla. The burrito seemed twice the size of Charlie’s head and, after her first bite, an aroma of intense spice, slow-stewed chicken, and handmade salsa lifted into the air and formed an ethereal fist. The fist punched me in the stomach. What is this wondrous burrito? I thought. Where does it come from? Surely Charlie can’t eat the whole thing by herself.

“Can I have a bite?” I asked.

“No,” Charlie said, clear as day. She burrowed further into her burrito.

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