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Mexicana, La Civic Center / TenderloinOMR: 7.75
969 Sutter
cross street: Hyde/Leavenworth
ph. 415/292-7108
Map Visits: 5
The Inconsequential Express. Good dancer / firm handshake. “Here, have some food.” Despite a few impressive burrito ratings between 2005-09, these and other backhanded asides have peppered our La Mexicana reviews over the years. Our most recent visit saw a definite slip in slabular quality, but still — come for the hokey murals, one of which features a buxom maiden giggling as her lovelorn serenader gets chased off (pants torn and all) by a snarling pooch. Then stay for the...nine-mustache refried beans? The bottled beer? Cash only.

Will My Health Be Violated?

03/16/10Super Spicy Beef$7.387.50 Mustaches
Swish: size (9); beans (9); spiciness (9); tortilla (8); rice (8); vegetables (8); ingredient mix (8); burstage abatement (8)
Shrug: sauciness (7); temperature (6)
Clang: meat (5); cheese (4)
Intangibility bonus: 1 (of 2)

We’ve seen few burrito interiors so dominated by salsa roja as that of this truly enormous dunch slab. And despite a bevy of positive-leaning element performances, including all-business spice and some inarguably terrific refried beans, La Mexicana’s latest foray into our critical mustache mill suffered notably for its unavoidable shortcomings: remarkably flavor-free cuts of beef; temperature dips that veered dangerously close to the dreaded kingdom of clangdom; and, repeatedly uncalled-for sightings of unmelted Jack cheese. Top-end burstage and an overall floppy unwieldiness contributed to a few difficult moments of handling, while the friendly burritotista behind the counter clearly went a bit overboard staining every inch of the burrito's innards with the fearsome house red (sauce). Still, the ingredient mix was something to be proud of, and our panel had no truck with the gently grilled tortilla. But we were clearly surprised that its Overall Mustache Rating™ turned out as vaguely respectable as it did, considering the unforgivable flaws polluting this burrito.

04/20/09Super Ground Beef$7.388.25 Mustaches
Swish: spiciness (10); burstage abatement (10); meat (9); sauciness (9); temperature (9); size (8); tortilla (8); rice (8); beans (8); vegetables (8)
Shrug: ingredient mix (6)
Clang: cheese (4)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Get over the inevitable Del Taco association — it’s high time “ground beef” became a valued phrase in San Francisco’s burrito lexicon. Along with Caramba, La Mexicana and its carrot-speckled ground beef is positioned to lead this minor revolution. This densely stuffed slab racked up eight-and-a-quarter mustaches despite a disappointing cheese performance and an ingredient mix that was clearly less than the best. Why? The Mexicana’s extra-seasoned meat played a key role, although there’s certainly no discounting the effect of top-grade spicing (courtesy of robust salsa verde and something hellacious in the beef mix), as well as a firm grasp of temperature and construction fundamentals. Spanish rice and refried beans created a rock-solid foundation, while tomato-rich pico de gallo anchored a terrific veggie contingent. The tortilla was nicely grilled and intangibility turned out to be an every-bite factor, although we could have gone for some bumpin’ tuba-pop on the non-existent jukebox.

05/17/06Super Carnitas$6.747.83 Mustaches
With this faceless, yet effective effort, La Mexicana became a repeat contributor to our occasional Good Dancer / Firm Handshake burrito series. Other than some profoundly dry Spanish rice and an ingredient mix that somehow shoved most of the fried pork down to the bottom half of the slab, everything seemed to behave pretty well; conversely, with the exception of the sharply grilled tortilla and completely unerring burstage abatement, nothing prompted wild cheers from our panel of sour-faced cynics. Sizing was modestly impressive, and we enjoyed the deliciously pasty refried beans. Fiery seasoning danced on the periphery - never absent, but rarely making a significant impact. And as was the case with the well-seasoned carnitas, the ancillary spice suffered from a lack of proper dispersal within the tortilla. The suspect ingredient mix also sponsored a few lukewarm bites inclusive of un-melted grates of jack and cheddar, but thankfully, the incident was isolated. As such, we could only dole out one adequate mustache for intangibles, rather than the two bitchin’ ones a 7.83-mustache burrito usually merits. Someone, anyone - get this place some character, on the double.
08/18/05Super Chicken Verde$6.748.17 Mustaches
8.17 mustaches worth of shoulder shrugs here, despite a marked improvement in overall burrito quality from our visit two summers prior. Much like our first trip to Taq. La Tambora, La Mexicana delivered a burrito that scored well top to bottom, but still seemed short on intangible distinction. Sure, five nine-mustache ratings left big marks, and no single element here merited anything less than seven hairy ones. Its intimidating length practically stopped traffic out on Sutter, while the back-counter crew covered all the burrito basics – from consistently warm bites to brilliant burstage abatement – like a wool blanket. La Mexicana’s fiery, tasty sauce dominated from bite one, and even though they may have gone a bit heavy on the carrot-spackled Spanish rice, the ingredient mix remained on balance throughout. And the light-toned refried beans were notable for their extra-pastiness. So what was missing? Soul. Yes, this burrito could have used a heaping helping of can’t-see-it, can’t-scoop-it, can’t-even-put-a finger-on-it soul. Perhaps we’ve caught the last train to Skepticsville, but the truly great burritos of the world are built of more than simply generous dimensions, foolproof construction, and a few nicely mixed ingredients. All aboard La Mexicana’s Inconsequential Express.
06/15/03Super Carne Asada$5.996.00 Mustaches
Moments of great taste were sadly sandwiched between unspectacular early bites and a downright lame hind end. Most at fault were this slab’s multiple temperature tragedies, its overly generous spoonfuls of refried beans, and the cuts of unflashy steak wedged within its dull tortilla walls. A mouthful of unmelted cheese speaks a thousand words of discouragement.