After hearing so many good things from friends, colleagues and even sources like Chow Magazine, I was excited to give Papalote a shot when my co-workers decided to head there for lunch. Finally, I would have a chance to sample their "practically-orgasmic" salsa!
Papalote is a taqueria with partial table service. You order your food at the counter, grab a drink, pay your way, take a number and head over to a table in the side room and eagerly await the server with your taco, burrito, quesadilla or other standard taqueria fare... which is exactly what I did.
The chips (still warm) and salsa were brought almost immediately - and for all intents and purposes, they were the highlight of the meal. The rich orange salsa was spicy, sweet and had a complexity of flavor not commonly found in the condiment. The texture was smooth with black flecks - possibly from black pepper or from the skin of roasted pumpkin or peppers (yep - the secret ingredient, I have been told, is pumpkin seeds). This salsa's only competition for #1 in San Francisco is by Orale Orale.
The steak for the Carne Asada (which got very high marks from my co-workers), as well as the chicken, is cooked to order on a grill instead of scooped out of a steam table bin... and though I didn't sample it, the meat certainly looked good: appropriately charred and tender.
The pork Chile Verde was also quite good, with distinct flavors of tomatillo, cilantro and citrus in the sauce. Unfortunately, this filling, when combined with refried beans, cheese, rice and guacamole and wrapped in a tortilla, didn't meld into that cheesy-goopy goodness that makes an excellent burrito. It was good, but not great. Certainly not on par with Victor's or Mexico au Parc - which just goes to show you: even if every component of a dish is excellent, sometimes it doesn't come together properly to make something amazing. This time, the components were better than the sum of its parts.
$8.89 for a super burrito, chips, salsa and a bottle of grapefruit soda. 3 stars for now, but I will certainly be back to try a carne asada quesadilla.