El Tonayense: Reviews

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Beef TortaPork TacosHorchata
Beef Torta, “Al Pastor” Pork Tacos, Horchata Rice Milk Beverage

Doug Lemoine
Name: Doug
Occupation: High Tech Product Designer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: El Tonayense Taco Truck
Reviewed El Tonayense Taco Truck: Sunday January 20, 2008

So here's the thing about burritos and Mexican food in general in the Bay Area: you can't expect to get everything at one place. The burrito scene is complex, and you need to explore its ecology in order to find the tastes, ingredients, and specialties that match your palette.


I love El Tonayense, and there was a time in my life when I ate six to ten Tonayense tacos a week, but I wouldn't say that I think El Tonayense is the best Mexican food for every taste and every occasion. If you like al pastor (barbecue pork), carne asada (grilled beef), and the occasional quesadilla, and if you're willing to eat stuff that's being served from a truck (but cooked elsewhere), and if you were running low on cash, then you'd strike Acapulco gold with one of the Tonayense trucks.

If you want something non-meat-oriented, there are lots of places that serve fresher, tastier fare. If you like exotic meats like brains, eyes, cabeza, and you want to do it yourself with sauces, you could walk a couple of blocks to La Cachanchilla (aka, the Taco Window) on 21st. If you had $10 and wanted carnitas, maybe you'd check out crispy tacos at La Taqueria. There are so many other taquerias in the Mission, though, and lots of them have specialties that are really worth checking out.

One surprising, even shocking, thing about Tonayense is its cleanliness. You just don't expect the back of a taco truck to be clean, much less spotless, but these trucks are more like mobile taco laboratories than mere taco trucks. I'll state the obvious: Tonayense's cleanliness gives a person confidence and comfort as he or she is watching people prepare food through a window in the side of a truck.

The bottom line is that Tonayense is clean, dependable, and tasty in what it does well, and it's affordable. The al pastor dishes are always spicy and smooth, and the quesadillas are solid, no frills, just good ol' melted cheese on a tortilla. You don't have to worry about locking your bike (or even getting off it) when you order. In short, it's bike-friendly, perfectly San Franciscan fast food.

Tamsen Salvador
Name: Tamsen
Occupation: Internet Retailer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bacco
Reviewed El Tonayense Taco Truck: Sunday January 20, 2008

I approached the El Tonayense taco truck on Harrison Street between 19th and 20th Streets with trepidation. I never eat at “roach coaches” for fear that I might not survive the experience, but this one came highly recommended, I was hungry, and it was just a couple of blocks away from the office supply store I was headed to. I walked bravely up to the order window when what should I spy? The health inspector’s report card announcing the truck’s score of 92! I breathed a sigh of relief, peeked into the very clean looking truck and ordered.

The menu, hand-painted on a board hung on the side of the shiny aluminum truck, offered a limited, yet adventurous, menu of tacos, burritos, and tortas. Anyone for “lengua” (tongue), “tripa” (tripe), or “cabeza” (head), which turns out to be beef cheeks? We ordered a super “Al Pastor” barbecued pork burrito and a super vegetarian burrito thinking that “super” meant we would get the usual dollops of guacamole and sour cream, but we were happily mistaken. It turns out that El Tonayense burritos are made the way burritos are made in the suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico where El Tonayense gets its name -- no guacamole, no sour cream, these condiments are just for gringos. El Tonayense is authentic Mexican street fare.

The pork burrito was delicious, nice chunks of pork in a spicy barbecue sauce with just the right amount of smoky flavor, pinto beans, and small-grained rice. Fresh cilantro and onions provided a nice counterpoint to the other flavors offering an even greater depth of flavor. The vegetarian burrito was a revelation, full of fresh flavors, including rice, beans, chipotle cheese, tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and some sort of dressing. When I asked what was in the dressing, the cook smiled and said he couldn’t tell me because it’s a secret. That’s fine by me, it was so nice not to get the usual vegetarian carbohydrate bomb made up of rice, potatoes, and carrots all wrapped up in a tortilla for just a bit more starch. Even though the burritos are large, they don’t sit like a brick in your belly the way other burritos usually do.

It was a rainy day when we stopped by the truck for lunch, so we ate in the car. I smiled when the clerk asked if our order was “for here or to go” since “here” was the sidewalk in front of some warehouses. While not the most scenic area of town, that part of Harrison can be pretty quiet, and if the weather had been better, we would have sat down with our backs against the chain link fence and enjoyed the urban/warehouse ambiance. Some of the best food in Mexico is street food, but if you can’t go to Mexico, try the streets of San Francisco. Well, at least, Harrison Street where you’ll find three El Tonayense taco trucks and the best burritos in town.

Charles Wibbelsman
Name: Charles
Occupation: Kaiser Permanente Pediatrician
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Alfred's Steakhouse
Reviewed El Tonayense Taco Truck: Wednesday February 6, 2008

On a warm, sunny, February day at noontime, I ventured out to find the El Tonayense Catering Truck at 14th and Harrison Streets in the Inner Mission, almost SOMA section, of San Francisco. In the warm sunshine, parked on Harrison Street at 14th, directly in front of the parking lot of the Best Buy store, was a white truck with many windows and a line of five people waiting to place their orders.

Fortunately, the truck is parked quite conveniently adjacent to the parking lot which allows for easy, no hassle parking. My first move, however, was not to go to the truck nor join the line, but to go into the Best Buy store and inquire if any of the employees had "dined" at this most convenient eatery. I was able to find a few of the employees who had engaged in a repast from the truck in the past few days. My first question was, did they like it, and my second question was, did they experience any illness following the ingestion of their food. All of the employees with whom I spoke stated that the food was quite good and had not had any untoward illnesses subsequently.

With this history taken, I left the store and joined the very short line in front of the truck. I inquired among some of the other patrons what they were ordering or had ordered and what was good. There is a succinct list of items: tacos, burritos, and tortas. There were also canned and bottled drinks available, as well as a white "rice" type drink, horchata, that was ladled out from a huge plastic container, which one of the patrons allowed me to inspect. She stated that it was very good. I ordered a chicken taco, a beef torta, and a Diet Coke. The service was friendly, polite, and quite efficient.

I returned to my office a few minutes later to enjoy this repast. I must admit that the ingredients -- the onions, white cheese, and other components of the sauce in the torta -- were very fresh and crisp. The taco was accompanied by a fresh slice of lime. The chicken and the sauce in the taco were very flavorful, although the tortilla that the taco was made from was a bit doughy. The Torta, an entree that I was not familiar with, was very flavorful, a fresh dark toasted roll filled with very fresh grilled beef, imbued with a green onion and cheese-filled sauce. This was definitely a good choice: very flavorful and quite a large portion for the price of $5.50.


Consumption of this torta resulted in lots of oozing sauce and the use of muchos servietas! My only critique would be that the beef, though very fresh, charcoaled, and tasty, did have occasional uninvited gristle picked up in the process of mastication. All in all, I would say that if one is in this neighborhood and would like a tasty lunch that is fresh and very reasonable in price, this is the place to join the line!