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!

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  • jamie

    these are the greatest taco’s i’ve ever had! there is one next to a climbing gym so i can have lunch and then work off the calories that i’ve just consumed. i would recommend the lingua tacos, it sounds weird but at least try one. they taste like beef but the texture feels like it would melt on your tongue.

  • heidi

    During the episode Leslie gave highlights of Alfred’s mentioning they had grass-fed beef but during the restaurant’s own highlight, they said corn-fed. My internet search shows the home site says exclusively corn-fed. Is the grass-fed beef a new option or was this a mistake?

  • ely

    Dont eat from El Tonayense, I had a beef burrito that made me sick! The meat was too oily and mix in with fatty fat peices. The burrito was tiny and the ingridients had little favor. My wife, and 11 year son agreed that El Tonayense’s burritos had notting to rave about. Go to Pancho Villa by 18th and Catro, now there they have have the best burritos in town. These reviers are really bad, I went to El Tonayense because they recomend it, I regreat it totally.

  • Andrew

    The tacos I had there are not that bad!

  • http://www.douglemoine.com/journal Doug

    @Ely: Sorry that your El Tonayense experience was so bad. As a person who has eaten at pretty much every taqueria in town, I’m the first to admit that no taqueria cranks out universally awesome cuisine. Inconsistency is part of the territory. Chuck mentioned on the set that El Tonayense gets better cleanliness ratings than Bacco — 98 to 94. Check out http://www.cleanscores.com for more info.

    Also, I would guess that the taqueria that you’re describing at 18th and Castro is either Zapata or La Tortilla. As far as I know, the only Pancho Villas are at the Embarcadero and at 16th between Mission and Valencia. And, dude, if you really are talking about those Zapata or La Tortilla, I will recommend that you recalibrate your meter by getting back to Mission ASAP and checking out some of the more consistent fare — La Taqueria may be more to your liking, or El Metate.

  • Scott

    As a neighbor to El Tonayense, I’ve eaten here 2-3x / week for a couple years now. The quesadilla is a hands down winner. I refuse to order one anywhere else. As suggested above inconsistency is common, I’m sitting next to a ‘dilla that is definitely NOT chicken. And I dont eat red meat! I dont like not being able to see what ingredients go in your order. I keep meaning to swear off Tonayense but 90% of the time–they get it right. So I’ll swear them off for a few weeks and then the urge will strike–and then we’ll be friends again, repeat as necessary.

  • Will

    I had sent the El Tonayense trucks for years and had always just dismissed them as roach coaches (of which I have no fear) but after seeing a similar review where the cleanliness was mentioned I decided to give it a try.
    My partner and I are both devotees of offal, chitlins, ears, feet, tripe, whatever it may be, we continually seek out places to get a gut fix, always wary that you want to procure these items from a place that does a high turnover of such perishable products.
    The cabeza at Tonayense is off the hook, the tripitas are divine but it is here that I have discovered buche and I am smitten. It has the consistency and taste of hog maws yet I am told is a part of the hog’s neck. I have yet to go to a good latin butcher to see what the cut looks like in the raw so to speak and have yet top try my hand at cooking it myself but this stuff is divine.
    I have honestly never tried their carne asada or any of the other pedestrian items that I could get at any Taqueria but I have been to the Truck near Best Buy countless times and also made several visits to the actual restaurant on 24th St and would never hesitate to order anything. The food is fresh and the the quality is great.
    No, they are not the biggest burritos in town but at the same time I am not always seeking large portions of mediocrity.

  • Will

    p.s. if you go to the actual Tonayense restaurant on 24th St and order the tripe you can request that they “pasar por la plancha” and they will toss it on the flat top and crisp up the fatty edges of the tripe, true Heaven.