Chicken Tacos from La Taqueria. The basket of pork tacos was nearby.

We can blame Chad Robertson for this. He’s set the gold standard by consistently turning out perfectly chewy/crusty/memorable loaves at Tartine Bakery.   When foodies make such a monumental deal about food, why shouldn’t we expect  perfection in every bite?  So, while others give you reviews, Perfect (or Not), launched on May 12, 2014, and running on occasional Fridays,  seeks perfection one dish at a time. 

How can you tell when a food you’re eating has achieved perfection?

I was talking about food to an Italian reporter recently, and I asked him to name his favorite restaurant. “It’s not in the Mission,” he said. So, where?

It’s in the Fillmore, where he first lived when he came to San Francisco. State Bird Provisions, now with one star from Michelin, was just starting out, too. He said there were a few dishes that made him cry.

Wow. I don’t think any dish has ever made me cry, but then again, I’m not Italian. Still, wouldn’t that be wonderful? So I went in search of a dish that would bring on tears.

The likeliest trigger, I decided, was a taco at La Taqueria. I sat down and ordered my usual: one pork taco, one chicken. As usual, they combined a generous serving of meat with salsa and pinto beans. And, as always, each taco was wrapped in not one, but two corn tortillas. That’s so the taco can’t fall apart.

I thought about the meat, never dry. I thought about the pintos, always creamy. And the price—only $3.75. Cheap at twice the price, though don’t tell La Taqueria.

But I choked up over the two corn tortillas. So solicitous, so . . . loving. If I’d been raised by the owners of La Taqueria, I’m sure they would have tucked me into bed each night, wrapping me in a blanket like an extra-large taco, instead of leaving me, a middle child, to forage for myself. My eyes flooded with tears. I dabbed my cheeks with a napkin so that salt water wouldn’t fall on my taco. It was, after all, perfect.

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I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

I provide editing support for Mission Local from New York, about 2500 miles away from SFO. (I just looked it up.) This allows me to retain my journalistic objectivity and fussy adherence to East Coast standards of punctuation. I got involved with Mission Local a few years ago through Lydia, whom I met in the early 1980s at The New York Times, where I was a business reporter. Since then I've been in and out of journalism and nonprofits, and have also tried my hand at fiction. A couple of years ago I contributed Mission Local's first fiction series, a comic novel called Love in the Middle Ages.

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6 Comments

  1. Take your La Taqueria experience to the next level and order your next tacos “El Dorado” style. They fry the inside corn tortilla and keep the outside one soft (the inspiration for Nick’s Crispy Tacos on Polk). A roommate introduced me to El Dorado style at La Taqueria and I felt like my previous years of eating there were wasted on lesser meals.

      1. my god, i can’t believe that’s your favorite spot and you HAVEN’T tried them ‘dorado’ style…

        wow. go now, what are you doing reading this? go there now.

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