The outside of a taqueria with a man looking in the restaurant.
Al Carajo! Photo by Maria C. Ascarrunz

The word carajo, in Spanish, can have several meanings/connotations, the most basic referring to a certain male appendage, or sometimes it’s used as an emphatic interjection, like the Eff word, but when paired with “Al,” it can also mean, “go to Hell!” I’d like to think that chef/owner Javier Leon, in naming his food truck-turned-storefront taqueria “Al Carajo!,” meant to communicate a lively expression of joy; the joy of bringing the food from his homeland to the Mission. 

In any case, after having seen the taco truck over two years ago at a nearby gas station, and then, sadly, never again, I was thrilled to find his brick-and-mortar store appear so near us. Chef Leon told me he’d been doing pop-ups over the last couple of years, but when this space opened up on 22nd Street, he jumped at it. More Yucatecan in the Mission? Bring it! 

Al Carajo! has a couple of tall tables and stools for seating in the brightly lit, whimsical interior, and a small two-seater outside, and we did takeout on a recent chilly evening.  

The BF ordered the poc chuc burrito, I got the cochinita pibil tacos on house-made corn and ube tortillas, and we shared a poc chuc salbute and a chicken tinga panucho, just to taste a little of everything.

Al Carajo! burrito, salbute, panucho, cochinita pibil tacos

Both of us loved the cochinita pibil, pork marinated in citrus and burnished with achiote, then cooked in banana leaves. The meat on these open-faced tacos was classic, juicy and well-seasoned, the ube tortillas offering a rich and slightly sweet contrast to the tender pork, with a good crunch from the pickled onions.  

Visit a Market this weekend

Poc chuc is a favorite of mine but, unfortunately, the meat in the very fat burrito (full of rice and beans as well as pork), and also in the salbute (a crispy, fried corn tortilla topped with shredded meat, avocado, pickled onions, and sometimes cabbage) was a bit tough, and could have used more marinating, or perhaps should have just been chopped into smaller pieces. As for the panuchos, I’m personally not a huge fan of chicken tinga; I find the chicken tends to be dry, as breast meat can sometimes be, although the sauce was quite juicy with a good amount of smoky chipotle flavor. The panucho itself (a puffy corn tortilla stuffed with a black bean puree and topped with similar items as the salbute) was delicious, with that familiar, homey taste and aroma that only fried corn tortillas can evoke, as was the salbute. The salsas were all excellent; sparklingly fresh, spicy, limey, with the habanero one packing quite a punch. 

I’m eager to try their ceviches, fish tacos, and the intriguing birria pizza (be still my heart!) and the cheesy tiger shrimp and chorizo taco sound decadent. Al Carajo! offers a vegetarian taco, too, as well as a quesadilla and agua chile.

I’m hoping Chef Leon continues to explore his Mayan roots and doubles down on more of the traditional flavors from the Yucatan. The small stretch of 22nd Street Al Carajo! sits on has lately been devastated by the pandemic, the economy, you name it, and there are various eateries that have closed. 

Let’s all welcome our new neighbor. Only good can come of those who share their culinary nostalgia with us. 

Al Carajo! (website)
3224-1/2 22nd St.

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  1. Too bad the reviewer didn’t try the veggie tacos- really fresh & delicious (so was the ceviche Yucateco and those salsas). Suggestion to the owner—have a $1-2 add-on option to those taco like black beans or pumpkin seeds to make them a nice light vegan snack. I’ll be back.

    1. good to know! I also heard that their shrimp taco was very good too. I, too, will be back.