"[C]ritics Casey Deeha, Chipp Oatlay, Sal Savirdy and 'El Presidente Mole' promise to provide 'not merely a description of burritos, but a more writerly experience that gives the attention to burritos that they deserve.' Yep. You heard it here, folks. - Jay Barmann, SF Grubfest

"[Casey Deeha] also thinks it could be a matter of cultural heritage and sense of place why a Mission-style burrito is thought to taste the best in San Francisco." - Tamara Palmer, Zagat

"Bay Area Review of Burritos -a must read for anyone remotely interested in foil-wrapped tube food" - Kevin Montgomery, Up Town Almanac

Sunday, May 5, 2013

El Faro's Hugo Ontiveros, Superman and the 'Super Burrito'

Written by Casey Deeha

It is time that the truth is revealed. Everyday across this great area - the Bay Area - burritos are consumed in the thousands and among them: the 'super' burrito. And with the imminent release of the most recent installment into the Superman franchise, The Man of Steel , I thought to ask: is the 'super' in super burrito as poignant and descriptive as the 'super' in Superman or is it as arbitrary as caffeine? Who better to turn to for such ruminations than Hugo Ontiveros, son of Febronio Ontiveros, innovator of the Mission Style Burrito in 1961 at El Faro in the Mission. 

Let's paint the picture: we're in the Mission, it's 1961 and the cultural and social renaissance is taking place. Carlos Santana, once a resident of the Mission, has just released a live album and the 68ers have set the backdrop for the 'summer of love' to pave the way as a future lucrative marketing campaign. Political and cultural dissent is rife in the air and Carlo Santana sits down at a table at El Faro to order what will soon become known to the world as The Super Burrito.

'I remember when Carlos Santana used to come in and have a burrito,' says Hugo; 'he was like everyone in those days, he had his specific burrito.' Indeed, at El Faro, since 1961, patrons were choosing among a range of fresh Californian ingredients to create what has now become known as the 'Mission Style Burrito'. 'It was a crazy time,' says Hugo, 'everyone was coming in and out - there were a lot of people.'

Fast forward nine years and the late Christopher Reeves adorns the silver screen with a breathtaking rendition of the man of steel; I surely didn't see any wires. Of course, Christopher Reeves wasn't even a glimmer in the eyes of Hugo Ontiveros in 1969 - for Hugo, Superman was still soldered to the pages of the comic books that fulfilled long summer days. 'We were into Superman those days, of course,' says Hugo as they would constantly have to add the usual 'addendum' ingredients to their 'regular' El Faro burrito: guacamole, sour cream, and extra cheese. 'This happened all the time and my friends and I wanted to give it a name, and because we were into Superman, we called it the Super Burrito'.

Wow. Arbitrary? Maybe, but perhaps not as arbitrary as one would think. Unquestionably, one immediately associates the 'super' in Super Burrito with size and quality increase, and where this is an empirical truth, this quality of the super burrito is not its derivative. Taking 'super' as a qualitative improvement on flavor perhaps links this characteristic more closely to the original super hero status in that, the 'regular burrito,' like a Clark Kent becomes 'super' when adorning itself with these special qualities. Curious, considering that Clark Kent must disguise his 'true' nature by becoming a seemingly pedestrian earthling, then perhaps the 'regular' burrito is in a constant state of supressed superness until one releases its true super nature. However, this only holds true when the analogy turns on itself and I am left to wonder.

Arbitrariness is never as arbitrary as we would think. I'm sure Carlos and Hugo had these conundrums in mind in 1969. Until these mysteries are solved, I urge people to release the super-hero-burrito in all of us...

Superman orbits the earth while the sun sets and John Williams' Superman fanfare plays on and fades away...

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