"[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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Picante, 6th St., Berkeley

Written by Casey Deeha

In the mid to late 19th century, during the general historical notion termed 'manifest destiny,' the government would often hold competitions or races that would expedite the settling of the Midwest. Crowds of would be Americans raced to place flags in the ground to mark their future territory that would come to stay within their families for generations to come - amazing how wealth can be so arbitrary, but there you go. Anyone who's seen Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman will remember the last scene when the crazed scientologist literally punches his horse to ride like a maniac for his towering Aussie then-wife Nicole to claim his plot of land. It's a frenetic scene to say the least.

After watching this scene, you might have a decent idea of what it's like to claim a table at Picante on a Friday night. Enter the establishment and you'll be confronted with a sign instructing you to first order and then claim a table. This is all fine a dandy, although when there is a virtual sea of patrons all standing in line discussing their Mexican feast, the volume quickly rises along with the tension for there is the imminent doom of having to fight for a table.

I order, take my fancy electronic server device and I'm off. I run right, left, crisscross and all over. I look to my left and see a family of four beating an elderly couple; to my right I see an elderly couple beating a family of four; in front of me there are small children - feral - like they've been there for weeks following their burrito feast vying for survival and gnawing on the bones of their carne asada. In the back drop, there is a man with a head set shouting orders like a drill officer. In the insanity, I squint my eyes and make out a lone table out back by the fountain. I make a B-line and hope to find a white flag with my name on it.

I arrive in panic waiting for my fancy electronic server device to fulfill its purpose. The man arrives with a foil wrapped tube of pleasure. It's big and I look forward to a feast. I've ordered a rajas con papas burrito with 'slices of roasted poblano chile strips, onions and potatoes with crema'. I take my first bite and am quickly struck with a realization: burritos on the East Bay differ from burritos in 'The City'. Similar to the burrito that Sal Savirdy discusses in her review of Mi Casa in Walnut Creek, the style of this particular burrito is a such that it is a veritable meal one would find on a plate, wrapped in a tortilla. Of course, one might rebutt: 'but the nature of the burrito is derived from the fact that it was a Mexican meal wrapped in a tortilla' and this would be true. However, I would contest that the Mission style burrito, having been around since 1961, has superseded it's own derivation and become a burrito rather than a meal in a tortilla.

It is a somewhat pleasurable experience as I finish the Mexican-meal-in-a-tortilla and wash it down with a well earned Corona. I sit back and admire my plot of land knowing that I have worked hard to arrive at this position in my life, taking solace in knowing that may family is set until the next recession. The experience is difficult to express and perhaps Sal describes it best as a 'subversion of the burrito norm'.

I ponder this philosophical conundrum; it's tasty but not memorable. Saying this, I keep in mind the norms are stretched and America, while it's currency is devaluing, was built by those random peoples running like Asian Doles along the prairie hoping to take part in constructing a new paradigm. Keeping with the analogy, I for one would invest in gold taking into consideration that there would be Tom Cruises running around on a horses like dogs in heat.

(Tom searching for a table at Picante)

Salsa Rating: Frenetically Warm

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