The Perfect SF Taco Crawl

San Francisco is home to incredible restaurants. It’s one of the many reasons I love this city. Among my favorite SF “activities” is organizing taco crawls in SF’s Mission neighborhood to bring friends, family, and visitors together in our Mexican food Mecca. Taco crawls are a walking celebration of that most delicious of tortilla-wrapped wonders: the taco.

It’s easy to get lost planning a taco crawl amidst the infinite permutations of culinary delight. But–alas–there’s good news for you: after years of walking the cracked Mission sidewalks with chorizo grease on my lips, I have compiled the (IMHO) Perfect SF Taco Crawl. I hope my adventures can be the beginning of your own.

The Taco Crawl Essentials

A well-executed taco crawl combines friends, food, and fun to create great memories and full stomachs. This means optimizing for food, drinks, cost, and walking distances. Here are the requirements for the perfect taco crawl:

  • Incredible, mouth-watering tacos: the most important thing.
  • Liquid refreshments: These will help catalyze conversations throughout the night about which is the best taco. The conversations will generally get louder as the night progresses.
  • Not too expensive: If you’re visiting multiple taquerias, you don’t want to drop a lot of money at each. Taco consumption shouldn’t be a cost prohibitive activity.
  • Some walking required: This is the “crawl” portion of the activity and good for digestion. The Italians have a beautiful word for this action–passeggiata–which is a leisurely stroll often taken after meals.
  • But not too much walking: You don’t want to lose steam in the middle of the night.

Additionally, there are a few (but important) rules:

  • You must get a taco or drink at every stop. OK, you don’t have to get something at every stop, but the greater the effort the greater the glory! Drinks need not be alcoholic — horchata, agua de jamaica, and Diet Coke (the carbonation goes well with the spice) work great. The Perfect SF Taco Crawl™ preferred beer selections are Pacifico and Modelo.
  • NO BURRITOS. I can’t emphasize this enough, and I’ve seen many taco crawl casualties from this spicy siren of the night. One burrito will fill you up and sideline you. Don’t be tempted by these delicious party crashers.

The Perfect SF Taco Crawl

With these considerations in mind, here is The Perfect San Francisco Taco Crawl (map and directions):

Map and directions for “The Perfect SF Taco Crawl.”
  • Start: Pancho Villa Taqueria (3071 16th St.): Look at the walls in the back of their restaurant. They’re covered with ribbons from all the awards this taqueria’s sauces have won. Is it my favorite taco in the city? No. Is it the best salsa bar for tacos? Yes. Try the orange salsa–el volcán–it’s delicious. And watch out for the light green salsa — it’s sneaky spicy.
  • Stop #2 (459 ft., 2 min): Blondie’s Bar & No Grill (540 Valencia St.): A classic Mission bar with a great drink selection. There’s something for everyone. Bartenders don’t skimp on volume. You typically get the remaining cocktail from the shaker in addition to your drink glass. There’s no tacos here, this is about the drinks and good Mission vibes.
  • Stop #3 (0.4 miles, 8 min): Taqueria Cancún (2288 Mission St.): A classic taco joint— the al pastor taco is a particular favorite here. I only wish I could combine the Pancho Villa salsa with the Cancun taco (you can BTW: just bring a couple Pancho Villa salsas in the provided plastic cups).
  • Stop #4 (0.5 miles, 9 min): Latin American Club (3286 22nd St.): You’re here for one reason: the house margarita. It’s delicious and it packs a punch. You may be tempted to have a second. Don’t do it. More than one of these drinks will quickly detour your taco crawl for either an early evening or a late (and sloppy) night.
  • Stop #5 (0.3 miles, 6 min): Taqueria El Farolito (2779 Mission St.): El Farolito is one of those places that is meant for end-of-night taco dining. There’s no pretension–just incredible tacos. Many taco crawls end here for good reason and chances are you run into another late night taco crawl crew.

But the taco crawl doesn’t have to end quite yet. If it’s an early night and you’re (somehow) still hungry:

  • BONUS Stop #6 (0.1 miles, 3 min): La Taqueria (2889 Mission St.): While this taqueria closes at 8:45pm (a full 5 hours before El Farolito’s 1:45am closing time…), it does have great tacos. If it’s still open and you’re hungry, it’s just a block more to this amazing taco haven.

And for the true gourmands / people with bottomless stomachs:

  • BONUS Stop #7 (0.2 miles, 5 min): Tacos El Patron (1500 S Van Ness Ave. #100): While all the other taco stops have been staples since I moved to San Francisco twelve years ago, El Patron opened in fall 2019. It might be lesser known since COVID disrupted its arrival on the taco scene, but these tacos are meaty, cheesy, and delicious. Special shout out to the amazing quesabirrias tacos. The restaurant does close earlier at 10:00pm, and it’s a little more expensive than the other taco choices on this list. But–if it’s open and there’s no line–well worth it.

The taco crawl generally takes a couple hours to complete, with ~35 min dedicated to walking time. It’s a beautiful balance, no?

Disagree? That’s OK.

There are other great Mexican places–Taqueria Vallarta, La Torta Gorda (particularly the sandwich which is not a taco), Buen Sabor (for those who like the novelty of hard shell tacos), etc. throughout the Mission (and broader SF) that I didn’t include on the list. Yes, I agree, they are terrific too.

The Perfect San Francisco Taco Crawl is my tried-and-true strategy based on years of taco crawls with friends. I hope it can provide the blueprint for many wonderful nights out with your circles too. If you disagree with the list or your crew has an alternative route that makes you happy — great! I’d love to hear about it. With tacos you can’t go wrong.

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