3513 Rainier Ave S, no phone
10 am-10 pm every day.
I'm not going to be one of those annoying former S.F. residents who bloviates about how amazing the Mexican food is in the Mission in San Francisco. I would argue that it's not amazing at all, merely really, really good--consistently so--and cheap. It's food by the people, for the people, and the across-the-board goodness is noteworthy; you never hear that a particular taqueria is to be avoided. You may have your favorite, but your standby is probably the one geographically closest to you. Mine was a block and a half from my apartment; it mysteriously had three names, one on the exterior signage, one painted on the window, and one on the menu posted inside. When it closed, I just started going to La Taqueria next door, which was also entirely satisfactory (though the subject of controversy for its eschewal of rice in its burritos).
I now live equidistant from three sit-down Capitol Hill places that would happily serve me a combo plate covered with an inch of coagulating cheese for around $10. I hadn't had Mexican food in six months--until the bus.
Two different people told me about the taco bus in the same week. Promisingly, they didn't rave, only said it was really, really good, super cheap, and possessed of the self-evident charms of being a bus. People have differing ideas about what constitutes a romantic dinner; I nominate the taco bus on a rainy night. It's parked in a vacant lot on a semi-desolate stretch of Rainier; inside, it's warm from a heat lamp, the fluorescent lighting makes you look peculiarly green, and a tasteful amount of artificial foliage complements the glossy laminated photos of the food on offer. The front has narrow metal counters down the sides with stools anchored far enough away that you're sure to cover your lap in food, while in the back is the kitchen, ship-like, tidy, incredibly cute. The rain drips down the outside of the windows--you can't really see out--and you feel like you are en route to nowhere.
I shared the romance of the taco bus with two friends; we ate until we had to stop and had Mexican sodas for a grand total of $22.55. Shrimp ceviche tostadas ($2.50 each) had a hard-to-believe amount of limey, spicy shrimp heaped on an alarmingly yellow, crunchy tostada, topped by a beautiful, unscarred slice of avocado. A chicken quesadilla ($4) was massive, its meat dripping with a light, ungreasy rojo sauce that raised it far above your usual dry, grilled pollo. The bus doesn't offer a "super" option for burritos, and the wisdom of forgoing sour cream and guacamole was made bountifully evident by a carnitas version ($4). The shredded, marinated pork had a slight bacony flavor and a little heat, with tiny flecks of red pepper and herbs; some bits were a little dry but overall it was quite moist. It's a standout home-style taste and texture, the kind you don't want to adulterate (and I'm a huge fan of adulteration). The burrito's tortilla wrapper was thin and grilled briefly on both sides before assembly, offering delicacy without structural compromise. We also ate/ wore some sopitas ($1.50), adorable little masa cakes (like polenta mated with a crumpet) piled with one's choice of meat, beans, a confetti of lettuce, tomato, Mexican sour cream, and mild, crumbled cotija cheese.
I've been back to the taco bus three times in the past week (it's open, magnificently, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day), most recently in the middle of writing this article. I'm now looking at my new favorite thing in the world, a mulita ($1.50). I've never seen this on a menu in San Francisco. It's two small corn tortillas, both put on the grill and topped with a restrained amount of jack cheese; your choice of meat visits the grill briefly (the bus' pork adobado is excellent, with bits of cilantro and onion and chunks of meat in an chile-infused orange-red sauce) then becomes, along with a single slice of avocado, the filling in a happy sandwich of the tortillas and melted cheese. This one came home wrapped in foil for research purposes, but you're a fool if you don't eat it hot on the bus.
I understand there's another taco bus in White Center, and the taco truck near the Ballard Bridge is very well spoken of. I'm not ready to branch out yet, nor may I ever be; while it's still a haul, the bus on Rainier is geographically closest to my apartment.