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A few minutes with burrito-phile Dan Johnson

January 16, 2007

"A few minutes with" is a lighter look at a student who has been in the news.

Photo of Dan JohnsonDan Johnson gets anxious when he hasn't eaten one of San Francisco's famously big burritos in a few days. In 2005 he and friends created, which features more than 1,000 user reviews of burritos in the Bay Area and beyond. The site has been featured in "Bay Area Backroads," Investor's Business Daily and the San Francisco Chronicle. When not visiting taquerías or working on his master of arts in creative writing, Johnson writes Web content and press releases for Bay Area companies.

What's the longest you've gone without a burrito?
When I was an undergrad [at Duke University], I was living in North Carolina, so I'd go months. Then I'd come back and I'd be pretty legendary. I grew up in Oakland and then moved to Los Altos in the South Bay when I was about 10. We'd go to this place called Taquería Los Charros in Mountain View and also a place called Taquería La Bamba in Mountain View. I would come back from [college] and just go crazy. My record was 14 [burritos] in 10 days, which was just wrong but I was completely insane.

Who are your heroes?
Writing wise, I'd say Neil Gaiman. He's my relative obsession for the past five or six years. I think he's just amazing. There's a relatively local guy named Christopher Moore, who writes really humorous things with a little bit of a twist, set mostly in California. He's written about cults and vampires and weird sea monsters and things like that. I really like … Dr. [Paul Farmer], who made his mojo doing low-cost clinics in Haiti. He's the subject of a book called "Mountains Beyond Mountains." In terms of people who've done wonderful things for the world, he's a saint.

What was your first-ever job?
I had a paper route. That was when I was 10 years old. … Basically, get on my bike and go the five blocks around my parents' house, ride back and come home. Peninsula Times-Tribune is what it was called. Paper no longer exists.

What are your passions?
Food, running, new experiences. I love to travel. I've been to 26 or 27 countries. I hope to go to South America again during Christmas break. A lot of what I do when I travel is hike and find what's good to eat. … I love experiencing new street food, just going somewhere, pointing out something that looks odd, eating it and figuring out what's going on. You end up eating some very strange things that way -- bugs in Thailand, that kind of stuff.

So you've had bugs before?
I've had bugs. It's not particularly good, but it's not bad. It's just a bug, right? It's still fried. If you fry anything, it's crispy and kind of tastes good.

What's your favorite restaurant?
My favorite sit-down restaurant is probably Spices in the Inner Richmond. It's a Chinese place with sssmokin' hot food, just blazingly spicy. [Spices offers] very interesting variations on Mandarin cuisine, like they'll give you an entire fish bubbling in hot oil on top of a burner, surrounded by chunks of simmered tofu.

What is the most important issue facing college students today?
The combination of rising tuitions, lack of federal grant money and predatory loan practices. … All these things work against people and force them to live a life where it's impossible to take risks. If you graduate from college $60,000-70,000 in debt, you can't travel, you can't Teach for America, you can't work in a bar for two years and try to write something. You can't do that. You have to go work for somebody's who going to pay you enough, give you medical benefits. I think it is almost a danger to the spirit of entrepreneurship in this whole country.

But you could still afford a burrito.
Still afford a burrito! It's one of the great economic equalizations in San Francisco. Our rents are high, but this is still the best place to get really cheap, amazing food in the country.

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified January 16, 2007 by University Communications