For reasons like these that we formed the Burrito Selection Committee
June 8, 2014 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Burritos provide a good way to experiment precisely because they represent a relatively narrow range of experience. There are different burrito styles across the country — more than you might gather if your burrito-eating ambitions have never ventured beyond Taco Bell. But there are fewer parameters to control for when rating burritos than when comparing movies, or doctors, or colleges.
Nathaniel Read ("Nate") Silver is launching a national, 64-restaurant Burrito Bracket
posted by growabrain (82 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
...or rather, relaunches his old, pre 2008 election bracket
posted by growabrain at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2014


Heh, I was just this moment reading the related article about David Chang, and how Yelp is a pretty lame indicator of what's 'good.'
posted by chococat at 9:41 AM on June 8, 2014


Just one of Silver's 64 entries in his quest to find the most astonishing way to jump a shark.
posted by one_bean at 9:42 AM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


I approve of this. However, due to its way out of the way location, one of my very favorite burritos will surely be off of the list: next time you happen to be in Barstow, CA, don't just go for choosing among the hundreds of fast food options. Go to Plata's on Main street, a tiny hole in the wall type of place where the kitchen is bigger than the seating area by a considerable amount. Order a custom burrito with all the ingredients you like rather than one of the normal menu options.
posted by chimaera at 9:42 AM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you are putting this much thought into your burrito, you are missing the point of the burrito. If your process involves more than five steps, you are wrong:
  1. "I'm hungry."
  2. "This place looks good. How about a burrito?"
  3. "Good idea."
  4. NOMNOMNOMNOM
  5. "That was a damn good burrito."
FIN
posted by Etrigan at 9:45 AM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]



The top-rated burrito-selling establishment, according to VORB, is El Farolito in San Francisco’s Mission District. As of Feb. 1, it had 1,840 reviews that mentioned burritos, with an average rating of 4.25 stars. Only Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop in San Diego had more burrito reviews, and its star rating was not as strong.

El Farolito’s presence on this list was no surprise to us. Last year, it won Esquire’s billing as “the most life-changing burrito in America.” I’ve been there myself a few times and can vouch for it serving a darned good burrito.


Heh. I'm pretty sure the reason people find El Farolito life-changing is that at El Farolito they use the same grill to make brains and tongue and other offal tacos and burritos. That creates that "richness" that I think people love and would not knowingly eat otherwise.
posted by vacapinta at 9:46 AM on June 8, 2014 [19 favorites]


If you are putting this much thought into your burrito, you are missing the point of the burrito. If your process involves more than five steps, you are wrong:

Some years ago, gingerbeer and I were taking a City College adult ed class in ornithology that met in the evenings in a school in the Marina. Usually we'd try to grab a quick dinner before class. Once, and only once, we got burritos. They were terrible. Here in our home neighborhood, just a few miles away, it is probably impossible to get a terrible burrito, but I'm sorry to report that even when you're hungry, there are terrible burritos in San Francisco.

We are a couple blocks "too far" from El Farolito, so it's not my local and while I think they're perfectly good, if I'm going farther than taqueria San Francisco for one, I will go to Can-Cun on Mission.

Lately, though, I've been more into tacos.
posted by rtha at 9:52 AM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Unless they are taste testing at two am after dancing and drinking for hours, this is pure fiction. (Ditto if they aren't giving heavy points for handmade tortillas; done right, they are a key ingredient, not a background wrapper for the filling.)

I can sort of see how you could go around comparing one type, like carne asada burritos, but how on earth do you compare an asada with an albañil with a Korean fusion creation? That's like comparing a bicycle and an armchair and then deciding that the bookshelf wins.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't get burrito love. I actually kind of hate burritos. They're too big to hold comfortably. Once you do pick one up you can't put it down again without risking burrito catastrophe. They are larger in every dimension than the human mouth, so the next bite requires reconnaissance lest you end up with a glob of sour cream on your cheek. And due to laws of geometry or something, there will always, always be a bite or two that consists of nothing more than 18 layers of stale flour tortilla.

Give me a plate full of tacos any day.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2014 [17 favorites]


Is this overthinking a tortilla of beans?
posted by Foosnark at 9:55 AM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Heh, I was just this moment reading the related article about David Chang, and how Yelp is a pretty lame indicator of what's 'good.'

That was interesting, but it misses my main use case for Yelp. If I find myself driving through some small town in the heartland or out in the 'burbs and I need to find somewhere that's not a chain, Yelp can be super helpful. Sure, if you're in NYC there are a billion restaurant reviewers to rely on, but if you're passing through west bumfuck Iowa go to Yelp.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ensembles of experts? In the restaurant industry, it is trivially easy to see that these ensembles are highly correlated. You see the behavior of restaurant reviewers and it fits a two-stage swarm intelligence model much better than a true wisdom-of-the-crowd model (that is, one that defeats the central limit theorem). This doesn't have the good properties. Moreover, restaurant reviews are not only phenomenological experiences, they have discontinuities expressed as a time series. Often, data where the underlying process is non-differentiable, and, moreover, that the underlying model (the reviewer distribution, maybe) might have singularities in the mean and variance: certainly, I have had moments where I wanted to rate a restaurant "this is not a fucking restaurant". Basically, I would look for a wild randomness in the underlying process and see if I could run with it.

Yelp does systematic manipulation of the signal: this has long been known. Therefore, there should also be a systematic analysis of the ways that they manipulate the signal. Perhaps there should also be an investigation of the bias and variance problems between Yelp and, say, Urbanspoon. They do think about it a bit, but it seems to me not enough. Forensic accounting methods come to mind, not just the review count and review statistics. There should be investigation of the corpus. Certainly, Yelp knows of a lot of corpus features that indicate fakeness of reviews, although they don't make that data public.

This is not to let off the critics: you look at the Michelin-starred restaurants in the world and it is clear that there is systematic bias also. There is an observer effect, obviously, because it is not the case that they took scrupulous efforts to keep the identity of the reviewer secret. I've been told it's an open fact in the restaurant industry that they treat reviewers better. Why wouldn't they?
posted by curuinor at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


But the question of how consumers might use crowdsourced data to make better decisions is an important one. Billions of dollars turn upon customer reviews at sites like Yelp, Amazon, Netflix and HealthGrades. How should you evaluate crowdsourced reviews as compared to the recommendations from a professional critic, or a trusted friend? Are there identifiable biases in the review sites and ways to correct for them? When using sites like Yelp, should you pay more attention to the number of reviews, or to the average rating?

I think this is an interesting question and important to explore, and I like the idea of using a subject that inspires passion but is not, at the end of the day, a life-or-death issue unless, of course, you are really hung over.

Personally, I like a skinny Texas burrito. I understand the glory of the infant-sized California burrito, and I'm down with french fries inside my food, and my preferred haunts all concoct their own sauces that are unbelievably good, but I prefer a svelte well-balanced nibble to a two-handed fight to persevere over an inanimate object.

Anyway, fish tacos are so glorious I can't be bothered with burritos out here all that much.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:01 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]




Around here, the good taquerias make good tacos. Their burritos are mostly concessions to the tourists and caucasian locals who want to prove to their coworkers that they're not intimidating by ordering a meal in Spanish.

I can hit a local outdoor market and choose from four or five different stands, each offering regional versions of taco. One offers pan-roasted meats in various kinds of sauce. Another boils meat, offal and pig ear together and you tell 'em how much ear you want in your taco. And so on. The few stands that offer burritos, their burritos are exactly the same. So why would you not order tacos?
posted by ardgedee at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


…if you're passing through west bumfuck Iowa go to Yelp.

Pfffft. Any Iowan worth their corn will tell you that, for the best burritos east of SoCal, you need to go to East Bumfuck.
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 10:23 AM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


Regarding the Yelp question, it's true that Yelp reviews are not always on target, but it's a lot like TripAdvisor in that if 5 people in a row with a review history complain about the same thing (my bill was wrong, there was meat in my vegetarian burrito, you can smell Dick's from your hotel room [an issue when staying on Lower Queen Anne in Seattle, and one that leads to no end of jokes]), then you can be pretty sure it's a persistent issue.

Yelp reviews are useful if there are certain specific things you need to tease out about a restaurant. But I'd disagree with David Chang - I'd say chefs are not always a good indicator of what's good because they're looking for different things in the food than the average diner.
posted by rednikki at 10:24 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


what happens next on an ad-supported site like Yelp when a place has 7-8 reviews, all good, but has never spent a dime on advertising?
posted by bruce at 10:30 AM on June 8, 2014


Taqueria Cancun FTW. Their tortillas are just sublime. So soft and delicious, and just a tad bit on the flaky side. Also, their salsa is actually hot, which is nice.

El Farolito doesn't have the best burritos in town (or even on that block, for that matter), but late at night, they've definitely got the best people-watching.

Also, I'm not sure HRD's kimchi burrito belongs on here. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty phenomenal, but it's also kind of a different beast entirely.
posted by evil otto at 10:30 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wish there was some sort of Yelp alternative that focused only on taste and nothing else. People giving 1 star reviews because the wait was too long or a waiter gave them an attitude doesn't help me.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:32 AM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm going to repeat the sentiment I tweeted about this: I'm glad I'm a satisficer and not a maximizer. You decide on the best burrito and I will just try many, many, delicious burritos. More for me!
posted by immlass at 10:32 AM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


at El Farolito they use the same grill to make brains and tongue and other offal tacos and burritos.

This is actually kinda scary. I'm cool with offal and all, but prions are some scary shit; I don't want brains anywhere near my food.
posted by evil otto at 10:48 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would like to think this means we have reached the peak usage of March Madness style tournament brackets to conduct meaningless debates about matters of personal taste and preference, but I fear I'm wrong about this.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:51 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


El Pelón? Really? Man, I find their vegetarian burritos paaaaainfully bland. Maybe there is something really magic in their meat that I'm missing out on but it seems like a weird variance if so.
posted by threeants at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2014


Farolito is good. Cancun is good. La Taqueria is better. Gordo is best. I hope it's on the list but I've a feeling it won't be.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:59 AM on June 8, 2014


As Dip Flash mentioned, this bracket is useless without a time component.

Because few burritos can ever be as delicious as the ones from Panchero's in Iowa City (which at the time proudly proclaimed to be the "home of the 2-pound burrito") were around 1 in the morning after a night out.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


i'm with evil otto (10:48 AM) in the "no brains" group. i don't want to have to change my username to "mad man with mad cow".

i very rarely eat burritos. i'm more chile rellenos and crab enchiladas.
posted by bruce at 11:15 AM on June 8, 2014


I'd say that what we should do is construct a march madness-style bracket of march madness-style brackets to determine once and for all which march madness-style bracket best indicates that march madness-style brackets have jumped the shark, but I'm pretty sure the march madness-style bracket trend has been going on for long enough for other people to have already created this type of march madness-style metabracket.

We are, as such, presented with at least two options:
  1. give up - we could not create another march madness metabracket
  2. alternately, we could go farther up and farther in to march madness metabracketing, and create a march madness-style bracket wherein the members of the bracket are themselves march madness-style brackets meant to assess other march madness-style brackets — a march madness bracket for figuring out which march madness bracket for figuring out which march madness bracket best indicates the overuse of the march madness bracket trend itself best indicates the overuse of the march madness bracket trend.
Although in an ideal world we would generate 62 (or maybe 63) more options for how to proceed and then assess them by matching them up in a march madness bracket, I think it's clear that we can just acknowledge that option 2 is superior to option 1.

After we have created our march madness bracket system for assessing march madness bracket systems to assess march madness bracket systems, we can then proceed to consideration of other questions — consider, for example, a march madness bracket made of march madness brackets that don't contain themselves as members of the bracket...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:20 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Around here, the good taquerias make good tacos.

Yeah, same here. Austin has phenomenal tex mex and Mexican food, but no one eats burritos. Tacos are where it's at. Tacos are the 'put a bird on it here'. Hipsters sporting taco tattoos. Tacos three meals a day. Nary a burrito in sight.*

* except at Freebirds
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:29 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I actually kind of hate burritos.

Interestingly, this is #4 on the list of Sentences To Help You Identify Your Neighbor as a Space Alien.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:34 AM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm glad I'm a satisficer and not a maximizer.

Me too. Nearby I can find fat burritos, skinny burritos, blow-your-head-off spicy burritos, meat-and-chile only burritos, chile relleno burritos, chorizo and egg burritos at a convenience store, al pastor burritos, bean and cheese burritos, burritos where the tortilla was made right there 5 minutes ago...The One True Burrito is the one in front of you. Unless you are in Vermont or at an airport.

I do like that Nate Silver is thinking about consumer ratings, though. Sort by ranking usually gives you stuff that one person thinks is great, while sort by popularity usually gives you something that has been around for a long time. As a first stab, popularity times ranking divided by time from first ranking is a better measure. I look forward to hearing from five-thirty-eight once they have this nailed down with the proper coefficients, exponents, and software tools.
posted by Killick at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the Burrito Selection Committee will merge with the Hot Sauce Committee Part Two - and will that make it the Hot Sauce Committee Part Three or Burrito Selection Commitee Part Two? Or will it be something like the Burrito Hot Sauce Selection Committee Part One and a Half?
posted by symbioid at 11:47 AM on June 8, 2014


El Pelón? Really?

I haven't tried El Pelón yet, but on the strength of every other burrito eating experience I have had since moving to Boston, I suspect they could be scoring well just because the alternatives are so dismal.

Have you had a burrito around here that's better, or even acceptable?
posted by moss at 12:04 PM on June 8, 2014


Nary a burrito in sight.

pssst: Cabo Bob's. Don't know how they measure up to a California expat but I (a native Texan with reasonably catholic tastes) really enjoy them.
posted by immlass at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2014


These divisions were based on a combination of three factors, weighted equally: (i) the Mexican-American population in each state; (ii) the number of Mexican restaurants in each state; and (iii) the relative popularity of the word “burrito” as a Google search term in each state, multiplied by the state’s population. The regions I came up with were as follows:

So you have to have burritos from a Mexican restaurant to count? What constitutes a Mexican restaurant? A Spanish sounding name? Are we even talking about burritos you eat holding or that are served on a plate designed to be eaten with utensils? As wild as it may sound, I'll even go with the argument that the burrito has transitioned into a food that's prepared and sold by folks who have no connection to Mexico or other Hispanic nations. Thus, you can have an awesome burrito in a place named "Joe's Burritos" and be served by someone who doesn't speak a lick of Spanish.

And also...

Professional reviewers can have their own biases, of course. Sometimes this is because they are after different things — Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, which is located in a gas station in Kansas City, Kansas, is rated as the third-best restaurant in the country, according to Yelp. Oklahoma Joe’s is, in fact, a life-changing experience,15 but not likely to make the Michelin Guide.

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ isn't bad, but good golly it ain't a life-changing experience if you're used to hunting down good barbecue joints.
posted by Atreides at 12:19 PM on June 8, 2014


I started a similar contest at work last year: find the best burrito in the work neighborhood. And although we never did come up with a final winner (we had a lot of finalists), this was certainly a good way to spend some lunches with co-workers.
posted by freejinn at 12:27 PM on June 8, 2014


El Farolito is fucking great. The horrible flourescent lighting is great. The ugly tables are great. The staff of twenty is great. I miss that place and their $5 burritos that lasted for two meals.

Across from the Safeway on Church and Market, on Church next to the, erm, church and you wouldn't know it's there if you didn't turn your head. It's downstairs.

That one.
posted by vapidave at 12:41 PM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I understand the glory of the infant-sized California burrito

I think the huge full-of-everything burrito is more of a SF / Mission thing than an LA / San Diego thing.
posted by thedaniel at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2014


This is the part of the article that made me interested:
But the question of how consumers might use crowdsourced data to make better decisions is an important one. Billions of dollars turn upon customer reviews at sites like Yelp, Amazon, Netflix and HealthGrades. How should you evaluate crowdsourced reviews as compared to the recommendations from a professional critic, or a trusted friend? Are there identifiable biases in the review sites and ways to correct for them? When using sites like Yelp, should you pay more attention to the number of reviews, or to the average rating?
Which is a very valid question and, while this may not answer it, is an attempt to get an idea about how it works.
posted by mephron at 12:46 PM on June 8, 2014


Across from the Safeway on Church and Market, on Church next to the, erm, church and you wouldn't know it's there if you didn't turn your head. It's downstairs.

That one.


That's El Castillito, my personal favorite. There's also one on Mission at 17th.
posted by trip and a half at 12:56 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the huge full-of-everything burrito is more of a SF / Mission thing than an LA / San Diego thing.

I know they were born there, but they've infected San Diego quite thoroughly. I've only just moved to LA but the reviews of all the local places suggest that people won't stand for a burrito that doesn't risk an elbow injury anymore.

Even the ones at the grocery store deli are girthy, though shorter than a traditional burrito shop swaddler.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:58 PM on June 8, 2014


> ...or rather, relaunches his old, pre 2008 election bracket

Discussed here Previously.
posted by ardgedee at 1:07 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


We’ll eventually crown a national champion burrito, but with no illusions that the bracket can offer a definitive result.

Seriously, chacun à son goût! One of the things that makes burritos so glorious is the illustration of this essential principle.

El Farolito is fucking great. The horrible flourescent lighting is great. The ugly tables are great. The staff of twenty is great.

Truth - El Farolito is fucking great. The grill with multiple layers of greasy brains and such is probably a significant factor. But the huge caldrons of salsa simmering in the front are the real genius. Don't matter what you are serving if you have a fine chile sauce.

A decade or so ago I made a pilgrimage. It was called the Four Corners Breakfast Burrito pilgrimage. I spent weeks sampling every breakfast burrito I could find in the Four Corners area of the Southwest USA. Also, hiking and other outdoors stuff. But really - it was all about the breakfast burritos.

The best one? When we first walked through the door of the truck stop outside of Mesa Verde my partner in crime initially couldn't come in because of the profusion of cigarette smoke. We both grimaced and prepared ourselves for some sub-optimal fare. Instead? A breakfast burrito of near-transcendent qualities. At a certain point, the waitress returned to inquire how we were doing and noticed my thousand-yard stare. "Everything ok?", she asked.

"How did you make this chili sauce? It's incredible!" I said.

"Oh, everyone *loves* that!" she replied "We make it fresh every day! Got a chili patch out back."

And sure enough, after finishing that amazing meal, we went "out back" and found an amazing garden of chili peppers next to the parking lot full of semi-trailers.

Not sure if that place is still around. Guaranteed it ain't going to show up on Yelp.
posted by jammy at 1:08 PM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Missed falling into the 'alternate march madness' category by t-h-a-a-a-a-t m-u-u-u-u-c-h. I just hope Silver & co. aren't planning making 'bracket competitions' into a year-round thing. *shudder*
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2014


So you have to have burritos from a Mexican restaurant to count?

No, they have candidates that don't sound Mexican at all.They're also allowing fusion creations and also the breakfast burrito, both of which have a higher chance of coming from a non-Mex place.
posted by FJT at 1:17 PM on June 8, 2014


We also know that burritos are not a matter of great national importance.

These are precisely the wrong kind of people to undertake a project of this scale and significance. I fear the worst.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:21 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


La Taqueria is mostly known for their tacos (which are truly excellent).

El Farolito is popular because it's convenient (next to 24 st Bart station) and it's become something of a local institution where it starts attracting tourists, but the current quality may no longer be associated with its legacy. IMO the burritos there are kinda sloppy and bland.

I love Cancun but as mentioned they are inconsistent.

Feel obligated to link Burrito Eater, a local who has reviewed over 1,000 burritos. A much better resource than Yelp to look for taquerias to seed with.
posted by rq at 1:25 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oooh, this is the San Francisco foodie thread par excellence.

Lived around the block from a Taqueria Can-Cun on Mission - the one near 30th. Unfortunately it looks as if it's become a copy shop.

I like Papalote's on 24th by Valencia. They added chipotle, back in the late '90s, when I didn't see it elsewhere. They still serve good food logs.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 2:08 PM on June 8, 2014


I should not have read this thread. I am in Sydney where it is 7am and nary a burrito truck in sight.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Come further down Mission. Guadalajara in the Excelsior is where it's at. I don't like Farolito but that's probably because I waited across the street from them for a ride in the rain at three in the morning once.

(but I moved to atlanta so my opinion doesn't count any more. Is there a version of this thread for barbecue?)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2014


I haven't tried El Pelón yet, but on the strength of every other burrito eating experience I have had since moving to Boston, I suspect they could be scoring well just because the alternatives are so dismal.

I love El Pelon. Their fish burrito is one of my favorite meals ever. I've tried Anna's but didn't really see what the fuss was all about. I have no idea how they compare to burritos in places where they know burritos, but damn are they nummy.

I'm actually kind of pissed about this because now it'll be more crowded at lunch.
posted by bondcliff at 2:22 PM on June 8, 2014


Also recommendations in Seattle are ones I wait for.
posted by mephron at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


My favorite burritos are the long and thin kind that have only one or two ingredients inside, made with fresh steamed tortillas. Like a bean and cheese, or chile relleno, or deshebrada burrito. I used to eat those all the time when I went to college in New Mexico.

Since moving to the Northeast I can only find gigantic burritos that are almost as wide as they are long and are sometimes toasted on a panini press. They have tons of rice and chopped cold vegetables and sour cream inside. They're OK I guess, but not really the same thing.
posted by pravit at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm happy to see Silver namecheck La Pasadita right up front. I ate there frequently when I lived in Chicago. At the time, there were three restaurants named La Pasadita on that one block, 1100 N Ashland. Leaving Division station, you'd need to be on the right, not the left, and go to the one with the black sign, not the white sign. Silver's got it right. (The one on the left has since closed.)

It wasn't the burrito itself that was great, it was the black salsa.
posted by rlk at 3:04 PM on June 8, 2014


They're too big to hold comfortably. Once you do pick one up you can't put it down again without risking burrito catastrophe. They are larger in every dimension than the human mouth, so the next bite requires reconnaissance lest you end up with a glob of sour cream on your cheek.

You're supposed to only unwrap the foil as you eat - if you take it all off at once you're gonna have a bad time. If they're packed too full and still falling out, use a tortilla chip to scoop out some of the extra stuff. Additionally, if you are at a place that actually serves carnitas or al pastor worth a damn, you don't need sour cream (or cheese, usually) as it can overwhelm and distract from the flavor profile of the meat.

The best burrito in SF, by the way, is in Oakland (Chile verde @ Gerardo's on MacArthur). :)
posted by Dokterrock at 3:20 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of this project, but at least in NYC, Yelp is the worst possible dataset. It's just going to filter for places that don't deliver. It doesn't matter how good your food is; if you do delivery, half of your reviews will be one-star "food arrived late/cold" "sleet had accumulated on bags" "delivery person was wet" bullshit.
posted by phooky at 3:38 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The best burritos are from New Mexico because New Mexico produces the greatest chiles. It takes an immigrant to the state about ten years to begin to appreciate the subtleties and the range and depth of the chiles' character. Perhaps this time is taken in killing off the stupid taste buds and allowing new ones to bloom. After a decade you can talk to the natives about the batch out of Pojoaque or Nambe, and how the rain or drought affected the flavor of this year's crop. Oddly, the arguably greatest chiles come from a town with a very gringo name: Hatch.

There are three reasons New Mexican chiles are the best. The first is the progression of Mexican food through the country of Mexico. Southern and Central Mexican food is fine, but fine is a damning with faint praise. As the food moves through cruel Sonoran north it adds a tinge of desperation, hollow want and ultimately the deep satisfaction of surviving the desert lands, where food and water become saviors. A great chile has that flavor of a glass of water that rescued you from death.

This worshipful attitude is appreciated in New Mexico more so than other states. New Mexico until very recently had been more than half-Latino, diluting itself down while other states have become more Latino. Texas is schizophrenic in mixing its Latino heritage with damn those Alamo raiders as part of its culture. Tex-Mex food is very good, but usually a little too macho for my palate. Arizona would be fine, but it doesn't have the nurturing Rio Grande Valley to grow great chiles. California has a great Latino heritage but it often gets lost in a jumble of its melting pot heritage. They also tend to spice up their burritos unnecessarily with cilantro.

Northern Mexican and New Mexican food are essentially a poor man's meal. I've never had a better burrito at a fancy restaurant than at a cheap one. I still on occasion dream of T & M burritos, a little stall on Solano in Las Cruces, going on forty years later. (They changed their recipe late 70s and were never the same.)

Okay, I said, three reasons. The second reason is that the New Mexican chile has grown synergistically with the advanced physics explorations. It is no coincidence that Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia Labs and the best chiles co-exist. To explain the many layered-flavors of New Mexican chiles you must resort to string-theory. It is like the radioactive fallout and mutant ants have mixed in the soil over the years.

The third reason is mundane. The chiles are frangible. They lose something in packing, canning, freezing, (powdering ugghh!). I've never tasted their equal even when they came from New Mexico after they had been shipped east of the Mississippi.

A good tortilla makes a good burrito and is perhaps the most overlooked part. It should be thick, hand-packed. I've known a good tortilla to save a bad burrito.

The filling, which most people concentrate on, can have lots of variations and still be fantastic. Carne Asada, Ropa Vieja, and grilled chunks of pork are my favorite.

A good cheese ratio is essential, but how much is a matter of taste.

I just Googled T & M burritos on Solano in Las Cruces. They are still in business. As I said, they changed their recipe late seventies. Maybe since they've got their mojo back. Still nothing could be as good as my memories of them.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:03 PM on June 8, 2014 [12 favorites]


also we have a big breakfast burrito culture and they're pretty yummy
posted by NoraReed at 4:23 PM on June 8, 2014


Seconding Burritoeater. I'm willing to entertain the idea there are good burritos outside California, why once I even had a decent burrito in Manhattan (I was desperate). But California is home to the burrito and Burritoeater is the definitive reference on the San Francisco burrito scene. I am unqualified to comment on the rest of California, but I can say up in Grass Valley where I am now the burritos are some bland gringo bullshit.

The Taqueria Cancun on Mission near 30th is still there and doing very well, thank you. It's my go-to, the eggs-and-chorizo breakfast burrito. The tortillas distinguish Can-Cun, and I never have figured out why other taquerias aren't buying the same flaky pastries.

When I'm feeling frisky I go to the Taqueria Los Coyotes up on 16th and Mission for what they call a California Burrito. San Diego style really, french fries instead of rice, and it's pretty great.

I don't get El Farolito. I mean it's good enough, but it's about the same as most of the other taqueria burritos. Only most of the other places have a place to sit where you don't feel like you're about to get knifed in the back by a crackhead.

(I'm with you on New Mexico chiles, dances_with_sneetches; I regularly import Chimayo red chile powder to California because the stuff we get locally is so sad. But why would you order a burrito in New Mexico when you can get a bowl of green with sopapillas?)
posted by Nelson at 4:25 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Or, really, a chile relleno if you want to find the dish that travels poorest outside of New Mexico. Still, I've lived in California about three years of my adult life and never found a burrito equal to the best I've had in New Mexico. Some were pretty close - but I'm not a fan of cilantro (to me, it's a spice conflicting with chile) and most of the small outlets use it. The expensive restaurants which I complained about above usually try to make the food blander for general consumption or try to make it too fancy. It is a ratatouille food, as in the film, it should return your taste buds to a sense of innocence.

For the record, I live in Puerto Rico now for fifteen years, so I couldn't tell you which restaurant in New Mexico is the best anymore.

Oh, and Chimayo chile is annually one of the best. Powdered chile loses too much for my taste.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Beef brains on the grill? Anyone know if this is common outside SF, like in LA?
posted by persona au gratin at 4:52 PM on June 8, 2014


Strangely enough, even though I grew up in the Bay Area, I can't remember ever having a burrito in SF proper. Still, I agree that the Mission-style burrito is the true received wisdom of burrito-ness.

The best burritos I've had were from Mario's La Fiesta in Berkeley, which is gone now. I've inhaled plenty of mediocre ones from the La Burrita locations on either side of campus. Cancun in downtown Berkeley makes great, somewhat more upscale versions (mole poblano burrito!). Gordo is not always that consistent, but I'll take them over the other options.
posted by Standard Orange at 5:01 PM on June 8, 2014


El Farolito is at the top of Yelp rankings because 90% of the people who go there are people-who-review-on-Yelp. It's a burrito-review Yelpception.
posted by rhizome at 5:43 PM on June 8, 2014


Best burrito I ever had by far was a raw vegan delight in Royal Oak, MI. Totally worth the ten bucks. Sooooo good.
posted by absentian at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


> The tortillas distinguish Can-Cun, and I never have figured out why other taquerias aren't buying the same flaky pastries.

This is primarily because CanCun heats the tortillas on the grill, instead of steaming them. They also melt the cheese on the tortilla on the grill, rather than just adding a handful of shredded cheese with the other ingredients.

I only eat veggie burritos, so don't claim any sort of expertise in the full spectrum of burrito tasting, but I think that CanCun makes the best veggie burritos in San Francisco, in no small part because of the grill heating of the tortillas.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:59 PM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Best burrito I ever had by far was a raw vegan delight in Royal Oak, MI.
Choice of wrap filled with seasoned “meat” (walnuts, almonds & sunflower), pico de gallo (sweet peppers, onion, tomato, cilantro), guacamole (onion, tomato, cilantro), cashew sour cream, lettuce.

Wrap choices: Organic Sprouted Grain Lavash (cooked) the selection above contains sprouted WHEAT and sprouted whole soybean
Brown Rice Gluten-Free Lavash (cooked)
Raw Collard Green (additional $1.00)
I literally don't think I could get a full bite of one of those down without throwing up. Just goes to show you it takes all kinds, I suppose. One man's "meat" is another man's poison, as they say.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:10 PM on June 8, 2014


I literally don't think I could get a full bite of one of those down without throwing up. Just goes to show you it takes all kinds, I suppose. One man's "meat" is another man's poison, as they say.

Unless you're allergic to nuts, I'm pretty sure you'd be all OMG it's SOOOOO GOOD! Betcha.
posted by absentian at 6:18 PM on June 8, 2014


San Jose State actually had a tolerable $5.00 burrito place, that also served decent veggie taco salads. It was a good place for I university workers like my wife to get a basically good tasting, nutritious meal. With the Student Union remodel, it's been replaced by a Taco Bell.

Fuck.
posted by happyroach at 6:19 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tortoria Nixtemal Queens. That is all.
posted by sfts2 at 6:22 PM on June 8, 2014


Beef brains on the grill? Anyone know if this is common outside SF, like in LA?

You can't have tacos de sesos without brains on the grill. Most places won't have it but if you ask around you can find it easy enough. I lived in Europe when they were still serving the mad cow beef and I'm sure I ate plenty. There's no way I'm going to lose sleep at this point about a stray prion making it's way into my taco. A while back the local health department got a bug up its ass about mad cow and tried to ban serving brains and cabesa, but as long as you spoke Spanish and knew what to ask for there was no problem.

I'd trust yelp for big Mission burritos, but I just checked it for a couple of places that are great and the reviews were mostly "the server was rude" and "my mom didn't like the salsa" so I'm not sure this is the right dataset for the problem. It's a silly project but they are getting lots of attention so yay them I guess.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:47 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


My favorite yelp reviews always start with: "we came here with groupon", because it's always followed with a litany of petty complaints and attempts to get free food or refunds that were turned down by the manager, and an inevitable 1 star. Not mentioned: how the food tasted.
posted by empath at 3:25 AM on June 9, 2014


This is primarily because CanCun heats the tortillas on the grill, instead of steaming them

Yep. And other people love places like El Buen Sabor (Valencia/17th) because their tortillas are perfectly steamed and gooey. Is one better than the other? I think its just a matter of personal taste. That is what makes it so hard to objectively come up with "best burrito." There's so many subjective dimensions. It really is just meaningless.
posted by vacapinta at 4:58 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


> a raw vegan delight in Royal Oak, MI

That's... not a burrito. That's a salad wrap with title inflation.
posted by ardgedee at 5:29 AM on June 9, 2014 [10 favorites]


Is one better than the other?

Generally, I am on the side of "whatever floats your boat" but in this case? People who prefer their burrito tortilla steamed and gooey are just purely wrong and I feel bad for them.
posted by rtha at 5:43 AM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's more going on in the Can-Cun tortillas than just grilling. I hate to say this because their vegetarian burrito is so richly loved, but personally I think it's simply lard. Their tortillas have exactly the kind of flakiness of a good pie crust (albeit less so), the folding of fat and flour. The grilling is definitely important too, but the raw product is remarkably good as well. Which reminds me, Can-Cun also makes excellent tortas. With lovely crusty soft rolls.
posted by Nelson at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes! Bring this rating up to Canada, where good burritos are few & far between.

The other day I ate a burrito-like object. Oh it had chicken. And guac. And lettuce and tomatoes. And beans and rice. And cheese. It was toasted. And it was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a burrito. It was just missing the gestalt of the burrito. Its spirrito, if you will.

So I am all in favor of this rating system. We vote every day with our dollars... I want my dollars to vote for Good Burritos.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:46 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


abq, nm..the nm stands for new mexico..you cannot get bad mexican food here..wrap anything in a tortilla and eat it. I suppose you could wrap a prime rib in a tortilla and call that the best..but really just beans,cheese,chile,and meat... if "somebody's mom in abq" doesn't make it to the finals I will be disappointed.
posted by judson at 9:07 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nelson: Thanks for the assurance Taqueria Can-Cún is still there. I got a tad disoriented on Google Street View because a few buildings by Powers & Mission streets are new and shifted me a block over from where I should've been peeping. Sigh.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 9:20 AM on June 9, 2014


There's more going on in the Can-Cun tortillas than just grilling. I hate to say this because their vegetarian burrito is so richly loved, but personally I think it's simply lard. Their tortillas have exactly the kind of flakiness of a good pie crust (albeit less so), the folding of fat and flour.

Yes but this could also be achieved by grilling it on a greasy grill. Enough theory, this calls for some empirical evidence! *Schedules flight to SF*
posted by vacapinta at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


judson wrote:

"the nm stands for new mexico..you cannot get bad mexican food here..""

Right, making a mental note to add New Mexico to my bucket list...
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:44 PM on June 9, 2014


:D vacapinta I wrote that before I read your comment. (And I'm a BART ride from SF... guess the burrito's always tastier in the other state.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2014


Finally, Bill Addison represents the South. He recently became the restaurant editor at Eater and was formerly at Atlanta Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle, where he once ate 100 burritos in 10 weeks.

Err...is that supposed to be an impressive feat? Cuz, that's like, par for the course around here.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:54 AM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


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