The Surfin' California Burrito at Lucha Libre Has a Serious Secret Ingredient
The undisputed burrito champ of Boston, Anna's has amassed a mini-empire since it first opened in 1995. It's now repping six locations in the greater Boston area, and locals speak of it in the same reverent tones usually reserved for David Ortiz. The tortillas are steamed with cheese, which might be inauthentic, but is also amazing. And you have the option to super-size, so take it.
Hear us out! Yes, we know a chicken and broccoli burrito sounds like the kind of blasphemy that leads to plagues. But in the hands of this lauded Atlanta spot, it's a sin worth committing. The chicken & broccoli (rest assured, it's loaded with Jack cheese) is one of Bell Street's four burrito specials, but you can also go with a less gonzo option off its basic burrito menu -- a menu that includes steak, ground beef, shrimp, green chilies, potato, pork, chicken, beans, and even more broccoli.
New York, NY
When the three Vendley brothers moved from California to New York, they missed the Cal-Mex food they grew up with, so they did the natural New York thing and opened a food cart. A Vendy award and hot Martha Stewart Show appearance soon followed, as did several brick-and-mortar locations. Now, you can enjoy their trademark marinated steak burrito all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. Lesson learned: never underestimate Martha Stewart's masterful control of NYC street food.
Changos abandons any pretensions and focuses instead on great burritos and tacos. You're working on three levels with the burritos here: Super (beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, tomato, salsa), Maximo (all that with a choice of meat), or Bongos for Changos (the Maximo with guac). Despite the latter's flashier name, we're advocating you go middle of the road with a Maximo. Don't let the hordes of UT kids (it's right next to campus) get in your way.
Black Bear has tons of live music and a nice selection of beers on tap, but this isn't your typical Mid-Atlantic pub. The place also has a lengthy selection of burritos that toe the line of heresy -- a stir fry "Mr. Teri Yaki" burrito?! -- without leaping right over it. Start with the Irie Member. If you're up on your Rastafarianisms, you'll know "irie" is an excellent state of existence and in this case, it indicates a Jamaican jerk sauce covering pineapple, beans, cheese, rice, jicama, and your choice of meat.
Chile Pepper already wins points for having a drive-thru -- it's called Mr. G's and it serves the same recipes as the Chile Pepper sit-down location. But it's also got great food at dirt-cheap prices. The excellent bean-and-cheese burrito is just $1.89. Seriously, a large Coke is more expensive! Make the most of this opportunity by cruising by Mr. G.'s for a baker's dozen, since scoring double-digit orders of burritos is much more exciting than a basket of blueberry muffins.
New York, NY
The Calexico bros drew their inspiration from California's Imperial Valley, but the brothers behind Dos Toros (Leo and Oliver Kremer) went with a more traditional muse: the SF Mission District. Like so many West Coast transplants, they were bummed out by the burrito scene when they arrived in New York, so they decided to rectify the problem with some recipes from home. After putting in time in Mexican restaurant kitchens and honing their burritos with an impressive 10-day food quest, they opened Dos Toros. The New York Times was one of the first to heap praise on the carnitas, but the paper of record certainly wasn't the last. Today, Dos Toros' strong pork game is well-established, as is the restaurant's burgeoning rap career.
San Francisco, CA
It's hard to stand out in San Francisco's Mission District, an area so well-known for its glorious burritos, there's an entire category known as "Mission-style." But El Farolito certainly does. Just check out how thoroughly it crushed the competition in Esquire's reader poll for most "life-changing" burrito. Devotees will accept no substitutes, which is probably why the line winds well out the door on any given night. If you can manage to push through the crowds of tipsy 20-somethings, order the carne asada.
Los Angeles, CA
You probably already thought we were crazy for recommending a basic bean-and-cheese at Chile Pepper. But we're about to do it a second time, because the one at Al & Bea's is just that good. Although most California burrito spots require beef, pork, or at least some French fries, people clamor around the bean-and-cheese because of its impossibly perfect balance with the Al & Bea's red house sauce. It might seem boring, but it's the best move at this nearly 50-year-old institution.
Philadelphia has several strong players (think Los Gallos Mexican Taqueria, Cucina Zapata), but if you want the very best, take a field trip over to Conshohocken. There, you’ll find El Limon, an unassuming little taqueria that’s packing some serious burritos. As any fan will tell you, getting it without the place’s otherworldly mole is a sin and a crime, so go wet-style. And while you’re there, you might as well take advantage of the FREE MARGARITAS. This is not a joke. Go there now.
San Diego, CA
Shrimp? Good. Steak? Great. Pico de gallo and a special sour cream sauce? Outstanding. All this and more (cheese! guac!) can be yours if you order one of El Zarape's surf & turf burritos. El Z burritos aren't exactly monsters, so this isn't the kind of burrito that'll bust your gut. But it is the kind you'll have dreams about for years to come.
Usually when something's advertised as "hot, fast, cheap, and easy," it's not a compliment. Unless it's geared at one of the creative burrito creations at Flaming Amy's, in which case it's a laudable guarantee. The Wilmington destination is known for getting a little wild with its menu -- think Philly cheesesteak- and cheeseburger-inspired burritos. Before you tango with a Philly Phatboy, though, try the titular Flaming Amy, which comes loaded with jalapeños, chipotle peppers, and green chiles. Or, if the thought of a single jalapeño makes you wince, go with the Fajitarrito. (You're not the only one with portmanteau play, Quesarito.)
Named for the song that ruins every music fest (sorry, Skynyrd), Freebirds has conquered seven states and counting since it emerged in 1987. You have 15 free fixings and several house salsas and sauces to choose from here -- but don't get distracted by all the noise. Make a beeline for the quesarito, which was building a rep at Freebirds long before Taco Bell hopped on the train.
Key West, FL
Despite its growing fame, Garbo's is still operating as a humble food cart next to the bar Grunt's. While the fresh fish burritos have their own following, husband-and-wife team Eli and Kenna Pancamo are renowned for their Korean BBQ burrito, which rolls marinated beef short rib, cabbage, scallions, carrots, daikon, Sriracha, and citrus-soy dressing into one amazing Key West dish.
You know a burrito means business when it requires a knife and fork. The Burrito Grande (or "Baby burrito") at Gordito's Healthy Mexican Food (good one, guys) is so stuffed with meat, beans, rice, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and guacamole that it requires two large tortillas. It also requires an iron stomach and fierce determination, because it's legit the size of a fat baby.
San Antonio, TX
You might have some trust issues with a burrito that spells cheese with a "z," but this San Antonio selection is the real deal. The Cheezy Beef features ground beef (duh), Spanish rice, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and three types of "cheeze" (queso, cheddar, Monterey Jack). Sounds like it can't get much better, right? Wrong. Habanero's also has a crazed cocktail menu that includes Big Red-A-Ritas and Pop Rocks margs. And if you haven't eaten a superior burrito with a crackling candy drink, have you really lived?
Have you heard the one about the salsa that was so hot, it nearly killed a guy? That'd be the House Hot salsa at Illegal Pete's, which nearly gave Pete a heart attack when he was still honing the recipes. Obviously that's a big sell for spice fanatics, but milder burrito fans will also find a lot to love about the Colorado mini-chain. There's the green chile, which you can smother on any burrito. There's the Tex-Mex-ified pesto sauce, which is made with poblano peppers. But most importantly, there's the Mexican Coke-braised carnitas. Make sure you get those in your illicit tortilla.
It may be a teensy, BYOB, cash-only, Costa Rican spot, but Irazu knows its burritos. Specifically, its cheese burritos. The draw here isn't a carne asada or carnitas but rather a chorizo burrito stuffed with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and lots and lots of cheese. You might wanna add some guacamole to that situation, although you can't really mess this thing up. (Unless you cut it in half. Just don't.)
New Orleans, LA
Juan's Flying Burrito sounds like the name of a kick-ass kid's book (or an especially hilarious B-movie), but in reality, it's NOLA's preeminent taqueria. The mini-chain has three locations and counting, and you have your pick of 11 beautiful burritos at any of 'em. But namesakes are usually the way to go, and here is no exception: The Flying Burrito has steak, shrimp, chicken, black beans, yellow rice, cheddar and Jack cheeses, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole... but unfortunately, zero aviation skills.
Los Angeles, CA
Any good burrito starts with a solid base and, lucky for you, La Azteca doesn't half-ass its tortillas. Seriously: the old-school LA spot might be best known for its from-scratch flour tortillas. But its chile relleno is also pretty beloved, so go ahead and fuse the two together in this cheesy, sexy burrito. And then order a dozen tortillas to go, because you can do that.
The burritos at La Bonita run in the $3-$8 range, so they definitely won't bust your lunch budget. But you aren't compromising on quality here, either. The family that owns this Portland spot (well, spots -- there are two of them) makes everything by hand, including the tortillas. Clearly, it's billed as "food for the people" for a reason. And yes, that includes you, vegetarians: the veggie burrito menu is even longer than the meats one.
Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico is a big breakfast burrito state, so picking a burrito without a hint of egg in it is no mean feat. But La Choza makes it easy with its Burrito Grande entree, which, importantly, comes smothered in green or red chile. We hate to tell you to pick just one, so first order a cup of the green chile stew as an appetizer and then go red, to cover all your taste buds' bases.
Sioux City, IA
You wouldn't expect any decent Mexican food in Iowa, but then there's La Juanita proving us stereotypers wrong. Some especially passionate fans insist it's the best Mexican in the tri-state area, while others maintain it's the main reason to visit Sioux City. The ever-present lines seem to support those theories, but don't worry, the staff are lightning-fast steak-burrito rollers.
It's all about the steak at this family-owned operation, which has been slinging burritos since 1976. Its basic steak, cilantro, and onion burrito is one of Chicago's best offerings. Also, "pasadita" means "come by quickly," so follow the rules and get over there ASAP.
San Francisco, CA
Even if you've never set foot in San Francisco, you know La Taqueria as the victor of FiveThirtyEight's exhaustive burrito bracket, which might've been the most entertaining summer show of '14. (Sit down, I Wanna Marry "Harry.") It kinda automatically earns a spot thanks to that Nate Silver stamp of approval, but La Taqueria didn't just come out of nowhere. Founder Miguel Jara famously sold out of food by 2pm on his first day of business back in 1973, so this place has had a following for a long time. Although you might be tempted to order off the secret menu (yes, it has one), go with the classic carnitas, which earned La Taqueria that title.
In an effort to improve your Spanish vocabulary, this Alabama shop (which has a second location in Nashville) took its name from the literal meaning of the word "burrito." Ironically, it has just one burrito on the menu, but you can do a lot with the classic. The adobada (pork marinated in chile sauce) is what made LD so famous, so you should probably try that before you test-drive the chicken tinga or shrimp. But either way, you're getting helpings of salsa and beans in your burrito -- and unlike at some other places that rhyme with "bipotle," the guac comes free of charge.
Loco Coco's is the work of Luis and Ramona Valdez, two San Diego transplants with a passion for burritos. It began life as a tiny walk-up counter in 2004, but now serves its adoring fan base in a full-on cantina and dining room. Since the Valdezes come from SD, they naturally added a local favorite in their California burrito, a steak- and French fry-filled marvel improbably located in a coastal Maine town. It might just trick you into thinking you're staring at a different ocean -- that is, until the throngs of living L.L. Bean catalogs walk by.
San Diego, CA
San Diego is mighty proud of its burritos, and not without cause -- after all, this city is the pioneer behind the California Burrito, a carne asada concoction stuffed with French fries. For a great example of that, head to Lucha Libre. Its Surfin' California burrito has the requisite carne asada (soaked in lime marinade) and house-made French fries, along with shrimp, chipotle mayo, avocado, pico de gallo, and cheese. This 14in beast got a high approval rating among actual surfers, who are experts in this arena, so you know it's good.
Los Angeles, CA
Manuel Rojas sadly left this world for greener, guac-filled pastures in 2013, but he managed to set up an LA institution before he departed. While all his burritos are made with care, the one that made El Tepeyac famous is the Manuel's Special. You may have seen the burrito on Man vs. Food, but in case you didn't, it's a monster meant to feed two to four people. You'll get a free shirt and victory photo if you complete the challenge, but you'll have to make your way through 5lbs of rice, beans, guac, and chile verde pork all rolled up and topped with cheese and sauce first.
Question: if you're eating at a restaurant that has an octopus burrito, in what scenario would you not order it? We guess if you're on fire and need to be doused in water first, it's OK, but otherwise, you have no excuse. While this South Beach space (with three more FL locations) is ostensibly a cevicheria, the seafood burrito is probably the star attraction. The charred octopus is complemented by pickled red onions, coconut-jasmine rice, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, and queso fresco. They'll even give you some lime-spiced corn chips to go with it, because they're just cool like that.
San Diego, CA
Remember way back towards the beginning of this list, when we told you about how surfers loved Lucha Libre's California burrito? Well, Nico's Mexican Food actually won the whole damn contest. Customers praise the perfect balance of steak, fries, and other sundries in this take, available at any of Nico's three SD locations. Go ahead and get a side order of carne asada fries while you're at it. The meat sweats will be well worth it.
San Francisco, CA
Papalote is the kind of place that makes one-day-only fried chicken & mac 'n cheese burritos, which might automatically nominate it for sainthood. But it's not some stunty shop with no cred to stand on. The salsa is so amazing, there are now jars of it for sale online. And you're going to use your freshly purchased salsa to smother a chile verde super burrito. The sour cream, rice, beans, guac, and pork (that's marinated in green serrano sauce) all make for one delicious beast -- one that even gets the hard-earned fixie rider seal of approval.
Salt Lake City, UT
It's an unassuming little spot in Utah, so you'd be forgiven for assuming it's nothing special. But you'd be wrong, because the burritos at Taqueria El Rey De Oros are A) huge, B) delicious, and C) like, $3. No matter which one you choose -- though we're advocating for al pastor -- just be sure to also get the place's famous pickled carrots. For serious.