I grew up in San Diego. I am particular about my burritos. And when I say burritos I only refer to carne asada burritos, because that’s the kind of burrito I order. Now, I apologize for the fly on my final chunk of carne asada burrito in the photo above – it’s the only picture of a burrito I have ever taken, and I think it really shows all the best parts of a burrito like this, plus a cute fly.
Best parts of a carne asada burrito:
1. The tortilla. They always start with a raw tortilla* that they toss on the big industrial griddle and heat a bit on each side. I have no idea what is in the tortillas – vegetable shortening or lard** – or if what is more important is that they are cooked to order, but the texture is just divine. As you can see in the photo, at the end of the burrito you get a chewy chunk of folded tortilla that has been marinating in the contents.
2. The contents. The way I like a carne asada burrito, you order, they throw on the tortilla, and at the same time they throw the good, good, salty carne asada on the griddle too. Then they put the meat on the tortilla, and add, essentially, guacamole: avocado mashed to a near liquid with onions, tomato, cilantro, maybe lime. That’s all. No beans. No cheese. No rice. No grilled peppers.
I guess that’s pretty much it. They roll it up in paper and ask if you want hot sauce. They are simple, delightful foodstuffs.
I’ve just returned to southern California after a long time in the SF bay area, and let me tell you, burritos up there, they are the kind that inspired Chipotle. So, you know, they taste good! They are fine! They feed you and have ingredients! But oh, they ain’t the same. They steam a pre-cooked tortilla, maybe melt cheese inside it, and then it’s like building a sandwich. What kind of meat you want? You want refried or pinto beans? Rice? Lettuce? Mild, hot, or pico de gallo? Guacamole costs you extra. Sour cream costs you extra. Then they roll it up in two layers of thin tin foil that tears unpredictably once you start eating.
Growing up, my dad was the only one who got the whole huge cane asada burrito, and the rest of us got tacos (ooh SD shredded beef tacos all fried, with the break-yo-teeth crunch, shredded cheese, lettuce and faint cleanser smell…). So yeah: when you unwrap the burrito a bit, there’s excess tortilla, and my dad would give me that as a treat. Growing older, I’d order tacos and a single flour tortilla, heated all perfect and wrapped in that paper.
One time I was home for a holiday and bought two burritos, one to bring on the plane the next day. I went to the beach alone, ate part of one burrito, and went to swim. I looked back after a minute and SEAGULLS WERE EATING MY BURRITO. So sad, but I still had my extra in the car! Amen amen!
In conclusion, I really love San Diego-style carne asada burritos.
*You can buy uncooked tortillas at Costco and probably other places like Mexican food markets – my aunt recently turned me on to the Costco ones, but now I need to try to find even fresher market ones.
**Who Killed Lard? is a great news piece. I mean really: lard. bacon. fat on pork. butter. fat on chickens. fat on fish – we eat all this animal fat and demonizing lard is pretty arbitrary when you step back and look at all the animal fats, animal bits and pieces, we eat happily.