Friday, October 27, 2006


The more I try to think about the qualities that best describe the perfect burrito, the more I seem to confuse myself and find myself at a loss for a shining paragon of burrito idealism. Or I just haven't found an AMAZING burrito in Los Angeles.

Something I've neglected thus far is to establish any sort of clarity about what constitutes my estimation of a high quality burrito. I wanted to get a couple posts under my belt to get a handle on the language of burrito commentary before tackling any sort of rating system or rule for burrito ranking. I will attempt an exploratory stab at this, but first I think it's important to establish that there are a couple different basic types of burritos out there. For expedience I will classify them into three groups for now:

1) Traditional, San Diego/Northern Mexico style burrito. (Yucca's)
Cheap flour tortilla, Dollop o' Beans, Dollop o' meat:

I've never been to Mexico (pathetic) but from what I've read in books and articles, and have been told by people who've eaten there, is that the origin of the burrito as we know it came from street vendors who would push a cart around with a steaming pot of beans that they would dollop into a flour tortilla, providing a cheap, filling meal for day laborers and the like. This basic offering was quickly modified by the addition of a second steaming pot of simmered meat like chile con carne (chunks of beef in red sauce). I don't think rice was ever part of the equation down there and wasn't really introduced until late in the 20th century as burrito vendors sought ways to fill a burrito for little added cost.

2) Authentic Burrito, LA Style?, with rice (Tacos Mexico, Burrito King)

Not that "authentic burrito" is a real name or even a satisfactory one, but it'll have to do for the purposes of this amateur food blog. I think of a "authentic" burrito as the type of thing you can get at mexican restaurants that cover the LA food landscape. Places like Tacos Mexico and Los/Dos Burritos serve this burrito from west hollywood to deep in the west san fernando valley. What seperates it from the more traditional burrito is of course the addition of mexican rice, but also the vastly increased number of meat options. Where the original burritos were probably just a bunch of beef and beans slopped in a cheap crumbly flour tortilla, these burritos incorporate nearly every part of the animal to please your culinary sensibilities. Tongue, brain, tribe are the wilder options, along with traditional fillings like carnitas, machaca, al pastor, asada etc.

3) NÜburrito / Post-Burrito / Health(ier) Chain Burrito. (chipotle, sharky's, anna's taqueria)

This burrito is essentially the same as the authentic burrito, at least nominally. It usually contains the same stuff: rice beans, meat, but it is designed by chefs and made with more transparency and healthier (read: more expensive) ingredients. This means a healthier, maybe baked carnitas, lard-free beans, etc. more later...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Voted Best Food In LA?

If you live in the "eastside" of LA you've probably driven by what appears to be a schlubby drive-thru restaurant sporting a sign that makes two ridiculous claims. Situated on the southeast corner of Fletcher Ave and Riverside Drive., Rick's Drive in & Out alleges that not only "Everyone In LA Eats at Rick's," but that everyone in LA "Voted [Rick's] Best Food in LA."

While the veracity of these claims has yet to be determined, Rick's is a fine eating establishment that deserves a place in the lineup of regular eastside breakfast joints. Rick's is cheap, offers very little in the way of frills, and may be loud and crowded at times. What it does offer is the best breakfast potato option in pretty much all of LA. Preferences may vary from person to person on the choice between hashbrowns and homefried potatoes. Beyond that decision, the focus shifts to the merits and particulars of hashbown or homefry styles and flavors. The potatoes at Rick's are a kind of hybrid homefry/hashbrown, combining aspects of both breakfast potatoes.

To my knowledge a homefry is a relatively large chunk of a potato, usually-but not always-served with the skin intact. Cooked in butter and/or oil, the homefry comes with a salty brown exterior and a soft mushy middle, with the bit of skin providing a textural bonus. Visually, homefries served at breakfast appear as a pile of potato fractions-a dark contrast to the brightly colored eggs they usually accompany.

The hashbrown on the other hand usually appears flat and wide, almost like a large potato pancake. Usually shredded like a grated taco cheese, the hashbrowns I think of have much less soft, white potatoey middle, and more golden-brown crispy exterior. The shredding of the potato increases the surface area of the order exponentially, so a much higher percentage of the tuber comes in contact with the oil/butter, thereby creating a crispier, somehow less hearty flavor. The shoestring french fry to the homefry's steakhouse mega-fry.

The potatoes at ricks are homefries in that they are rather chunky piles of potato. They are not shredded, yet they have no skin. They appear to be potatoes cut into fairly large pieces, that are then blanched to the point where they begin to lose their structure. At this point they are doused with a seasoning of some sort and tossed on a well-buttered grill and eventually flipped. The result is breakfast potato heaven. Because the potatoes hit the grill in a deconstructed state they are extremely susceptible to the butter in the way that the shredded hashbrown is, yet somehow the cooking process on the grill creates texture so that there are chunks of potato created by the browning.

It is this potato offering that provides the backbone of Rick's breakfast burrito. If you don't want meat in your burrito, for somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.50 you get a giant tortilla filled with a ton of Rick's potatoes, and enough scrambled eggs to fill out the remaining space. Often breakfast burritos contain eggs that are prepared in a slip-shod manner, scrambled on the grill, and worse, allowed to get crispy and dry. At Rick's, the scrambled eggs are always fluffy and moist, and never runny.

With the warm tortilla wrapping my delicious eggs and potatoes, I am almost in breakfast heaven. But even if the potatoes were mediocre and the eggs overcooked I would probably still recommend Rick's for breakfast because every table is allocated two delicious fresh salsas presented in squeeze bottles. A smoked red chile salsa and a tomatillo-cilantro salsa verde. Both salsas are on the mild side, yet are quite flavorful. I personally like to douse every bite of my breakfast in some of each, changing the green:red ratio a little bit with each bite.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Juanita's Authentic Mexican Food

When I first moved to Silverlake a few years ago, I made it a point to explore the surrounding areas for the best mexican food. I had heard a lot about eagle rock so I decided to drive around the neighborhood and about 30 seconds after exiting the 2 Freeway - which I think we can all agree is the best freeway in LA - I came across a plain-looking storefront with new lettering called Juanita's Authentic Mexican Food. I was frequently unemployed at that time and Juanita's inexpensive homestyle mexican cuisine was just what I was craving several days a week.

More so than the food though, what truly drew me to Juanita's kitchen was the family atmosphere and people. A woman who I can only assume is Juanita is always cooking behind stainless steel counter, taking orders, and preparing the food. A man who I think is her husband often helps prepare the food or sits with a friend or two at the back table of the restaurant, preparing the raw cornmeal for saturday tamalés. Their children, friends, and relatives help in the kitchen or just walk in from school and prepare a meal for themselves where Juanita is cooking for the customers. And along all the walls of the restaurant, portraits and tributes to Frieda Kahlo.

So the review:

I went to Juanita's for lunch on Tuesday with Stephanie. She decided to get chicken and vegetable soup and I chose an old favorite, the chile verdre burrito. At Juanita's you make your order at the counter, return to your table for service and then pay at the counter when finished. As usual, when I attempted to order "Chicken with vegetable soup," I was given a brief spanish lesson by Juanita: "Ah, sopa de pollo." She always corrects me and tries to provide a few new words to my pathetic spanish vocabulary, so for my half of the order I impressed her with "Un burrrrrito de chile verrrde." Rolling my R's is pretty much the only thing I do well with spanish. It got a cheeky smile from the veteran burrito artisan.

I know it may seem sacriligeous to do my maiden review on a wet burrito, but I want to make it clear that this is a blog about burritos of all shapes, sizes, and viscosities. The chile verde burrito is a delicious concoction filled with long-stewed pork in a green chile sauce. The meat is quite moist by the time it makes it into a burrito and it falls apart the way that carnitas or bbq pulled pork does. There is rice in the burritos at Juanita's, but it is homestyle spanish rice with small pieces of corn, carrots and green beans that really add an extra layer of comfort to the already hearty dish. The beans are tasty pintos, which is important because refried beans are a definite burrito no-no in my book.

The icing on the cake, or in this case the sauce and cheese on the burrito, is the sauce and cheese smothered over the burrito and then melted in the broiler...mmmm. Some restaurants drown their burrito's in overwhelming sauce and greasy cheese, but Juanita seems to get it just right, with enough stuff on top to heighten your enjoyment, but not enough to take away from the overall burrito experience. The garnish of a tomato slice, lettuce and a dollop of sour cream really ties the whole dish together, and adds that extra little flavor to take it to the limit one mo time.

Stephanie's sopa de pollo was delicious as well, filled with giant chunks of simmered potato, zucchini, carrots and chicken, a side of rice, chopped cilantro, chopped white onions, and warm corn tortillas, a hearty and VERY healthy meal any time of the day.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Mission Statement
Burrito review format
Burrito rating system

all things laptop, all things burrito

they are the two best things.