The Great Burrito Debate.

burritos1

By Ezra Klein

Matt notes that asking him about burritos is “a bit like asking a Californian for bagel recommendations.”  That needn’t  be true. New York does have some good burritos. And Matt has been to California. And his taste in food is generally quite good. But his recommendations are deeply worrying.

Start with Well-Dressed Burrito. When I first came to DC, and first complained about the absence of Mexican food, this is what Matt, and our then-colleage, Sam Rosenfeld, said to shush me. It’ll be okay, they promised. We’ll go to Well-Dressed. The atmospherics were good. Well-Dressed Burrito is on 19th st, in a small alley. Alley food is generally good, otherwise it wouldn’t survive. Well-Dressed is not good. It’s the other thing. Bad.

Well-Dressed belongs to that particular class of restaurants that obscures taste with calories. The burritos are HUGE. They rip beneath the weight, and the grease, of their filling. But that’s all they taste of: Grease, and meat texture, and stuff. They’re what would happen if you sauted the base burrito ingredients in lots of oil then put the product in a blender. Filling, yes. But not a good burrito.

If you’re looking for a burrito in Downtown DC, I don’t know what to tell you. I’d probably counsel Chipotle. It’s not a traditional burrito, but it’s better at doing whatever it is that it’s doing than its competitors are at offering a satisfying burrito experience. Our range, however, is Washington, DC. And here I can help. When I moved to town, I lived at 14th and Chapin. Walking the streets one winter  night, homesick and hungry, I came across a little joint called Ercilia’s, on Mt. Pleasant and Irving. They served me a burrito of well-marinated meat and rice and jalapeno and topped it all with warming ranchero sauce and melted cheese. That’s a burrito. It tasted of home. Within a few months, I’d move to Mt. Pleasant. Fast Burrito, at the top of the street, also serves a delicious burrito. Pollo Sabrosa has wonderful tacos — just tortilla and meat and onion and cilantro, try the tongue — and so too does Tacos District Federal, on 14th and Oak (try the chorizo and the goat). Don Jaimes, at Mt. Pleasant and Lamont, has the bext Mexican breakfast in town. Get the huevos rancheros, the huevos divorciados, the migas, or the chorizo wrap.

If you’re not in Mt. Pleasant, Mixtec, at 18th and Columbia, is good, but much too expensive. Dos Pepitos Bakery, on Columbia near Citybikes, is much better, and much cheaper. There’s also a taco cart on Columbia road that I haven’t tried.

31 responses to “The Great Burrito Debate.

  1. As a Mt. Pleasanter, I second basically everything said here. notes:
    -Burritos Fast makes tasty burritos, but not with any particular speed. so the name is a half-truth.
    -Pollo Sabroso tacos are good but all meaty. Ercilia’s makes vegetarian tacos.

    Rinconcito II on Park, near the Giant supermarket, is also a nice place to get Mexican/Central American food.

  2. Any recommendations for the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market area?

  3. The best burrito by far that I ever had when I lived in DC was at El Charrito Caminante on Washington Blvd. about a mile south of the Clarendon Metro stop in Arlington. Authentic and with a Salvadoran twist, this is the only burrito I’ve missed since moving back to CA.

  4. Its not a burrito, but very good tacos can be had on the Senate side of Capitol Hill at Taqueria Nacional. I think the chef at Cashion’s runs it, but she definitely knows what she’s doing.

  5. thank you. everyone around here thinks that “well-dressed burrito” is the place. I think it’s basically because it *seems* like it would be good, based on the name, location, and funkiness of the place.
    but it’s not.

  6. Midwest Product

    When I first came to DC, and first complained about the absence of Mexican food, this is what Matt, and our then-colleage, Sam Rosenfeld, said to shush me…

    Who is “I” in this case?

  7. Artie: There’s a Peruvian chicken place called Chicken Tortilla, on 8th St. SE just north of M, down by the Navy Yard. They make a big burrito–not the greatest ever, but acceptable.

  8. To even say nice things about Chipotle shows you are a corporate whore.

  9. For some of us (perhaps mostly Midwestern transplants like myself), Well-Dressed is pretty good. I like ground beef and cheese, and if it doesn’t taste particularly like real Mexican or even TexMex, that’s OK.

    Oh, and the tacos at the newfangled “modern” cart on F and 7th (across from the Verizon center) are wonderful, esp. the vegetarian.

  10. i’ll second the motion for Distrito Federal (or DF, pronounced en español, to locals) on 14th at Oak.

    hands down the best burrito i’ve had in DC.

  11. I second the suggestion of TDF, which is right next to my house. However, the tacos are preferable to the burritos, perhaps for the reason that tacos are a superior product to burritos. Also, I’ll stand by Ezra’s grudging support for Chipotle. It isn’t funky or petit-bourgeois, but it uses decent ingredients and cooks them fresh. That is NOT the case for some of the down-home Mexican places, whose raw ingredients are often a bit dubious. It may be that their “Burrito concept” bothers people, but they’re not evil, and they’ve brought edible food to previously uncivilized places. And I think they’ve forced some of the mom and pops to up their game. The mom and pops can do better than Chipotle, by bringing more flavor and more authenticity, but sadly most don’t.

    In re. Matt’s comment in a previous post, the real problem with DC is an insufficient number of carts. New Haven has tons of carts, all over the place, and their food is usually quite edible (not a high standard, but a standard none the less)–it has to be, since there are usually 8-10 next to each other, and the competition is vicious. DC needs to deregulate and allow more carts, esp. around places that only do a lot of business between 11-2.

  12. i can’t believe no one has yet mentioned pedro and vinny’s taco cart on 15th and K

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/pedro-and-vinnys-washington

    the “grey goose” sauce is fantastic

  13. Really? No mention of California Tortilla? Very good burritos, some more traditional in composition than others, and excellent fish tacos with blackened (not fried) grouper.

  14. Wish I’d had this growing list when I lived in DC a few years back. I always made the trip to Arlington (Mexican and, especially, Salvadoran food abounds, cheap and good) or the Del Rey neighborhood in Alexandria. I stand by these areas still; worth the venture.

    P.S. NYC always struck me as much more problematic for burritos (and Mexican food in general) than DC. Just sayin’.

  15. Oh dear god is California tortilla bad. Worse Mexican food I’ve ever had. The fish tacos are doused in mayonnaise. The tortillas are thick and cold. California should sue. I wonder if I have standing?

  16. what about Burrito Brothers!?

  17. I think it’s basically because it *seems* like it would be good, based on the name

    Really? I’d take the name as a warning sign – why would you want your burrito to be well dressed? It reminds me of High-Tech Burrito, which is the bottom of the barrel of California burrito chains.

    I’d appreciate Ezra’s recommendations for good NYC burritos, because I have yet to find them. (Washington Heights has great tacos aplenty, but burritos are harder.)

  18. Burrito’s Fast is not that good. You lose credibility by calling it delicious.

  19. OH MY GOD I love Ercilia’s.

    That is all.

  20. I have to second Mike D’s recommendation for El Charrito Caminante in Arlington. It’s just a take out place, and the tacos are better than the burritos in my opinion, but it’s still among the better Mexican options in the DC area. I’ve now moved up to Somerville, MA where everyone raves about Ana’s taqueria, but El Charrito Caminante has Ana’s beat by a mile in my opinion. Of course if you’re comparing any of the local options to what you can find in California you’ll probably be a little disappointed.

  21. I just wanted to thank you all for the awesome recommendations, and put in a Texan’s word against Well-Dressed as well.

    Mixtec is terrible, but if you walk further up Columbia you’ll come across a few others across from the Safeway that do a decent job – Super Taco I think is the name of one of them. Even some good veggie options, like nopales tacos.

  22. As I commented under Matt’s post, I have to travel for work to a lot of suburban office buildings, which means Hampton Inn and crummy chain restaurants.

    Mission burritos are the best food on earth, objectively speaking. But you won’t find good burritos at Chipotle.

    Since several months of my year are spent off outer loop highways in US cities, I eat there pretty often. The food is cheap, somewhat fresh and not too greasy, relative to other chains. To confuse Chipotle’s product with a good burrito, however, demonstrates basic ignorance of what a burrito should be.

  23. Well, I’ve never understood this love of Chipotle over Baja Fresh, but that’s just me. Chipotle just seems so bland in comparison. Either way, NEITHER is a particularly good burrito. They’re functional, but that’s really about it. If that’s among the best burritos you get in DC, I’m really sorry.

  24. N-Less Pennies

    Thank you for sharing your musings on burritos. I am not sure if I would like to eat goat, though.

    http://www.nlesspennies.wordpress.com
    http://www.nlesscoins.wordpress.com

  25. Can somebody tell me when they started putting rice in burritos?

    I grew up in Arizona, where in the ’60s a standard burrito was a tortilla rolled around refried beans and cheese, often with the addition of some sort of meat.

    When I lived in LA 72-75, burritos were more elaborate affairs with beans and a whole array of meat fillings: carne asada, carnitas, picadillo, chicken. My absolute favorite was the Machaca burrito from the Burrito King at Sunset & Alvarado. And then there was the bizarre yet compellingly tasty pastrami burrito at the Kosher Burrito downtown.

    The whole idea of rice in a burrito would have been considered heresy. Yet here we are, with national chains like Chipotle & Qdoba serving what is called a Mission District burrito. I like ’em, but the whole idea seems weird.

    Did this trend actually begin in San Francisco and spread to the rest of the country? Just wondering.

  26. Re: Ana’s Tacqueria in Boston/Cambridge — I loved Ana’s when I lived in Boston in the late 90s. I think I might have gotten 1/4 of my total caloric intake from picking up Ana’s on the way home from work. But when I was back in Boston a few months ago and tried Ana’s again, it left me pretty unimpressed. It’s still a nice, big, cheap meal (though not nearly as cheap as it once was.) But it’s not a good burrito.

    Californians tend to know that the burrito is a bit of a detour anyways — too much other stuff distracting you from the flavor of the meat. That’s why I go with tacos. And the best taco s I’ve run across have been DF’s.

  27. I wouldn’t call Burritos Fast particularly delicious, but I do think it’s a fast, tasty dinner. It’s one of the few things I really miss about Mount Pleasant.

  28. Agree that rice in a burrito is really just filler. Rice goes outside the burrito. Someone with an MBA came up with the rice inside idea.

    I also agree that tacos are a better product than burritos, but will engage the topic anyway. If I have to eat a burrito _downtown_, then Chipotle does have potential. The tortilla itself is gummy and not really a tortilla, but if you can get the staff to make it your way (not too much rice, drain the beans well), then you can end up with a good meal. And their guacamole is very good.

    Outside of downtown, you should head to Mt. Pleasant or Adams Morgan, but stay away from Mixtec (overpriced). U Street is really lacking in good inexpensive burrito options, but we have El Sol for a sit-down restaurant.

  29. Burrito Brothers might be the best place outside of Mt. Pleasant.

  30. Downtown-wise, I think I’d just hit up the burrito cart guy on the NW corner of 17th and K. Surprised no one has mentioned it.

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