DC Burritos

tesoro_burrito1

By Matthew Yglesias

There’s been some interest over at my other blog on the question of where you might go in Washington, DC for a decent burrito. I note as a prelude that I was born and raised in New York City, and then went to college in Boston before moving to DC. So asking me about burritos is a bit like asking a Californian for bagel recommendations.

That said, in my view there are two answers to this question. One, that I used to frequent when I worked at The American Prospect, is The Well-Dressed Burrito located in an alley that runs between 19th and 18th streets between L and M. The other, that I frequent now that I work at the Center for American Progress, is Pedro & Vinny’s, which is really just one guy in a cart on 15th and K. Pedro & Vinny’s is typically known as “the burrito cart” and offers an extremely limited menu. It is, however, by far the best vegetarian option in town. During decent weather, the line can get prohibitively long, but the winter tends to reduce people’s interest in the outdoor line concept and leads to smoother service. Well-Dressed has a pretty extensive menu.

I note from the fact that both good burrito places are in non-standard locations that there appears to be something about the DC market for retail space that makes good burritos non-viable. The only way to make money as a burrito salesperson is to get rock-bottom rents by working out of a cart or an alley, and I don’t exactly know why that is. The moral of the story, however, is that everything relates to land-use and urban planning so people should pay more attention.

29 responses to “DC Burritos

  1. Pingback: Matthew Yglesias » Burritos and Urban Planning

  2. See your other blog :-)

    For cheap and filling eats, Qdoba can’t be beat. Not high-end, not a lot of choices, not “authentic” in some narrow sense, but good solid food, reasonably healthy, and very filling (1,000 calories in a steak burrito w/ cheese & sour cream) — all for less than $7. There’s one at 33rd & M St NW, and one downtown on 11th at E/F NW.

  3. Taco Pepito’s Bakery in A-M and Taqueria Distrito Federal in Columbia Heights both do excellent work.

    Both deliver, too.

  4. Pingback: The Internet Food Association

  5. qdoba is an abomination. not good, not authentic, not worth a visit. i cannot disagree strongly enough.

  6. Chicago has a tremendous number of good burrito places if you end up doing any coverage of Obama on his home turf. The 900,000-odd Hispanics living in the city may have something to do with it. They form a better customer base (and entrepreneurial pool for burrito shop owners) than the DC think-tank lunch crowd.

  7. It’s worth pointing out that Well-Dressed Burrito is owned by C.F. Folks restaurant, which is perched near the Palm on 19th between M and DuPont Circle in a very standard location.

  8. Also in Chicago…

    yes, there is a ton of great mexican food places here, but the authentic ones don’t always feature burritos, since the authentic burrito is – as the name suggests – sort of small, and anglos usually want a burrito as big as their heads, stuffed with meat and cheese. Nothing wrong with that (well…maybe), but the point is that the big-ass burrito isn’t authentic. I’d say that if what you want is an anglo-type burrito (big, etc.) you can eat at a chain like Chipotle. Yes, I know they’re owned by McDonalds, but the food is not so bad for what it is. Not authentic, but perfectly OK.

    What DC needs, and Chicago doesn’t lack for, is *taquerias*. A good taqueria has lots of choices for what to put into the taco, and, of course, a variety of homemade sauces.

  9. Matt, as a former Cambridge resident you must have eaten at Anna’s and/or Boca Grande… and I would say they are both far superior to national chains and able to succeed in a retail market that is presumably fairly similar to DC.

  10. Best burrito in the DC metro area was sold from a truck behind the gas station on the corner of Viers Mill Road and Randolf Road in the Aspen Hill area.

    Sadly, the restaurateur has since put his bistro in gear, and no forwarding address is forthcoming.

  11. I used to love Burrito Brothers back in the day (say mid-90’s). Then at some point, I decided I didn’t like them anymore. Not sure what exactly happened.

  12. No no no. Chicken Tortilla — Barracks Row, between the freeway and the Navy Yard. Biggest and bestest. And really good rotisserie chicken too.

    http://dcfoodblog.blogspot.com/2005/11/chicken-tortilla-barracks-rows-latest.html

  13. speaking of burritos and going to college in boston, i just want to give a holler to annas taqueria, which makes the best burrito (and quesadilla) i’ve ever had in my life.

    http://www.annastaqueria.com/

    if dc leaves you hungry for a good burrito, and you’re lucky enough to find yourself in boston/somerville/cambridge… go to anna’s.

  14. I used to love Burrito Brothers back in the day (say mid-90’s). Then at some point, I decided I didn’t like them anymore. Not sure what exactly happened.

    They overexpanded and then had to make cutbacks and raise prices, which drove away dedicated clientele like you and I. A large bean, rice, and cheese burrito was $4 and change back when, $6-7 if you went with meat or spinach and a fancy tortilla. Then once their new places opened they started making cutbacks- no more free tomato salsa, and prices went to $5+ for a no frills burrito. People stopping coming so there wasn’t as much business and turnover and quality went down, business fell off more, and then locations started closing. That’s how I remember it at least.

    You can still get a half-decent burrito from them- grande w/ cheese, black beans, whole wheat tortilla, and steamed spinach, verde salsa inside.

  15. Do I really have to point out the plain-as-day obvious answer to this question? The best burrito in town- and all of North America for that matter- is:

    CHIPOTLE.

    Next topic.

  16. I live in NYC now but lived in SF for 8+ years and can say that there’s probably at least 8-10 random little local joints in the Mission that simply destroy anything you’d get at Baja Fresh, Chipotle, Qdoba, or virtually any other national or east coast joint (and I like Chipotle and Baja Fresh).

    CA and the southwest is where you get the goods. S.D. has killer fish tacos, and you can get amazing tacos, burritos and more in either L.A. or S.F. for cheap.

  17. Do I really have to point out the plain-as-day obvious answer to this question? The best burrito in town- and all of North America for that matter- is:

    CHIPOTLE.

    …. says someone who is obviously either a Chipotle employee or an East Coaster with no business commenting on the subject.

    If you’re looking for a good burrito, you don’t want an authentic Mexican burrito – Mexican burritos are rather boring, and if you’re in an authentic Mexican restaurant, I recommend picking the tacos, because authentic Mexican tacos are delicious and vastly superior to the Americanized version. (The hard shell is an abomination before the Lord.)

    A good burrito joint is a distinct thing from a Mexican restaurant. The burrito as we know it is a California creation, and in my experience (I can’t claim to have spent time in the Midwest) that’s where you want to go for a burrito – as a previous commenter said, any number of local places will beat Chipotle etc hands down.

    Chipotle makes decent food, of course, and I prefer it to Qdoba, though not by much. For the East Coast folks who haven’t had a really good burrito, I’d say Chipotle/Qdoba are to burritos as Subway/Quiznos are to deli sandwiches.

  18. Watch out!!! Those burritos are packed with the power to make you give out an obnoxious amnessia gas. Careful.

  19. @ Mesbah.

    Chipotle is bad. It is (much) better than Qdoba, but it is not “good” by any stretch.

    I will join the chorus from boston/somerville/cambridge in recommending Anna’s.

  20. I third Sam (hey Sam!) and hetherjw’s Anna’s shoutout. I miss my greasy carnitas quesadillas…

  21. Chipotle and Qdoba are bad by any standard that compares them to peer burrito makers. They are OK if you’ve never had anything else, but compared to the likes of Illegal Pete’s (local in CO), they are trash.

  22. Chipotle isn’t bad by any means. When stuck at the awful suburban hotels where I seem to always stay during work trips (I work for a big accounting firm), it’s generally the best pick from a bad lot.

    But really, it’s not very good. I’m based in Tennessee, and even in Nashville there are far better independent burrito places, both mission-style and from Mexican restaurants, than Chipotle.

    If Chipotle comes to mind as a good burrito place, you either don’t get out much, or you live in a burrito dead zone.

  23. Chipotle IS actually the best burrito around. Its not necessarily “authentic” but who cares. Its fresh and delicious and, by the way, the meat is raised with humane standards and is higher quality, which counts for a lot in my book. The taste, options, and consciousness keeps bringing me back.

    Sure, the Well Dressed Burrito is superb.

  24. Chipotle on the east coast is somewhat like democracy; the worst except for all the other available options. I’d be interested to hear any new york city residents name a superior outlet.

  25. First, I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled throughout Central America and I never saw burritos as we understand them here, so let’s drop all pretension that there is such a thing as an “authentic” burrito.

    Second, I judge a burrito by the ingredients. If it has bulky gas-inducing “vegetables” like broccoli or squash, I feel cheated. If it has more than 30% rice, I feel cheated. If the beans are not properly drained, then the meal is too sloppy and fails. If the salsa is too mild, then the burrito vendor is wasting my time. If there is no fresh avocado or guacamole, then I’m just eating a sandwich.

    With that in mind, I agree with Matt, but I suggest that it has less to do with land use policy than our immigration policy. Salvadorenos from La Union who fled the fighting against U.S.-sponsored rightwing death squads came to DC without quite the same culinary instincts as Mexican immigrants who came to the Western U.S. and Chicago seeking economic advancement. In Chicago, there are restaurants that bear the names of the owners’ home states, like Michoacan and Sinaloa and when you’re inside having an order of tacos, you taste the lime and chili, the cilantro and avocado, and feel like you are in those places.

    DC has a Pollo Campero and a million and one pupeserias but it just doesn’t feel the same. Now if you want some good doro wat…

  26. east coast guy

    Well, maybe I don’t know any better but I think it would be hard to top Chipotle for taste, atmosphere, and its effort at using humanely raised livestock.

  27. uh, not really related to burritos, but rather local carts: i highly recommend mojoe coffee cart at 15th & VT, across from the McPherson metro. They are friendly, fast, will make anything for you, and know their regulars. I miss them now that I don’t work over there any more. If they are still around, help keep them in business!

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