From a Portland, Ore. behemoth stuffed with a chile relleno and steak to a simple fried shrimp and fish burrito in Miami, from legendary San Francisco Mission District gems to examples from a little spot that folks in Sioux City, Iowa, would probably prefer to keep all to themselves, America is chock full of amazing burritos. We considered hundreds of them and are proud to announce our selection of the 35 best.
When you think about it, the burrito might be the world’s most perfect food. Seriously, what’s not to like? A hefty flour tortilla, steamed and pliable, filled with beans, cheese, meat, and vegetables, customizable to the extreme. Want guacamole and Mexican crema? Sure. Want grilled vegetables instead of meat? Sure, plenty of vegetarian options available. All the food groups are covered, and best of all, the burrito is handheld.
The answer might seem obvious, but before we can go any further, we need to ask ourselves what exactly a burrito is. It’s not just a hodgepodge of stuff wrapped up in a tortilla; that’s a wrap (especially if it’s cold and cut in half). And while there are plenty of fusion burritos out there, like the world-class ones served from Los Angeles’ Kogi Truck or the egg-filled breakfast burritos increasingly popular around the country, those are rankings for another day. For current purposes, we’re talking about, well, what you probably picture when you think of a burrito: a tidy cylinder of joy tightly wrapped up in aluminum foil, filled to nearly bursting with the afore-mentioned Tex-Mex favorites: your choice of rice, beans, cheese, meats like carnitas, barbacoa, and chicken mole, vegetables, guacamole, crema, and maybe some hot sauce, all the flavors co-mingling to create a flavor bomb that’s customized precisely to your liking. Did I mention that a burrito just might be the perfect food? [related]
In order to compile our ranking, we looked at burritos from all across the country and applied several strict criteria: Are all the ingredients fresh? Is there a good selection of meats and add-ons? Can you customize your order, right down to the amount of crema squeezed on top? Is it renowned by critics and locals alike in its city? We’re not ranking places to buy a burrito; we’re ranking the burritos themselves, but we know that you don’t buy a burrito in a void. So when you drive by this place does your mouth immediately start to water, forcing you to impulsively pull over and, before you know it, you’re diving face-first into the burrito of your dreams? Yeah, those are the burritos we’re looking for. We compiled a list of more than 100 burritos from all across the country that meet those criteria, from Mountain View, Calif., to Morgantown, W. Va., and divided them into regions. We included favorites from last year’s ranking as well as burritos in existing best-of lists and burrito-ranking websites. We then sent the survey to journalists and food writers across the country, as well as renowned chefs that are a part of our Culinary Council. Chefs who participated in the survey and will allow their names to be used include Jonathan Waxman (a native Californian with extensive burrito experience) and Cesare Casella (who brings an Italian-rustic viewpoint to the subject) — while several other famous chefs declined to participate on the grounds that they don't eat burritos! [pullquote:left]
(The writer and statistician Nate Silver's new website, fivethirtyeight.com, incidentally is about to offer its own “Burrito Bracket,” with results compiled in what seems to us a convoluted way: The initial list is derived from user reviews on Yelp.com. Next, a four-person "Burrito Selection Committee" from different parts of the country — one of whom, chef David Chang, recently told, er, fivethirtyeight.com that "Most of the Yelp reviews are wrong. They just are" — narrows down the selection to 64 choices. Finally, a single eater, writer Anna Maria Barry-Jester, is journeying around the country to sample burritos at all the nominated places. So, an individual critic's assessment based on crowd-sourced averages? Interesting. But we'll stick to our method.)
Obviously, the top end of our list is California-heavy. Before burritos found their way to the Mission District of San Francisco, they were little more than a flour tortilla rolled up around one or two ingredients, like beans or fish. But the burrito ballooned once it made its way to the states, growing to massive proportions in San Francisco in the early 1960s, giving rise to the burritos we most recognize today and therefore some of the most definitive, "perfect" examples. Other regional varieties include a more minimalist meat-cheese-salsa variety in San Diego and one with refried beans, stewed beef, and shredded cheddar in Los Angeles. Further afield, green chile has made its mark on the burrito in Santa Fe, and throughout the rest of the country the gospel has spread, resulting in unique and delicious burritos in just about every major city.
While there are infinite varieties of burritos around the country, at the end of the day we look for that same level of satisfaction that only a handheld combination of compatible flavors can provide. So without further ado, read on to learn about the top 35 burritos in America.
35) Taco Surf Taco Shop, San Diego: Carne Asada
The smell will draw you off the beach and into this uniquely Southern California taqueria. Though there are more than 15 burrito filling options, opt for the carne asada. The top sirloin is cooked to order and never sits around, creating an extremely fresh burrito dripping with warm beef juices.
34) La Pasadita, Chicago: Super Lomo
A no-nonsense taqueria with a limited menu, La Pasadita makes its presence known with a screaming-yellow exterior. Meat options are plentiful, ranging from chicken to beef tongue, (vegetarians are sadly out of luck), but you’ll want to opt for the lomo, fresh rib-eye. The super burrito comes loaded with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, onions, cilantro, and rice — it is a behemoth.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.