Legend has it that the taco de harina, now known as the burrito, was first crafted by Juan Mendez in Ciudad Juárez during the Mexican Revolution. Mendez wanted to serve full meals from his donkey cart, so he kept all the elements warm in a flour tortilla. Smart man. Nearly 100 years later, we thank him for his grab ’n’ go culinary contribution and the cute name by which we call it — a reference to the ass that got him to market.
Since coming across the border, the burrito has grown both in size and popularity. How could it not? The only other way to get a whole meal in your hand is to toast up a Hot Pocket. To save you from resorting to such dangerous measures, Seven Days staffers have evaluated the Burlington-area burrito options.
For this survey, we selected only eateries that offer several tasty wrap selections, and ordered from each restaurant the two options that sounded most exciting. All of them can be delivered right to your dorm or apartment by 863-TOGO. We food writers asked music editor Dan Bolles for help in evaluating the eats. He didn’t mind too much, and provided some spicy commentary of his own. Ready, set, tuck in!
260 North Street, Burlington, 658-8800
Did you know that Sam Lai, owner of the Old North End staple China Express, loves Mexican food? He’s such a fan that he’s created Chinese, Mexican and American fusion at his second restaurant, One Pepper Grill, just a block up North Street from his Chinese take-out joint.
There’s only one burrito size at One Pepper. The wraps are muy grande and come with chips and salsa on the side. Depending on the filling, all four varieties ring up between $7.50 and $8.50. Not bad for a unique meal, big enough to share. (There are tacos, burgers and steaks, too.)
Crispy Chicken (rice, black beans, cheese)
Dan: I would be inclined to eat here after, say, hanging for a few beers down the street at T. Rugg’s. Alice pointed out that the chicken pieces are more breading than chicken, but I like that. Salty and crunchy? Sold. Otherwise, I think the generous mix of cheese and black beans added a gooey, if guilt-inspiring, balance to the chicken crunch.
Alice: The rice appeared to be from down the street at China Express. It was white and unseasoned, fine for Chinese food but bland in a burrito. And while the chicken was ultra-crispy, there was a whole lot of crisp and not that much meat. The flavor of the Chinese sauce glazing the chicken was hard to place; it might be the same one used in sesame chicken.
Suzanne: Although I, too, appreciated the crackling crust on the chicken, this was probably my least favorite burrito of the bunch. I generally dislike rice inside a wrap — it often serves as cheap filler rather than as an essential, flavorful component.
Steak (rice, black beans, cheese)
Dan: My favorite thing about both One Pepper burritos was that the staffers lightly grilled the outside of each wrap, giving it a crispy crust (something I often do at home).
I especially appreciated that texture in contrast to the filling, a mushy mix of beef, beans and cheese. The spice gave it a little kick, which was nice. Adding the pico de gallo salsa that came on the side lent the burrito some much needed lightness (and vegetables). Otherwise, this thing had the potential for gut-busting greasiness.
Alice: Chiles gave the meat — which appeared to be braised carnitas style — a very earthy taste. The burrito reminded me of those at Taco Bell, but I like Taco Bell. Could have used some acidity to balance the meat and cheese, but overall it was pleasant.
Suzanne: This time, the rice had soaked up some sauce, so was less of a problem for me. The portion of meat was generous and the sauce was earthy and flavorful but needed some acidity to brighten it up. Thank goodness for the pico de gallo on the side.
92 Church Street, Burlington, 658-9771
If you want to get your wraps from a joint that puts its principles where its diners’ mouths are, Boloco — an abbreviation of Boston Local Company — is the place. The small chain (16 locations) is certified green, participates in fundraisers for charities and sells meat from humanely raised animals.
Located in the old Quiznos location on Church Street, Boloco offers smoothies, salads and snacks in addition to its signature wraps. The reasonably priced burritos — $6.25 for an original, $5.25 for a small, and $3.95 for what they call a “disturbingly small” mini — come tightly wrapped in aluminum foil and fastened with paper labels for easy flavor identification.
Memphis BBQ (sweet barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw, pinto beans, rice, pork carnitas)
Dan: Nice overall favor, albeit hardly evocative of Memphis BBQ. Then again, if you’re looking for authentic ’cue at a burrito joint, you deserve what you get. I could have used more pork, generally, and felt the tang from the sauce overpowered any natural pork flavor. A better balance among the rice, slaw and pork would help.
Alice: Though the burrito is called Memphis BBQ, it didn’t remind me much of any BBQ I’ve ever had. That said, the sauce was pleasantly spicy, and there was a lot of it: The thing could be called a “sauce burrito.” The creamy slaw was a great counterpoint to the vinegary, spicy sauce, but the pork flesh was a letdown, more weirdly knotted than meltingly tender. All in all, though, I enjoyed this one and would get it again.
Suzanne: Although the ultra-shredded pork was easy to eat, I would have preferred bigger, juicier chunks, and more of ’em. The beans, too, were kind of sparse. The crisp and creamy coleslaw played well with the tangy BBQ sauce.
Buffalo (spicy buffalo sauce, blue cheese dressing, celery, rice, chicken)
Dan: This was a fun concept, and I found myself enjoying the crunch from the celery inside the burrito — a creative touch. Heat and flavor were balanced nicely, aided by a generous amount of blue cheese.
Alice: I’m a sucker for Buffalo sauce, and this one worked its way into every crevice of every grain of rice. Because the grains were tasty, I didn’t mind that the burrito was 50 percent starch. I loved the novelty of eating chicken wings in burrito form. It was all really well integrated and made a very complete, satisfying dish. Though I prefer corn tortillas, the flour ones at Boloco were pleasantly chewy.
Suzanne: Buffalo wings are a guilty pleasure for me, so I initially appreciated this fusion iteration, particularly because it included crisp celery. However, after eating a “healthier” burrito and going back to this one, I found it a bit overbearing and chemical tasting. The chicken may be all natural, but my research showed that the blue-cheese dressing contains preservatives, corn syrup and caramel color.
213 College Street, Burlington, 864-9900
The only Vermont link in a four-store, family-owned chain, Bueno Y Sano has been serving burritos from a classy glass-and-wood storefront on College Street since 2007.
The spot’s greatest strength may be the DIY aspect of its menu. Patrons can mix ’n’ match numerous ingredients — many of them vegetarian — to create customized burritos, quesadillas and salads. Prices depend on how many fillings you opt for.
DIY Vegetarian Red Curry (chickpeas, spinach, garlic, mushrooms, rice, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo)
Dan: I actually enjoyed this more than I imagined I might. I tend to overseason vegetables to mask their veggie flavor. But the light seasoning here allowed the produce to stand on its own, which made this burrito seem like a much healthier option.
Alice: Where was the curry flavor? I liked the spinach and big, chunky garlic, but the wilted lettuce and tomato and onion salsa were not good combined with the other veggies. Individual veggies were pleasant enough but didn’t have any personality. I tried a piece of onion that literally had no taste. Healthy, but far from delicious.
Suzanne: It didn’t occur to me to request that they not put cheese and salsa in a burrito laced with red curry sauce, so maybe this was my fault: The flavors and textures just don’t go together. My favorite part was the bright green, just-wilted spinach flavored with plenty of garlic.
DIY Beef Chili (rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo, mild sauce)
Dan: The carrots were a fun surprise, but I like my chili with more heat. OK, actually, any heat. It’s friggin’ chili. But this was about as bland as I’ve ever had. Honestly, the veggie burrito had more flavor.
Alice: Looks like a beached manatee — in a good way. Cute and round, it’s a substantial meal. The chili itself was almost sweet enough to be dessert, and not in any way spicy. Two kinds of beans, rice and corn wrapped in a flour tortilla felt like a starch bomb. If you’re making a standard burrito like this, it needs to stand out with great flavor. This did not.
Suzanne: I know that many Americans are spice-phobic, so I didn’t mind that the chili wasn’t that piquant — a few dashes of fiery, homemade hot sauce did the trick. Also, Bueno had the best guacamole of the bunch. It was bright green and had the proper citrus-avocado balance.
696 Pine Street, Burlington, 865-1058
Founded by a pair of University of Vermont-alum brothers, New World Tortilla has achieved the status of a local classic.
Operated out of a modernized, hip-looking former warehouse on Pine Street, the eatery makes its own flour and corn tortillas. A second location, on the UVM campus, helps keep college kids in Thai chicken wraps, tacos and quesadillas.
The good-sized wraps range from $5.99 for the vegan version to $7.50 for most of the others.
Chicken Club (bacon, tomato, greens, cheddar, garlic mayo, mustard)
Dan: The club didn’t do much for me. The ingredients were fine — nice, fresh lettuce and tomato, and chewy bacon, which I prefer — but there’s something about the layers of toast that add a textural component to the traditional club sandwich that a burrito wrap, as much as I like New World’s, just can’t touch. It’s part of the profile of that sandwich, and a big reason why it’s a classic.
Alice: Holy mayo, I think I’m drowning! While I liked the flavor of the Dijon and mayo mixture, there was way too much of it. The tortilla, on the other hand, was extraordinarily dry and powdery, like a tortilla cracker. The bacon was soggy, but, that said, the flavors worked for me, and I didn’t even mind the raw tomatoes and lettuce mixing with the hot ingredients.
Suzanne: I would never have ordered this myself, but Alice was excited about it. New World’s housemade tortillas appealed to me more than other, chewier versions I’ve tried — I don’t want to feel like a dog tearing at a chew toy when I eat my lunch — and I appreciated the very crunchy lettuce.
Beef (cheddar cheese, greens, jalapeños, sour cream, salsa)
Dan: The beef was a little closer to the mark for me. Again, the relative freshness of ingredients was appreciated and, overall, it had a nice balance of flavors. Not much else to say. Solid all around.
Alice: This was the balance of earthy and tangy we’ve been looking for. The beef was slightly spicy, with the most authentically Mexican flavor profile we’ve tried. I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, but I still found the whole thing a little … vanilla.
Suzanne: I loved the occasional bites of jalapeño and the rich, well-seasoned sauce on the beef. And, best of all, no rice! The classic combination may not be weird enough for some (looking at you, Levitt), but this was a well-balanced, delicious burrito.