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When Burritos Go High Street

You might not have heard that the world’s renown Mexican street food burritos, indeed, dated back to the days of the Aztec; or that the term “burrito” means “little donkey” suggestive of the shape of the tortilla wrap that resembles a donkey’s ear. For the filling, you opt for different types of meat; the usual are grilled steak, carnitas (slow cooked pork with cinnamon, cilantro, oregano), barbacoa (slow cooked beef with juniper, cumin, chilli) or chicken tinga (cooked with onion and chipotle marinate). You might also not know that there are differences between a Mexican burrito and an American one. All we know is that very recently the burritos have invaded many of London’s high street and major business areas. Judging from the long queue at Mas Burritos on St Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden at lunch hours, it seems that burritos have become the “new” sandwich. Of course, there are reasons for that. They are hot, filling and absolutely meaty-licious! And as much as I hate to admit, I am among those people waiting for my Mexican fix…

Wait! I’ll correct my words. … I am among those people waiting for my American fix!

The popular burritos places on the high street sell not authentic Mexican burritos but the modified American version. The differences? The Mexican burritos are small and sound kinda dull – with only meat, rice and refried beans as fillings. The American counterpart is much bigger – explaining why many Americans are obese and many Mexicans have become Miss World? – and with unlimited choices of fillings from rice, refried beans, meat, to lettuce, guacamole, salsa, cheese and whatever else you want to put in. Mexican or American, I don’t really care. These little donkey ears are just amazing. So, let’s compare what’s on offer from the most popular burritos cafes in London!

CHILANGO

Chilango on Urbanspoon

This is where I first had my burritos and fell (almost) in love with it. The one I visited today is the Fleet Street branch – there is another Chilango on Upper Street, Islington. Good vibe, colourful decor with the highlights on pink stools and the glass counter where you may observe the staff make fresh guacamole. The Subway-style menu layout makes it easy to order. Pick your style of burritos, your meat, your veggie and your sauce. You don’t need background knowledge in Mexican food as all things are labelled in easy English terms – pork, steak, chicken. Good things about Chilango are that (1) many things are made on the premise and (2) they mostly source British produce. Price-wise – say, one burritos with one drink – it won’t cost you more than £7.

Verdict of the Day?

Massive burritos, served almost hot and with a cute logo! The fillings, however, were not drained well enough and the juice went all over the place. I was really conscious eating this as the thing I wore cost .. well .. a lot! Also, it was not wrapped tightly enough. On this occasion, I went for the pork filling, which was mild to the point of blandness. They have Cholula Hot Sauce and Tabasco on the side for Mexico-Americano masochists. All in all? Not my pick, I’m afraid.

MAS BURRITOS

Mas Burritos on Urbanspoon

The Covent Garden branch – as there is the other branch in Chancery Lane – is my neighbourhood cafe. Vibrant scene, little cactus decoration and friendly staff. And it’s exactly where I turned a burritos addict. The menu requires more knowledge into the Mexican terms. You’ll be reading carnitas instead of pork, barbacoa instead of beef and you should also be able to differentiate between grilled chicken and chicken tinga. For a burritos virgin, you might find yourself baffled by all that. Adding to the linguistic drawbacks, the ingredients are not prepared at the premise. One burritos here plus one drink will cost around £6.50.

Verdict of the Day?

This is my most favourite high street burrito place, though the piece isn’t as eye-bulgingly massive as at Chilango. The fillings are usually well drained and tightly wrapped, which truly facilitates the eating! The meat, whatever you pick, is bold in its flavours and the spices come through nicely. But, the burritos here are never as hot as at Chilango. My favourite picks are Barbecoa – deep, dark and rich – and Chicken Tinga – sweet and tender. The packaging is not consistent, though. If you opt to eat in and are lucky, you’ll get poshed up basket with free nachos. If the luck isn’t on your side, you’ll get a paper plate. That said, Mas Burritos houses the best selection of Cholula Hot Sauce – sorry I’m a real chilli whore – with choices from the Original, the Garlic and Chilli to the super heated Chipotle mix. This is my pick, of course!

Lucky day …

Not-so-lucky day … but the burritos are always very good! The thing is called Mas Fajitas – with peppers and onions instead of refried beans – with Chicken Tinga.

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

This is a true American import and I understand it was much anticipated, not the same sense as Dinner by Heston, I must add. The place looks a bit like a factory cafeteria and lacks warmth. The price is a little more upmarket than the rest mentioned in this post. Say, one burrito plus one drink will cost around £8. The menu is easy to read – beef, pork, chicken – though its American original uses terms like Carnitas and Barbacoa.

Verdict of the Day?

I asked for a naked burritos with barbacoa. Great quality meat. Well seasoned and well cooked, though not as rich and bold as Mas Burritos. Overall, this does worth a pound extra. To me, there is no negative about Chipotle and it’s down to preference only!

Tucking in …

BENITO’S HAT

Benito's Hat on Urbanspoon

The last one and it’s also round my corner. Benito’s Hat on New Row looks more like a cheap canteen but the price range is similar to Chilango, and it proves on a couple of occasions with robotic staff. They shout, “Guacamole, salsa and cheese?”, but as my preference goes, when I tell them to opt out the guacamole and the cheese, I can often see this horrific look on their face, as if I bugger their burritos. The menu reads easy, like Chilango. Actually, it reads easier. I once asked for a naked burritos, a common terminology for a burritos without the tortilla wrap. Again, the staff looked mortified. Enough said…

Verdict of the Day?

This came as a surprise. My burritos was wrapped in a near square shape. It was hard to eat. The meat was also not nicely drained and at the end of the quick meal my hands were wet. Smell-wise? My cat mistook my hand for that of the burritos I’d just eaten. Also, the proportion of everything inside was just wrong. Too much rice, not enough meat. Bla bla bla .. I wasn’t impressed at all. Well, in their defense, you’ll always get free nachos.

I hope this helps you find the burritos of your choice in London!

Hasta pronto xx

6 Comments

  1. I am yet to find a burrito place in London which makes me excited – all the ones I’ve had have always been soggy and I’ve ended up with burrito juice all over my face = not a good look. I did quite like Daddy Donkey on Leather Lane though – have you tried them?

    • Hi Hanna,
      Thank you for the burrito tipoff. Never tried your one and will give it a go but perhaps in a few months’ time. I happened to consume half a bottle of the Cholula hot sauce in one day and my stomach still suffers from it! I’m straying off chilli for the time being >_<

      And yeah, tell me about the "juicy" face! I don't understand if the staff isn't trained to drain the meat/beans properly.

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  3. H

    Interesting. I genuinely found Mas Burritos to be really bad (think I’m thinking of the same place), and it’s what inspired me to make my own burritos at home, where the cumin/oregano/juniper flavours were easy to make pronounced. Agree with Chilango – very good, if not perfect.

  4. I’m Mexican. The first time in my life I had a burrito was during my first visit to the U.S.A, when I was well over 25 years old. I grew up in Central Mexico, some people argue that burritos, nachos, and chimichangas as a Northern Mexico thing, but I don’t buy it. Border states seem to have adapted local dishes to appeal to Gringo palates.

    Anyway, with that said, Benito’s Hat was definitely the best when they first opened, but something happened later on. Out of your selection I would go with Chilango any time, thought I rarely order burritos there, I normally go for their tacos.

    For proper, only slightly dulled down Mexican food, you need to take a trip to Lupita, thought a meal with drinks will be about £25 per person, depending on how hungry you are, which is a travesty because that same food in Mexico would cost about £2.

    Rant over.

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