The burrito. A handheld thing of beauty, containing protein, veggies, cheese, hot sauce, and a hearty helping of guacamole, all tightly wrapped in a flour tortilla. It’s rightfully beloved and justly revered by foodies of all stripes.
While the burrito claims Mexican origins, several of the more iconic versions come to us courtesy of Mexican immigrants living in the United States. For many years, the “gold standard” of Americanized burritos came in the form of the Mission burrito, a San Francisco creation made from an especially-large tortilla, rice and beans, chopped or shredded meat, cheese, salsa, crema, lettuce, and guac, all tightly wrapped in an aluminum foil cocoon for structural support.
However, another West Coast creation might just be worthy of dethroning the Mission burrito: a SoCal specialty aptly known as the California burrito. A flawless fusion of Mexican flavors and elements of classic Americana, this hearty treat brings enough carbs, spice, and fat to stand up against even the most painful hangovers (and the most ravenous stoner munchies if that’s what they are confronting). In the words of executive chef Richard Ortiz of Beerfish in San Diego, “Simply put, California burritos are a staple in [Southern California]. It’s what you order after a night of drinking or a day of surfing. The combination of carne asada, fries, pico, and cheese in a warm tortilla is known to cure the worst hunger pang or hangover.”
What Is a California burrito?
While California burritos can be found throughout Southern California, they’re truly a San Diego creation. Like the Mission burrito, the California burrito comes wrapped in a flour tortilla, and its fillings include meat, cheese, and condiments. However, the California burrito also contains a secret weapon: French fries in lieu of rice and beans.
Chef Alvin Cailan of Eggslut in Los Angeles still fondly recalls his first encounter with a California burrito, telling us that “the California burrito should really be called the San Diego burrito. It’s the go-to burrito when you’re south of Encinitas. I grew up in East LA, [and] we ate bean and cheese burritos and carne asada burritos. So when I got old enough to drive, I took a road trip with my boys down to Vista, California, and that was when I experienced the great California burrito. Carne asada, shredded cheese, sour cream, and French fries! It rocked my world, [and] I devoured the burrito like I’d never had one before.”
The benefits of the California burrito are incalculable, but a few attributes make it a particularly unique addition to the Mexican-American culinary pantheon:
French Fries Add Substance Without Overwhelming Flavors and Texture
Executive chef Colten Lemmer of Union Kitchen & Tap in San Diego touts the textural benefits of the French fries inside California burritos as their crowning glory.
A flawless fusion of Mexican flavors and elements of classic Americana, this hearty treat brings enough carbs, spice, and fat to stand up against even the most painful hangovers.
“I love the unique ‘mouthfeel’ you get while eating a California burrito – there’s some leftover crisp from the French fries (any decent place knows to make them extra crispy to combat the steam trapped inside from rolling), with a creamy guacamole and sour cream layer. The best part is using shredded cheese so you get the ooey gooey cheesy stretch with each bite. My favorite burritos also have a good amount of pico de gallo, and some added spice from the marinade for the meat, as well as fresh jalapeño or Serrano in the pico,” Lemmer tells The Manual.
California Burritos are Highly Customizable
While California burritos seem fairly straightforward, the inclusion of fries opens up abundant potato-based possibilities for fillings, allowing chefs to embrace their creativity. One of these chefs is Rouha Sadighi of The Rooster in Los Angeles, who likes to give her California burritos a brunch-appropriate twist: “At The Rooster, our most popular order is the Rico Suave, which is a large burrito with crispy tater tots, eggs, bacon, avocado, cheddar & cojita cheese blend, molcajete salsa, and cilantro crema. So in this case, the French fries are tater tots, to give it a breakfast twist. Tots in a burrito add a whole element of texture that burritos don’t typically have. That crunch and having the potatoes be like little nuggets of fried bursts in each bite takes a regular burrito to the next level! It’s what makes it Californian.”
Where to Get a California Burrito
Nowadays, California burritos aren’t restricted to SoCal; in fact, they can be found throughout the state and the country. However, if you’re planning a visit to the mothership (aka the San Diego area), Cailan has a couple of specific California burrito recommendations for you: “Today, whenever I find myself in San Diego, I do California burrito crawls from The Taco Stand to Juanita’s, but my absolute favorite is Don Carlos in La Jolla, CA.”
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