the burrito problem
I feel like we have a burrito problem in Los Angeles. Or maybe I'm looking in the wrong place. Maybe chowhounders can help clarify my thinking.
Here's an example. I had some chores to do in Hollywood over the weekend, so I went to two prominent burrito destinations (e.g., both recommended by LA Weekly), Burrito King (2109 W Sunset near Alvarado, 213 484 9859) and El Gran Burrito (4716 Santa Monica Blvd by the Vermont subway station, 323 665 8720).
In each case, for scientific purposes, I ordered the same thing: a chicken burrito with no cilantro and a tamarindo. In each case I was underwhelmed. The problem, in a word, was grease -- rivers of grease, oceans, pouring out the bottom end of the burrito shortly after I held it vertical to start eating it, but not before soaking the tortilla so badly that it soon lost all integrity and collapsed into a vile mess.
It's not an easy problem, I know. You've got a choice: you can go to Baja Fresh and get a completely grease-free burrito that (as someone pointed out here) tastes like cardboard, or you can go to a place that does something to the chicken. What they do, unfortunately, is let the chicken sit for long periods in something that, okay, is not entirely grease, and that may have some lime juice or something. The problem is that the wet stuff gets all over everything. Adding hot sauce doesn't help. And it's not like the results were such taste sensations either. I did like the beans at Burrito King, though I can't imagine my arteries did. On the whole, though, a wash.
It can be done. Good burritos are a dime a dozen in San Francisco. Or you can go to Orange County and get good burritos. A couple of the burritos at the Grand Central Market have been mentioned here, and they're okay, though wildly uneven. But on the whole, I'm come up with the same greasy problem everyplace in LA that I've tried.
Am I missing something? Am I going to the wrong place? Am I imposing anglo expectations on someone else's chow? Set me straight.
I think the problem has more to do with the chicken than the burrito. For example, Taqueria Mexico in my hood makes great carnitas and al pastor burritos, but the chicken burritos are bland and soupy. You're best off looking for a place that specializes in or at least serves pollo al carbon -- unfortunately most "authentic" Mexican burrito joints around central L.A. serve stewed or boiled chicken instead.
My favorite chicken burritos are the ones served at La Cumbre in San Mateo (not the SF location). Eddie, the owner, swears that his secret is in the way that his grill is seasoned. I haven't found anything in L.A. that compares, so I stick to carnitas, carne asada, or al pastor instead when it comes to burritos. If I really want a chicken burrito, I grudgingly settle for Baja Bud's, which seems to be the least bland of the "fresh Mex" joints.
re: Chris G.
I think Chris G has nailed this issue. For beef and pork nothing beats the Burrito Kings of this world. But for chicken, alas, the gringo places -- where chicken is grilled fresh for you and hasn't been sitting in a vat -- may be the better choice. BTW, if you want a clean-seeming, gringo-catering burrito stand that is also top-notch, far better than Baja Fresh, I recommend Yucca's on Hillhurst. I don't think they offer chicken but they do do a vegetarian burrito and their beans are some of the best around. The pibil style pork is super-greasy but only in the best way...
Acutally good burritos are not a dime a dozen in San Francisco if you believe a current thread on their board...
My favorite is the Lamb Burrito at Gerlach's Grill in Pasadena (Fair Oaks & Glenarm). But their burritos include white rice, which might be a put-off to some. They have fantastic fresh fish as well.
I'm also a fan of the pork burrito at Senor Fish. Large chunks of lean pork.
In addition to the suggestions for ordering already posted, a lesson in how to eat a burrito may be in order too for those of you who didn't grow up eating these things. I'm assuming that the ones you're getting are wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil. Do NOT remove the foil from the whole thing as I've seen many people do. You should only tear back from one end uncovering about 2" or less of burrito at a time. Bite off from that area, and unwrap more as you progress. The sensation of biting into foil is unpleasant so stay ahead. The foil acts to hold the whole thing together.
re: Melanie Wong
The problem is that Burrito King doesn't use aluminum foil wrapping, just the wax parchment. It doesn't make for the neatest eating, but it's damn good. I can't speak about the chicken, since I normally go for the machaca or chile verde there. No rice filling either. And to the original poster, that isn't grease, it's burrito nectar.
I'm a big fan of a couple of burrito places... in fact I think I posted about one of them earlier but there were no responses.
Ramona's burritos - go to the source, NOT the frozen crap sold in stores. I must confess, I've never had a chicken burrito there, and not even sure they make one, but INCREDIBLE burritos... love them. They are located on the corner of Crenshaw and Redondo Beach Blvd, across the street from El Camino College in the South Bay. Really great... I can't say enough, I've been eating there (and their other location on 135th and Western) for 20 years.
Green Burrito - Again, go to the source. The only Green Burrito worth eating at is the original one in Hawaiian Gardens on Carson St. between Norwalk Blvd and Pioneer Ave. Don't even try any of the sad, crappy franchise locations (especially the ones contained inside Carls Jr's). The first and original location has GREAT burritos and a good selection of Mexican food. If you are hungry try their Big Ed - HUGE - it takes two of the very large flour tortillas to make and hold all the stuff inside. Can't stress enough that the only GB worth going to is the original one in Hawaiian Gardens.
I strongly disagree with frozen Ramona's being C---.
I ran a beach burrito-hamburger stand and a "general store" at the Silver Strand beach near Oxnard CA. My homemade burritos were a huge hit, but when the restaurant was not open for the day, Ramona's FROZEN Burritos (which we heated in several microwave ovens within the market) were a BIG hit too If one is familiar with defrosting food correctly, one can heat up a terrific Ramona burrito - we sold thousands of them over the years.
BTW; I just polished off my favorite Ramona's - CHEESE, absolutely delicious,
especially with fresh chopped yellow onion.
It is a matter of timing at most taco and burrito stands. My two favorites are El Taurino and El Gran Burrito, but neither are 100% consistent. The turnover at El Taurino is so rapid that the food is excellent most of the time. Best of course is when you belly up to the counter right after they just trimmed the al pastor from the spit and you get perfect non-greasy tacos. On occassion at El Gran Burrito, the carnitas are swimming in grease. You literally have to wring it out. Why? Bad timing. You happen to be that place in line when you get the last few greasy scoops of meat from the bottom of the pan right before it is replenished from the kitchen.