538.com Burrito Bracket: Rancho Bravo
The website fivethirtyeight.com has been running this "Burrito Bracket" for the past few days. It's actually been alot of fun considering selection on methodologies and inputs. On Saturday, they got to the Western region (California is it's own region).
Not surprising that Denver, New Mexico and Arizona did well, but somewhat surprisingly, Seattle got a nod in as one of the 16 seeds from the west.
They chose Rancho Bravo as one of the burritos to put into the tournament. Now, they aren't saying it's one of the 16 Best in the West, but they selected it to represent the Northwest in this region (a less forgiven individual might call it a "token nod to the Northwest").
Thoughts? Was there a more worthy burrito? I couldn't really think of one that I'd put over Rancho Bravo's... Do we acknowledge our specific burrito weakness beyond our specific Mexican weakness? Did we steal a spot from a more deserving place in West Texas or even Portland?
Thanks for putting us on to this fascinating article. I think the analysis and discussion of Yelp reviews are spot-on, and I would expect no less of Silver, who is pretty fairly a public genius in statistical matters.
Yoshi, I am not prepared to acknowledge a "specific burrito weakness beyond our specific Mexican weakness," no. Granted I am an optimist when it comes to the local Mexican offerings and try to highlight the best of what's available (I do acknowledge general superiority of Mexican food in Cal. of course).
Pardon the anecdotal aspects of this explanation, but let me say that, as I have aged and eaten more broadly and farther afield, I find the burrito to be an especially difficult menu item for purposes of comparing modestly priced Mexican establishments.
Why? I have come to accept that the better measures of such joints' relative qualities lie in (a) the meats; and (b) the salsas. The "mission-style" burrito has become the norm, and it is typically filled with large amounts of rice and beans (maybe optional sour cream, lettuce, etc.) wrapped in steamed flour tortillas that are nearly tasteless. The indistinctive nature of these filler ingredients does not seem to vary too much, in my experience.
I have found this to be the case even at highly esteemed burrito places in SF including the 538.com frontrunner, El Farolito. This is not to impeach the quality of these luminaries' meats, salsas, etc., which are excellent. But the presence of the heavy fillers tends to disguise the diversity and true flavors that would tend to make one stand above the next, which has the net effect of making the burrito experience less memorable than it could be.
The simply adorned taco constitutes a more undiluted method or delivery system for the eater to appraise and enjoy the flavors on offer at any given Mexican food-seller, whether truck, stall, taqueria, grocery or otherwise. In sum, a burrito is certainly a sure path to "barriga llena," but I can't think it is the best way to experience and critique affordable Mexican cuisine at any given address.
Returning, finally, to Seattle, I sit here and find it hard to think of whether or not Rancho Bravo would make the best burrito in Town. I do like their carnitas tortas and their hot green salsa, and have probably eaten the same stuffed inside a burrito. But again, I can't remember it. At an elemental level, I feel like El Camion has the best overall quality of meats, and certainly the most intriguing salsa bar (although the al pastor tacos at Los Chilangos is probably my single favorite taco, and Guaymas too does a nice salsa spread). I'd imagine each of these places would best Rancho Bravo in a head-to-head burrito battle
NB. This post is already tangential enough, so I have omitted any discussion of why even more corpulent bean/rice stuffed "wet burritos," or other extra-jumbo offerings (Gordito's, e.g.) are even more disappointing.