It's been a while since I've written, but something happened to me yesterday that forced me to write- I had a really really really bad California burrito. Let's preface this by saying that I typically eat and enjoy ANY kind of burrito from just about ANYWHERE (yes even those 4 for a $1 frozen burritos at Safeway), and I'll usually be satisfied- so this experience with my favorite type of burrito was especially shocking.
I won't name the place as that's not the point. Every time I see a joint offering a California burrito, I automatically get one and give it a try. It serves a few purposes, 1) I can always eat a California burrito 2) I evaluate the burrito and try to take away lessons both good and bad to help improve what I'm doing and 3) I really just like eating California burritos.
So to help you out, I'm taking my experience from yesterday and breaking it down to some simple signs to look out for that is a sure indicator that you're about to have a really really bad California burrito (or any burrito for that matter). Use it to save yourself the pain, the agony, and the $7+ that could be spent elsewhere. Also, if you avoid bad California burritos, it might help salvage its reputation amongst those who swear by mission burritos.
Please avoid ordering when you see/experience the following:
1) The California Burrito is not a permanent part of the menu board and when ordering a California burrito, the burrito maker replies "a what burrito?" then proceeds to grab the temporary paper sign to look the ingredients.
Sure the person might be new, and even may be the first time they made this burrito- but frankly this tells me a few underlying things about both the person and the place. The California burrito is not innate to that person nor the place- they haven't grown up with it, eaten or made it enough times, or have been properly trained to understand, think about, or appreciate what theyre making on a profound level. It was put on the menu cause the shop thinks its a novelty or could be popular, not because it's a STANDARD form of burrito that's just always been apart of every menu and been made long enough to make improvements to it.
2) The tortilla hasn't been properly heated- they take out the tortilla from the steamer or grill wayyy too fast
This isn't about steamed vs grilled, that's a debate that rages on. No matter the tortilla choice or heating method- I always cringe when i see a tortilla not heated up ENOUGH. If you don't steam it long enough, you don't impart enough heat or moisture to strecth out the tortilla and it'll inevitably crack. If you don't grill it enough, you wont get that beautiful toasted flavor that just adds to complexity of a burrito. In any case, i was left with a cold tortilla that was unappealling to eat no matter what.
3) They started with A LOT of unsalted, lukewarm, oven baked, thick cut fries that were sitting in a steam pan, COVERED.
Do i even need to explain that sentence. You can't just start throwing a ton of carbs next to carbs. There are infiinite options to building a California burrito, but please don't start with just fries, you end up biting into a ton of carbs on just one end, it ends up dry and doesn't taste good. Also don't use too much fries, it should complement the protein and not be a french fry burrito, stop using it as filler as you would rice and beans, the textures arent the same. The thick cut could be a stylistic choice and can be forgiven, but really, run if you see them make fries out of anything but a deep fryer. I've seen places use fries out of ovens and microwaves- please dont. Fries must always be deep fried, cripsy, and salted. And if they must sit under a heat lamp or in a steam pan, please dont cover them.
4) Carne Asada comes from an uncovered buffet/isn't hot enough
This boggled my mind- Grilled that needs heat and moisture retention isn't covered, but the fries that need crispiness are bathing in steam? Meat should be grilled immediately before, or at a minimum, be in covered pans so the meat isn't dried out and somewhat heated evenly. I looked at the carne asada and saw flecks of coagulated fat- a sign the top layer of meat wasn't nearly hot enough, and opted for pollo asada where i could at least see some steam. They didnt bother to mix up the pollo to grab from the bottom at least and get the hottest meat.
5) The burrito maker pairs cold condiments with cold condiments, and puts too much .
They built the burrito like this- warm tortilla, warm fries, topped with warm chicken- then an onslaught of cold ingredients- cold thick shreds of cheese, lots of sour cream, cold guac, then cold pico. I knew the burrito woiuld be bi-polar, one half somewhat warm and one half freezing cold. This one side of super cold ingredlients with a not hot enought tortilla, fries, or meat led to two things -there was no cheese melt-age and the cheese stayed in cold-hard shreds; and the cold items it cooled down the other half significantly - the warm chicken become cold chicken, and i was left with a pretty nasty burrito
6) Finally, when they wrap up the tortillas, its wider than it is long
This meant they either didn't use the right tortilla size or they over stuffed the fries and piled on a ton of cold cream and shredded cheese (it's rarely a case of over stuffing meat!) It showed they didn't understand proper ratios of ingredients or care to understand burrito structure and how it would effect my experience as an eater. This led to a lot of bad results- not only was my burrito cold through and through, i got a burrito that was too wide and led to inconsistent bites- i either got a bite of only dry fries and chicken, or i got a bite of all cold cheese, cream, and guac. It also lent itself to a difficult eating experience, I got a ton more spillage than usual cause the tortilla was overflowing, and was left with something hard to hold and eat conveniently.
Yes, all of the above really did happen and I watched it unfold in slow motion. My brain told me to run the hell out of there, but my stomach kept me frozen in place and forced me to buy the burrito. I'm still a little shaken, but hopefully this serves a purpose for everyone out there. If you see a combo of more than two of the signs above, please do yourself a favor and run. If you see me make a burrito with any of those signs, feel free to throw the burrito away and ask for a refund. See you this Sunday at Stonestown and give our version a shot.