Chipotle Mexican Grill and the History of the Burrito

Maybe the first burritos were actually made of donkey

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By David Hammond

One might think that because I'd just spent a week in Oaxaca, I'd be tired of Mexican food. Admittedly, I am experiencing some palate fatigue regarding south of the border chow, but that didn't stop me from going to Chipotle Mexican Grill the day after I arrived back home in Oak Park.

The burrito – meat and vegetables wrapped in a flour tortilla – seems to have been served in the United States for the first time in Los Angeles, at El Chollo Mexican Café.

This food did have antecedents in Northern Mexico, and it may have been brought to the L.A. area by migrant workers who would pack this easily transportable hand food for lunch breaks.

One popular creation myth has it that a guy who first served the rolled-sandwiches in Juarez during the Mexican Revolution used a burro to transport these soon-to-be popular treats, which were then named burritos, or "little burros."

Maybe.

In Sonora, they traditionally serve machaca de burro, a dried jerky-type donkey meat, rehydrated and rolled into large flour tortillas. So maybe the first burritos were actually made of burros.

The Chipotle burrito is served wrapped in thin aluminum foil, which seems an innovation that began with the San Francisco burrito, which is similarly wrapped and available in multiple variations. Calvin Trillin observed in a 2003 New Yorker article that ""In San Francisco, the burrito has been refined and embellished in much the same way that pizza has been refined and embellished in New York and Chicago."

The burrito I ate at Chipotle last weekend was heavy; I can't remember a sandwich that felt weightier in the hand. Several websites list the average weight of a Chipotle burrito as about 1.5 pounds. This is not a bad thing, and I'm sure the volume of this meal is perceived as a benefit by the many young men who were wolfing them down the day I was there.

Carnitas are one of my favorite Mexican meats, and they're prepared much like French confit: the meat is cooked in its own fat to maximize rich flavor. The hormone- and antibiotic free pork used for Chipotle carnitas is pretty good, and I think if I were to order a carnitas burrito again, I'd double-down on the meat and go light on the beans and rice, which tend to blunt the flavor of the meat. Also, this big fistful of carbohydrates definitely needs some salsa-assist to keep it moist and edible.

I've long bemoaned the proliferation of franchises along Lake Street, as I feel these cookie-cutter corporate outposts do little to enhance our village's unique identity. Still, Chipotle is not a bad option at all, and although I'd probably prefer to get my burritos from a small mom and pop places like The Golden Lamb, Chipotle's version has the advantage of using good meat and local ingredients whenever possible, with food prepared and delivered on recycled products that reflect the company's green consciousness.

 

Reader Comments

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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 5th, 2012 11:42 AM

Golden Lamb, as I mentioned, is my preference, too, but my experiences at Chipotle were not so bad as yours. They made a mistake on EVERYONE'S orders?

Mae from Oak Park  

Posted: July 4th, 2012 8:17 AM

I ordered about 16 burritos from our Oak Park Chipotle last year for a work lunch and I will never go back there!! The manager was unprofessional, rude, and would not admit that they made a mistake on everyone's order. I would rather to go The Golden Lamb any day!

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