Essential T: My Other Taco is a Burrito

It’s about time we gave the burrito the respect it deserves

Perhaps the most misunderstood dish in Mexican cuisine is the burrito. Yes, the burrito comes from Mexico—it’s actually a type of rolled taco with a flour tortilla that’s filled with northern guisados like machaca (beef jerky), deshebrada (shredded beef), or chicharron (pork skin). The flour tortilla has been around since 1542 where it was first fabricated in the Mexican state of Sonora; today the best flour tortillas in Mexico still come from Sonora.

In the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, the flour tortilla cradles northern stews, braises, and grilled meats. The flour tortilla’s regional influence stretches down into transitional states like Sinaloa—a corn and flour tortilla state—before yielding to the loyal corn tortilla provinces in Central Mexico and all throughout the southern states. The first burritos were created in northern Mexico and spread into the States along with many other Mexican dishes.

Martha Chapa’s Los Tacos de Mexico includes northern burritos and burritas in her book, and while traveling through Chihuahua with the first lady of Mexican cuisine, chef Patricia Quintana, she also referred to burritos as a type of taco—something that’s common knowledge in Mexico. In the U.S., we’ve developed a taste for massive burritos overloaded with ingredients like San Francisco’s Mission burrito, the breakfast burrito, San Diego’s California burrito and L.A.’s El Tepeyac, with its hefty Hollenbeck burrito and the 5-pound Manny’s Special.

These sizable beasts are a far cry from their northern Mexican counterparts but there are a handful of burritos in Los Angeles that are your best bet for a more traditional taste of the northern taco. Al & Bea’s is beloved for its bean and cheese burritos sharpened by shredded yellow cheese, and red salsa, but even closer is the bean and cheese, red at Lupe’s No. 2, whose flavorful beans lessen the often distracting punch of the cheddar, and with a more balanced red salsa. Yes, burritos have been super-sized in the U.S. but it’s a dish that’s 100% Mexican, and a proud member of the taco family.

Al & Bea’s, 2025 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights, 323-267-8810

Lupe’s #2, 4642 E. 3rd St., East Los Angeles, 323-266-6881 

Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac, 812 N. Evergreen Ave., 323-268-1960