I spent the first 22 years of my life between California and Texas. I know burritos.
Growing up in those parts you were mesmerised by tortilla dough being kneaded and flattened in restaurants; you knew that the local house in the middle of nowhere with no visible signage and a full parking lot on a Friday night had the most amazing tamales; and you intrinsically knew good Tex Mex when you tasted it. It was just in your blood.
When I arrived in Dublin in 2002, there weren’t many options for burritos. There was (the ‘old’) Taco Taco in the Epicurean Food Hall, (the ‘old’) Acapulco on George’s Street and Mexico to Rome in Temple Bar.
Fast forward to now, however, and Tex Mex is Dublin’s cuisine du jour – burrito bars and taco joints have sprung up on every corner, the options are plentiful and the quality is excellent.
But the Cali-Texan in me still feels there are a few tiny points for improvement. So here goes…
Nail the beans and rice, and the rest will fall into place
The foundation of any good burrito lies in its beans and rice.
Essentials include the option of refried beans, black beans or pinto beans –properly cooked and delicately flavoured. The rice should generally have a stronger flavour than the beans, but not upstage the stars of the show (meat/veg).
But I’m going to be frank with you, burrito bars of Dublin: undercooked beans and/or rice have too often crept into my orders, sometimes the point where the flavour has been scared all the way down old Mexico way.
And kidney beans? Maybe in the breakfast burrito at KC Peaches. On all other occasions – no.
Meat my good friend
The star of the show; grilled meat should be the smell that greets you as you walk in the door.
And while it doesn’t stop me from enjoying or partaking Dublin burritos – most of the spots here have stewed meat in sauce on the hot counter – carnitas here are unrecognisable to what you would get in Texas or California (grilled, chewy, slowly-cooked pork shoulder in a mix of chunks and shreds).
On the plus side, grilled fajita chicken and steak are easy to find – and there’s always the option of fajita grilled vegetables or chili con carne. (That’s chili with one ‘l’, people.)
I am partial to salsa verde – either with green chiles or tomatillos or a mix of both. I prefer it as it usually has enough heat, but does not overpower the rest of the flavours.
Not everywhere has salsa verde, and I’m happy to go for pico de gallo or another tomato-based salsa – but in these instances the salsa needs to be fresh with top quality tomatoes used. In other words, it shouldn’t look (or taste) like the stuff you’d pick up in a jar; and the same goes for guacamole.
Burrito aficionados – of which there are more and more in Dublin with every passing month – can recognise the artificial glow of these items a mile off; it’s an immediate cue to walk out the door and save my money.
Put your chips on the table
Tortilla chips should be two things: warm, and free of charge.
This is a simple thing that happens in a majority of spots in the States – yeah you probably eat more than you should, but the tortillas help mop up anything that falls out of your burrito and if you’re already eating something that weighs as much as your head, you may as well go for broke.
It’s the American way, y’all.
My favourite burrito haunts in the States are clean, but a little bit divey, with staff that are usually singing and having a bit of craic – something Dubliners are more than familiar with when it comes to pubs, but strangely not when it comes to street food.
I once saw a newly married bride and groom wander into a taco joint in the Mission in San Francisco – if we could recreate the same ‘anything goes’ vibe here, Tex-Mex eateries could leave greasy hamburgers and crap chips in the dust, and become the late-night destinations of choice for thousands of punters every weekend.
Okay, maybe not that rustic... but you get the point.
My favourite Dublin burrito spots, Boojum, Pablo Picante and Mama’s Revenge, have succeeded in offering heavy, messy, flavour-filled tortillas and great Mexican beers that fill my belly and leave me with a smile on my face.
We’re 95% of the way there… now let’s finish the job.