Behind every great taco, there's an even greater burrito. A proper burrito is excessive in all the right places: an edible package of chewy opulence that stands for everything great in the Mexican-American influenced culture that is Los Angeles. Meat, carbs and convenience, sauced and served to your exotic whims on a budget.
A smokey lamb burrito, a couple of breakfast burritos, hell, even one with seared seafood and shredded cabbage in the style of the burritas from Puerto Vallarta.This hand-picked list is for those days when a mere taco will not suffice, featuring a burrito for every mood and time of day. Turn the page for the best 9 of them in town.
At 7:15 AM on a Thursday morning, Lucky Boy's is already in full hustle. The person in front of you, behind you and the one trying to cut in front of you are all ordering the “Legendary Lucky Boy's Breakfast Burrito.” Some in orders of six, some with sausage instead of bacon, some sliced in half — however they order theirs, you will know as soon the old man at the cashier shouts their customized order aloud to the bustling kitchen staff behind him. Their signature burrito is Americana breakfast nostalgia cloaked tight: fluffy scrambled eggs, rubbery melted cheese and exceptionally crispy hash browns, with the only seasoning being the oodles and oodles of salty bacon. With a little of their watery salsa poured atop, there is nothing really better on a chilly Pasadena morning. Early morning, too: They serve the burrito all day until they close at 2 AM (everyday). 640 S. Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena.
8. Tacos La Oaxaqueña
Late at night after all the traffic has died down and the local restaurants have closed shop, an otherwise desolate stretch of Lincoln Boulevard is home to La Oaxaqueña — a taco truck that has been on the corner of Lincoln and Rose for ten years now. From 6 PM to 12 AM daily, they specialize in Oaxacan antojitos made with Oaxacan ingredients like Quesillo (Oaxacan unpasteurized string cheese) and Cecina (Oaxacan dried beef of pork). Its loyal patrons still order tacos for the most part, but as the night gets deeper and the gabacho workaholics start to get hungry, the burrito is boss. Perhaps that is why their burrito has a trivial amount of shredded lettuce and cheese? Perhaps that is why the salsa is pretty wimpy even for West L.A. standards? Fortunately, the complexity of correctly cooked tongue conquers many flaws. The tortilla is thin and ultra chewy. The beans, refried. Don't take the Asada way out, it's time to step it up. Lincoln Blvd & Rose St., Venice.
Almost three years later, the Kogi BBQ truck still attracts hour-long lines. So, it is safe to assume that their burrito is still awesome, right? The Kogi BBQ burrito is a traditional breakfast burrito, well, a traditional breakfast burrito doused with their special chili-soy vinaigrette (known as “crack” to Kogi's astute fans), sesame-chili salsa roja sauce and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Opt for their tofu protein instead of meat and you might as well be eating a flour tortilla wrapped Soondubu jjigae. The scrambled egg binds with the tofu while cooking and adheres beautifully to the red chili. The size of the burrito is adequate, leaving some room for a kalbi taco or three.
Turn the page for #6…
5. Tacos El Korita
The magic word to know at Tacos El Korita is “open.” Remember this word when the lady at the pickup window of the violet food truck asks you how you want your carne asada and pinto bean burrito, and she will then hand it to you, unwrapped. It suddenly becomes your responsibility to dress your beast. Go crazy with the nopal salad and super-thick guacamole at your own risk; no matter how high you pile it, she will still somehow wrap it tight and securely for you. Warning, you will guffaw at the customizable corporate beauties at Chipotle after eating this. On a side note, the corn tortillas here are handmade, if you are into that sort of thing. Olympic Blvd and Herbert Ave Los Angeles, CA 90006. 6 PM to 11 PM. Open Everyday.
4. Al & Bea's
The classical Los Angeles burrito is not one clogged up with a whole dinner plate — just beans, cheese and red or green salsa. And contrary to San Franciscan belief, it is better like that sometimes. The uniform beauties at Al & Bea's are an institution, perfect flour tortilla cylinders holding a delicious magma-like mixture of half refried/half whole beans mixed with a little cheese. Leave the wrapper on as you eat it to avoid looking like an uncouth, food-obsessed eccentric. 2025 E 1st St., Los Angeles.
Turn the page for #3…
The most elephantine burrito of this bunch also happens to be among the tastiest. The Hidalguense luncheonette specializing in Maguey roasted lamb tacos also churns out a mean burrito if given the chance. The burrito is on the strapping side: whole beans, rice, cheese and a generous assortment of different cuts of tender lamb. It's good enough to eat on its own, without salsa or lime even, though it benefits from them once they get to your table. The burrito comes automatically cut in half, which is a good thing. Get full off only the first half and the extra browned tortilla chips warm from the fryer; the other half will last you the rest of the week. 2403 E. Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles.
2. Señor Fish
Why is a burrito stuffed with scallops No. 2 on this list? Well, because it has around five of them stuffed inside it and it's only about $7, that's why. Fat ones too, at least an inch thick and the size of a sliver dollar. Ask nicely for your meaty bivalve to be grilled instead of fried and opt out from the rice and beans, as it is a crime to taint such beautiful seafood. Instead, get down at their salsa bar, specifically, the Salsa Quemada made from burnt chillies and tomatillos. 422 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; 4803 Eagle Rock, Los Angeles; 115 W. Main St., Alhambra, and 3 other locations.
Turn the page for #1…
La Tortilleria Azteca is an old school tortilleria in East Los Angeles that has been open for 65 years. They happen to have a small menu for their customers who can't wait to go home to eat their freshly assembled tortillas. Consequently, they make the best burrito in town: one made with profoundly awesome flour tortillas, obviously, but also embellished by whole meringue-battered chile relleno, expert refried beans and a simple chopped Pico de Gallo Salsa Mexicana. Maybe it's because the subtle sweetness of the roasted poblano chile defies the usual salt-on-salt burrito paradigm? Hint, hint to other burrito places in town. 4538 E Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles.
Runners-up: Oki Dog's, La Estrella, Cinco Puntos, Burrito King, King Taco, El Taurino, El Tepeyac.
Follow Javier Cabral on Twitter @theglutster.