Ladies Who Brunch

In Search Of: The Perfect Breakfast Burrito by Benjamin
December 31, 2008, 5:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

While wrapping up the first meal of the day in a tortilla is an idea that likely predates the Olmecs, the modern breakfast burrito, like most great foods of the Industrial Age (see: waffle cones, foot long hot dogs) originated at a fair. Specifically, at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Seeking a hot breakfast that could easily be prepared in a preexisting taco truck, some intrepid restaraunteur hit upon the perfect combination: flour tortilla, potatoes, eggs, cheese, bacon and New Mexico chile (green or red, take your pick; the chiliterati know to ask for xmas). Today, the International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s premier breakfast burrito destination, with over 100 (made up number) vendors vying for hungry stomachs before sunrise each October. (The balloons are kind of cool, too).

This is what we are looking for people:

Breakfast Burritto, Kelly's Cafe

Breakfast Burritto, Kelly's Cafe

The New Mexican-style breakfast burrito, potatoes, eggs, cheese, choice of meat (bacon or chorizo, fuck ham), smothered in chile and more cheese (if you have spent significant time eating in Northern New Mexico, you know that saying that something is smothered in chile and more cheese is pretty redundant; everything is). The best examples, IMHO, can be found at Santa Fe’s The Pantry, Santa Fe Baking Company, and Cowgirl Cafe, and Albuquerque’s Frontier.

So why is it so hard to get this simple breakfast item right?

Texas has its own variation of the original, called not a burrito but a breakfast taco. One is usually given the choice of egg and cheese with bacon, chorizo, jimmy-dean style sausage, ham, potato, or beans (generally, one chooses but a single add-on; bacon and potatoes together would be considered a lavish and impractical request). Salsa comes on the side in little plastic containers, in Austin and San Antonio it usually a tomato heavy ranchera salsa, not very spicy, which I actually like for the rough texture of ground up salty tomatoes. If you’re lucky you’ll get a choice of brilliant red, tangy green, or spicy brown salsas, like at Hilda’s Tortillas in Fredericksburg. Breakfast tacos are OK, but why would you settle for a small, loosely rolled tortilla with inadequate fillings and too-little salsa when you could be eating THIS:


The midwest, frankly, is even worse. Pretty much every breakfast place in Chicago has some variation of the breakfast burrito and in years of constant brunching about town I have yet to find one that gets it right. First off, almost no one can manage correct placement of the potatoes: they go inside the burrito. A little ¼ to ½ in. dice, sauteed with a bit of garlic and onion, maybe some cumino (scratch that, definitely some cumino) and you’re set. More distressingly, many places put beans in the burritto. Frijoles y huevos is a great combination, but whole pinto or black beans don’t work well in a burrito (they spill everywhere) and the idea of refried beans in a breakfast burrito makes me want to wretch. Also, the consumer is often given too many choices for burrito fillings. Really, once you have the basic egg, potato, cheese combo down, the only question you need to ask is “do you want bacon in that?” Obviously, the answer to that question is yes, no matter what restaurant you are at or what you are ordering. If you are at Green Zebra ordering sorbet for dessert and you are offered a bacon add on, do not doubt your instincts. The answer is yes. Tweet, which is the official favorite breakfast place of this blog, raised my hopes when I discovered that they offer no less than 6 variations on the breakfast burrito, but not one of them got the combo down. Some of their creations are quite good, but what is with the chipotle mayo on the steak and eggs burrito? Mayonaisse at breakfast should be lukewarm, lemony, and called Hollandaise sauce.

The biggest deficiency in the Chicago breakfast burrito scene is the lack of burritos completely slathered in spicy sauce. This is just a sad reality for any transplant from New Mexico—you can’t get the good chile anywhere else. A close friend recently pointed out to me that those of us from the Land of Enchantment have a sad lot in life. While many an immigrant to Chicago can easily find wonderful versions of her native Polish, Oaxacan, Pakistani, etc. food, and restaurants like Spiaggia or Mercat a la Planxa offer elevated versions of European cuisines that some say rival the output of the motherland, there is not a damn place around to get any green chile. This is my biggest gripe with Flo, another one of our favorite bruncharias: the owners clearly have some Santa Fe in their background, and the red chile sauce and enchiladas are pefecto, but green chile sauce is inexplicably made from the flavorless, leathery poblano and the burritto is a potato-less monstrosity wrapped in a bright green, spinach tortilla! Agggh!

If any readers have a tip on where to find a decent, honest to God breakfast burrito, it would be much appreciated. All that being said, our current favorite breakfast wrap is served up at Handlebar—you guys are close, now just cover the whole shebang in melted cheese, plz!