Food blogger and culinary mash-up artist Culinary Brodown (@culinarybrodown) gets philosophical about food again, this time weighing the pros and cons of two Mexican food icons.
I’ve always wanted to call bullshit on parents who said they love their children equally. Like, really? Janet is all-state in field hockey, carries a 4.2 GPA, and buys you dope Christmas presents, and you’re saying you love her just the same as that perennial slap-dick, emotionally inattentive Kevin? Not a chance.
But I totally get it now. The way parents feel about choosing between their kids is the way I feel about choosing between tacos and burritos. Tacos are the obvious choice—there’s a reason they’re not called burrito trucks, or burriterias, or burriteros. Tacos are king. Tacos are Janet pulling down scholarship offers and doing her chores without you asking her to. But it’s never actually that simple.
Last week at my favorite taco truck, Tacos Tamix, I found myself itching for a burrito, the proverbial redheaded stepchild (Kevin) of the taco truck world. Does the overwhelming flood of rice and too-liquidy refried beans distract from the fragrant meatiness of perfectly spit-roasted al pastor? Yup. Does the $6 price tag really make it worth six tacos? Nope. Is it authentic? Not even a little bit—these pregnant beanbags are a far cry from Zacatecas-style tacos de harina. Then why the hell did I enjoy it so much?
I’m not saying I’m going to abandon my favorite kid at a Greyhound bus station anytime soon, I’m just saying we should all be doing some soul searching. If we break down what exactly it is that draws us to our tortilla-wrapped vices of choice, we can learn to better appreciate them—and decide which one is the ultimate vessel.
What reigns supreme—the taco, or the burrito? Let’s go deep.
The case for tacos.
Key idea: Transparency = power as a consumer.
Tacos are perfect because they are simple. The fewer elements you have to focus on in a dish, the more each of those can shine. When there’s only tortilla, meat, and a few flourishes like onions, cilantro, and salsa, you can better appreciate the perfume of hardwood smoke on the asada, or the extra bits of caramelization on al pastor shaved off the spit, or the pure porcine flavor of carnitas that’s been braising in its own fat for hours.
Unlike the burrito, which veils its contents behind foil wrapping and a fully closed tortilla, tacos have nothing to hide behind. If the asada is some gristly cut of beef cooked on a flat top, you’re going to notice before you take that first bite. The literal openness of tacos gives you power as a consumer.
As unforgiving as tacos can be, they’re also a food of opportunity. If you get a bad taco, all you do is move on to the next one. It’s a few bucks wasted, sure, but you have a pile of four more waiting to right the wrong.
It’s acceptable to eat between three and 15 tacos in one sitting (never trust anyone who goes outside that range), which means you get to have between three and 15 purely unique experiences. And with variety comes the ability to experiment, especially if there’s a condiment bar nearby, and I damn well hope there is. Chile de arbol on one, tomatillo on the other, splashing salsa de aguacate like a fat Jackson Pollack. Tacos let you control every single aspect of your meal.
The case for burritos.
Key idea: Great pleasure derives from ultimate convenience.
Burritos are a microcosm—they contain everything you need in a fully sealed, independent environment. You can eat a burrito while driving. You can stuff a burrito in your backpack, take it to the beach, and eat in the sand like a king. Burritos are ergonomically suited to every lifestyle.
Burritos hold their heat much better than tacos. By the time you get to that seventh or eighth taco, the tortilla’s going to seize up, the fat in the carnitas is going to congeal, and your meal is compromised. Contrarily, the ass-end of a burrito is going to be, at the very worst, pleasantly lukewarm.
The way a good burrito hugs the inside of your mouth is incomparable. The softness of refried beans, the bounce of rice, the crunch of onions, the bracing acidic slickness of salsa, and the carnivorous chew of meats—all set against the stretchy, glutenous flour tortilla—gives you a set of textures that you can never achieve with a taco. Also, mouthfeel is just a great word. Say it out loud a few times.
Sometimes you want to lose control. Sometimes you just want to let go of the reins and trust that whoever was sealing beans, cheese, meat and other tasty treats into the tortilla had your best interests in mind (isn’t that the plot of 50 Shades?). Plus, applying different salsas to each bite of the burrito lets you write your own story between the lines.
This is obviously a deeply personal choice. There is no right answer, except for the one that lives in your heart. (I read that in a fortune cookie once, which means it’s true.) It’s taken a whole lot of soul searching to realize I’m a burrito guy, and it comes down to one simple factor: satisfaction. For all the burrito’s flaws, there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to clutch a day’s worth of calories in flavors in one hand. Burritos are meditative in that way. You lose yourself in them. You black out in the hypno-wheel of meat and bean cross-sections, and don’t snap out of the trance until you’re completely sated. That said, the goodness of burritos does not inherently detract from the goodness tacos. Like children, there is room in your heart to love both. But, being honest with yourself and admitting that you don’t love them equally—nor should you have to—can strengthen your relationship with both. God damn I want a burrito right now.