This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Death by Burrito at Imperial Burgers

I'm a Mexican food purist—I don't appreciate it when chefs let gabacho elements like blackened ahi anything invade my cuisine. But I'll forever make an exception for the pastrami burritos at IMPERIAL BURGERS, one of the few places in Orange County that slaps together this notorious edible brick.

The history of the pastrami burrito is murky—some say Pinks in Los Angeles first created it; others swear by Oki Dogs. It's a meal folks mostly eat for the novelty factor—look, Ma, I'm eating a slab of cholesterol! But at Imperial Burgers—an old-time diner with benches bolted to the walls, an open kitchen, and short-order cooks who wear white aprons and pointy hats—the pastrami burrito is a hallowed entrée, something gobbled up by Latinos and whites, young and old.

When I ordered the pastrami burrito one recent Sunday morning, I expected something manageable, the type of burrito Mamipacked three to a lunch pail during my elementary school days. But that's not how they do it at Imperial Burgers: when the waitress yelled out my order and slid it across the counter, I got something that looked like a shoebox wrapped in butcher paper.

The gluttony began once I ripped open the paper to unveil the burrito—the alluring scent of a cooked flour tortilla housing melted Cheddar cheese and salty pastrami opened my palate, my nostrils, my third eye. Chomp after chomp revealed more charms. The pastrami featured the best qualities of a good carne asada—succulent, plentiful, shaved into thin bits—but maintained pastrami's fatty charm, while the flour tortilla was fluffy. I whittled down the burrito, expecting to find a Mexican flourish—salsa, perhaps, or maybe a smear of refried pinto beans. But the only garnish was a thin layer of melted cheese that melded with the pastrami so that flavorful grease occasionally squirted into my mouth after a squeeze or bite.

Imperial Burgers serves many more things besides pastrami burritos—their namesakes, for instance, charbroiled marriages of meat, soft bun, sweet cheese, girth and lettuce. Or standard breakfasts of pancakes, hash browns and sausage. And always sip on ultra-sweet Orange Bang whenever you find this increasingly rare beverage. Everything is good here, really. But La Habra is so far away, and the pastrami burrito is so good—why would you ever order anything else? Unless it's their onion rings: fried circles of brilliance.

IMPERIAL BURGERS, 241 E. IMPERIAL HWY., LA HABRA, (714) 525-1611.

 
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