The traditional New Mexico smothered burrito
The traditional New Mexico smothered burrito

Orange County's First Famous Luxe Lonchera: The Burrito Van of Taos

Since most of Orange County's so-called historians--all five of them--care more about buildings than businesses, and since Orange County food history mostly exists in memories and not textbooks, we've decided to create a new column here at our infernal blog: Remembrance of Meals Past, an occasional feature where we highlight the history of food in Orange County and beyond. We'll begin with a newspaper account of what might be Orange County's first famous luxe lonchera: the Burrito Van of Taos.
The setting wasn't Orange County, however, but rather Taos, New Mexico, where Tim Ditty of Newport Beach achieved national fame for selling burritos out of a van for skiers during a six-week gig in 1976. Ditty only stopped because the U.S. Forest Service shut him down for selling on their land, a foreshadowing of the cat-and-mouse games modern-day loncheras must continually face.

Ditty told a Los Angeles Times reporter at the time he got the idea to sell burritos after visiting Taos to ski and noting only two restaurants served the town's ski resort. The inspiration to cook Mexican food? While living in Oaxaca, according to him--strange, given that Oaxacan food is as far removed from Cal-Mex cuisineas brownies are from bubble gum. Also strange--or telling, to be more accurate--is that Ditty sold the snowbirds California-style burritos: that is, small, wrapped things instead of the smothered beauties typical to New Mexico. But eating Mexican in the United States has never been about bothering with the locals, has it?

He cooked the burritos from a propane stove featuring four burners and and oven, and moved 350 burritos on a good day. "Many a skier will remember standing in the brilliant New Mexican sunshine and happily devouring the burritos," wrote Barbara Hansen (who still contributes to the Times). Ditty went on to get involved with the surf industry in one way or another--but this is a blog about food, people, not surfing...

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