The law of the land has spoken—a burrito is not a sandwich. At least according to a Worcester County Superior Court ruling handed down in November. Seemed a Mexican restaurant wanted to open up shop in a mall, and the Panera Bread chain objected on the grounds their mall lease granted them the exclusive right to sell sandwiches. In Panera's view, a burrito was a sandwich.
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I mention this case as an enjoyable non sequitur before launching into this week's find: the plutonium-dense burritos at TAQUERÍA TAPATÍA, a 24-hour taco stand in an area of Santa Ana where advertisements for green cards are placed prominently near store entrances and Sprite soda is phonetically spelled "Esprai" on menus. Taquería Tapatía sells four items—tacos, burritos and tortas (menudo is on weekends). The tortas are delicious but not particularly noteworthy; same goes for the tacos. It's the burritos that inspire legions of Latinos to visit the slummy, gang-infested neighborhood where the restaurant stands.
Taquería Tapatía's burrito is minimalism at its most appetizing. The cooks start by heating a flour tortilla and browning it just so; the process draws out the flour's sweetness. On go the pinto beans, the orange-tinted rice, the meat of your choice, the onions and cilantro. The cook folds the tortilla and its contents quickly, effortlessly, and wraps foil around the still-steaming burrito. If you're dining in, the burrito goes on a tray; on the go, in a brown bag along with a smaller white bag filled with pickled carrots.
Regardless of where you eat, the first thing you notice about the burrito is its heft. Taquería Tapatía's burritos aren't the biggest burritos—maybe the length of a man's hand and as thick as a beer can. But fewer are heftier—you can get fit doing arm curls with these. And then you bite into it. The rice is moist and fluffy, the beans aren't refried or mashed, which allows each pinto to impart its earthy flavor. Onions add bite; cilantro does little. By this point, it doesn't matter which meat you chose, but they all excel as well—charred carne asada, al pastor dripping with juices that the chunks absorbed after hours on a spit; grilled chicken. Enjoy them inside the comfort of the warm flour tortilla, and enjoy the flavorful burps that will erupt for the next couple of hours.
TAQUERÍA TAPATÍA, 202 S. BRISTOL ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 972-9115.