What Sets LA-Style Burritos Apart From Other Varieties?

There is a legend about how burritos first came to the United States from Mexico. According to the 19th-century "Diccionario de Mejicanismos" and "Encyclopedia of Latino Culture," a food vendor named Juan Mendez brought the creation on his little donkey (or "burrito" in Spanish) from Juarez, Mexico, to the area in the US where Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico meet during the time of the Mexican Revolution. Whether the story is true or not, one thing is certain: America's love of burritos is strong. But not all burritos are the same if you can believe it. Sure, the fillings vary based on location and preference, but what is wrapped up in that soft flour tortilla determines the technical style of the burrito.

One city that knows how to make a burrito is Los Angeles, California. LA County is home to more than 9.8 million people; 49% of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Of this figure, 75% are of Mexican origin, and the food culture reflects this, with a slew of Mexican eateries all over the enormous city. Many agree that Mexican cuisine in Southern California, including LA, is unrivaled due to authentic recipes, cooks who have grown up with Mexican culture all around them, and pristine California ingredients. You won't be hard-pressed to find great Mexican food, including burritos, in the City of Angels. In fact, Angelenos happen to have their own signature style of the beloved Mexican dish, and it involves only a few simple ingredients.

What is an LA burrito and how is it made?

In LA, there are a lot of Mexican restaurants, from sit-down eateries to walk-up pop-ups to 24-hour drive-thrus. And you can easily order a burrito at any and all of them, although you may not get what can be described as a signature LA-style one depending on where you order it. An LA burrito is guisado, refried beans, salsa, and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. Guisado is basically a meat stew that can be made from a wide variety of meats like beef, pork, goat meat, chicken, chorizo, etc. A traditional Mexican-style burrito wraps guisado and sometimes beans in a tortilla, so you could say that an LA burrito stays close to authenticity but throws in a few other tasty ingredients.

Some popular guisado burrito choices include chile verde, or pork stewed in salsa verde, chile Colorado, or pork stewed in a red chile sauce, and beef machaca, or dry shredded beef. As popular as they are in Mexican cuisine, you won't find guacamole, sour cream, rice, or lettuce in LA burritos, but that's just more room for the meat, right?

The wide world of burritos

If you really want ample amounts of extras, don't be afraid to ask for them — plenty of other California-born burritos go big with the fillings. A mission burrito is definitely one that you'll need two hands to handle. It is positively stuffed with beans, rice, meat, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, and cheese. This one is popular in San Francisco as it originated there. Another gargantuan type suitable for the mega-hungry is the California burrito which takes carne asada, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, and — wait for it — french fries, and wraps it all up in a really big flour tortilla.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, not all burritos are the size of puppies. As simple as it is, the bean and cheese burrito is a popular and tasty choice among Mexican food fans. You might doctor it up with some salsa, but overall, it's much smaller than its burrito big brothers. The aforementioned Mexican burrito is also smaller compared to the others due to the fact that rice, beans, and potatoes are not involved in its creation. Size-wise, the LA burrito probably falls somewhere in the middle of the two extreme sizes. No matter your preference, you can find all of these burritos and more in plenty of LA eateries.

I want my LA burrito

If it's LA-style burritos you're craving, you might have to do a little research before you head out at lunchtime lest you end up with a mission-style chicken burrito that could feed a family of four for several days. Burritos La Palma has four locations in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas that offer a modest menu of burritos, quesadillas and a single specialty plate. Cilantro Mexican Grill in North Hollywood offers customers the option to build their own burritos, making it easy to create their ideal LA style or up the flavor with the addition of several extra ingredients like chile lime corn and guacamole.

El Ruso is located off Sunset Boulevard across from Echo Park in Los Angeles and is featured on Netflix's "The Taco Chronicles." The authentic eatery uses fresh, handmade flour tortillas to make their LA-style burritos. Obviously, unless you're an Angeleno, getting to these restaurants will be more than a day trip, but if you don't want to make your own, simply ask if your favorite Mexican eatery can make an LA burrito for you. It might be as simple as opting out of the rice and beans and asking for extra meat. If they won't do that, go somewhere else that will.