Dining

What Makes Anna's Taqueria So Good

An unabashed ode to the defining burrito of Beantown
Anna's Taqueria Burrito
Photo: Courtesy of Anna's Taqueria

Ask anyone from Boston who makes the city’s best burrito, and you’ll get one answer: Anna’s. That’s Anna’s Taqueria for those of you who didn’t grow up calling milkshakes “frappes.” Sure, better burritos exist . . . somewhere in the universe. They just don’t get any better in Boston, or any more beloved.

In 2002, the New York Times told the story of a woman taking the Chinatown bus from NYC to Boston and back in one day just for an Anna’s burrito. “Most people think Boston is an unlikely place to find first-rate Tex-Mex food, but what else would you expect from a city called Beantown?” asked the author.

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Sure, Anna’s didn’t make it past round one of FiveThirtyEight’s burrito bracket, but that’s because people outside of Massachusetts just don’t understand. And natives get that; we really do. Just hear it from Alex Lawrence of Brookline: “Objectively, I understand when out-of-towners don't get the fuss, but there are still few things I crave more than a carnitas super.”

Mike Kamio opened the first Anna’s in 1995 after learning the craft from his cousin, who ran a burrito joint in San Francisco. There were only one or two burrito places in Boston at the time, Kamio recalls, so he moved across the country to fulfill those burrito-less pits in the stomachs of all Bostonians. It was an instant sensation, and over the past 21 years, Anna’s has opened six more locations in the Greater Boston area. Another is opening in the Prudential Center this fall, bringing the total location number to eight.

Not only have the restaurants multiplied, but the menu options have, too. Where once there were only chicken, carnitas and vegetables, now there is also al pastor, a fan favorite, and lengua, a Kamio fave. Anna’s also now serves breakfast tacos, and a special corn beef and cabbage burrito has the city lining up early every St. Patrick’s Day.

Anna’s knows what the people of Boston want—and the people of Boston want Anna’s.

The love runs deep.

I can't even identify what it is, but it's like that addictive quality in snack foods known only to corporate chemists. I want to chalk it up to nostalgia, but my love for Anna's is more than that. There's something mysterious about why that burrito is so great.

—Andrew, who grew up in Newton and now lives in San Francisco

The addiction is real.

I had a small problem a few years ago where I'm pretty sure I had a physical addiction to the carnitas super burrito (sin sour cream). I had to have one about twice a week. I can now proudly say I'm down to a one-a-month habit, but #thestruggleisreal

—Dan Morrill of Charleston

The sanctity is serious: If you don’t know how to order, get out of the way.

People not knowing the correct order of ingredients is a cardinal sin. First, you say what kind of food you are ordering: quesadilla, burrito, etc. Assuming it's a burrito, state whether it’s super [12 inches] or regular [10 inches]. Then you answer if you want cheese. Then comes the meat, if you want rice, and what kind of beans. Only after that do you discuss salsa, guac, sauce, etc. If you mess any of this up, the mob behind you will not be happy.

—Alex Lawrence

Though Kamio has received numerous requests to expand outside the Boston area, the self-described “control freak” has resisted in the name of upholding his high standard. And you can taste it in every bite. This leaves anyone who has moved beyond a reasonable distance to make Anna’s their first stop when returning to Boston.

When Thomas Egan, former Boston resident and founder of new app RADR, is anywhere near the city, he’ll travel 150 miles out of his way to revisit his old stomping grounds—what he calls the “center of [his] food universe for [his] college and graduate school years.” Though he acknowledges the burritos he tried later in San Francisco were superior, he concedes there’s nothing like Anna’s. And he should know: Egan was up to a three-to-four-burrito-a-week habit by the time he moved away.

There we have the crux of the matter: Anna’s is formative. Not for just the city of Boston, but for everyone who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft tortillas stuffed with carnitas, rice, beans and guacamole.

As Egan says, “It is easy for Anna’s detractors to cast aspersions and claim that their favorite burrito place is better. But if Anna’s hadn’t blazed the trail, those other taquerias might never have existed, or might have tried and failed. Without Anna’s, Boston’s culinary scene might still be the burrito-less wasteland it was before 1995, when Anna first opened her doors.”

Long live Anna’s.

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