News

Boston Burrito Battle

Last month in the Boston Globe there was an article that ranked the area’s taco and burrito shops in regard to quality, taste and selection.

The author of the article was thorough as a reporter but completely inept as a taster. The article nearly caused rioting in some quarters, as devotees of burrito shops who received low rankings became indignant that their tortilla fillers were slighted. Burritos may seem like just a simple food item, but, to many people (in particular, the authors of this article), they are so much more. We offer the following guide to Boston’s burrito shops as an amendment to that produced by the Globe. Our heavily biased report may not be as comprehensive, but it is filled with colorful opinions that more accurately reflect our Boston burrito reality.

First on our list is Boca Grande, which was slighted by the Globe who gave it only 2 points out of 5. We love Boca, their burritos are balanced, filling and satisfying. With locations on Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard, one in east Cambridge, and a third in Coolidge corner, they cover a lot of territory so we’re never too far from burrito perfection.

The secret to a great burrito is getting the combination of ingredients just right, and Boca gives you plenty of options and the freedom to customize your burrito. Co-author Dan is as devoted to Boca as Homer Simpson is to donuts because of three little words: Grilled-Lemon-Chicken. The grilled vs. boiled chicken cuts down on the slop factor and makes the burrito more manageable, while the subtle sour of the lemon in combination with Boca’s homemade hot sauce is burrito bliss. Matt prefers the delectable carnitas-there’s nothing like warm pork to make him happy. We won’t even get into the mini-quesadilla appetizer or

Boston’s best chip and salsa, or we’d be here all day.
Anna’s Taqueria fared very well in the Boston.com poll; it was given twice as many points as Boca Grande. Overall, Anna’s is very dependable and has locations in Porter square, Davis Sq. and Coolidge Corner. Anna’s is “the pioneer of the Boston burrito” according to Boston.com and indeed it was our introduction to the scene. We have since moved on for a couple of reasons. The “sticky” tortillas that result from too much steaming hurts them, they use too much cilantro and the grilled chicken lacks the flavor that distinguishes Boca. Anna’s enjoys many advantages as the market’s first mover, and has a loyal customer base that doesn’t often branch out. Anna’s and Boca have similar menus, down to the chips and salsa style Dan prefers, or more accurately, is addicted to. Like McDonald’s and Burger King, there’s tense competition between the shops. We however, prefer Boca.

El Pelon on Peterborough St. in the Fenway is the quirkiest and most ambitious of the burrito joints on our list. This little shack in the shadow of Fenway Park was Boston.com’s favorite and does well with us too.

Their strength lies in their commitment to quality ingredients and their willingness to stray from the usual staples and provide options like fish burritos and tacos. The shop itself is just plain cool and they host events like chili pepper eating contests and pumpkin carving parties to keep their customers loyal and dedicated. We like it too, but disagree with The Globe’s assessment once again. We have to admit that they make a damn good burrito but it isn’t on par with Boca. They use too much rice, the tortillas are baked and the meat isn’t as succulent. However, if you like fish in your burrito, you’ll love their attempt to bring the West coast a little closer to Boston. Finally, the homemade chips were tasty, different from the ‘Tostitos’ style at Boca, but the salsa was too chunky and unoriginal to win us over.

Real Taco, which opened shop on Mt. Auburn a week ago, brought a burrito place to the square for the first time since the mediocre Be-Bop Burrito closed a couple of years ago. We stopped by for lunch to see how they’d fare against our strict standards. We immediately hit some trouble when we opened the door and found ourselves at the end of a disorganized line. After a few minutes of waiting, we got our orders in, but not without difficulty.

Everyone in the store, customers and employees alike, seemed a little confused as to what ingredients were included in the burritos. When we finally got our burritos, they were ok but lacked character. The meat tasted too much like adobo seasoning which made the chicken and pork taste very similar. They weren’t bad but left much to be desired. The chips and salsa were like El Pelon’s, which some people may prefer, but a meager cup of salsa left half of them dry. They did, however, have killer guacamole that we agree is top notch. We’re hoping that once they get their act together, the product and service will improve to meet our high standards.

While the burritos in Boston may not rival those of the west coast, the scene is improving with each new shop that opens. Slowly, burritos are making a presence in town and taking away more and more of the market from pizza and subs. In our opinion, it’s about time.

November 12, 2002
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