In an article entitled “Ode to the Handheld” in the April, 2020 edition of New Mexico Magazine, writer Alicia Inez Guzman noted that when her dad was growing up in the sixties, “the idea of plating a burrito for a sit-down meal was unheard of, laughable even. That’s because the humble tortilla-as-envelope filled with protein and starch was tailor-made for eating in the fields and long the companion of the farm worker.”
Google “burrito” and the results returned will almost invariably ascribe the same adjective used by Alicia Inez Guzman to describe the burrito–humble. That’s fitting considering burrito translates from Spanish to “little donkey,” also a companion of the farm worker and perhaps the most humble and hard-working of all pack animals. Etymologists believe the burrito is so named not because tortillas were ever stuffed with donkey meat or because a well-constructed burrito resembles a donkey, but because a rolled, tightly packed burrito looks like a bedroll or the packs on either side of a burrito’s haunches.
Catch my friend Carlos on a day in which he’s waxing philosophical and you’ll get an earful about how a savvy dining public staved off the cultural appropriation of the humble burrito by corporate America. He’ll remind you that about a quarter-century ago, restaurants did their best to give the humble burrito a bad “wrap.” Catch the play of words there? What he’s talking about is the proliferation of the “wrap,” a burrito facsimile proffered by virtually every restaurant chain across the fruited plain. KFC offered them. So did Long John Silver. As did the bane of Carlos’s existence–Taco Bell, that loathsome purveyor of pseudo Mexican food created assembly-line style.
For Carlos–and many others among us–flour tortillas were created to be the canvas upon which burrito masterpieces are fashioned. “You can’t just wrap something in a tortilla and call it a burrito,” he’ll argue. Nor does he give a pass to tortilla roll-ups, the baby shower favorite loosely-inspired by the humble burrito. They’ve been spared his vehemence only because Taco Bell and other chains never had the bright idea to co-opt them. Not even the baloney, cheese and green chile sandwiches on tortilla his sainted mom made for his school lunches are spared his “not a burrito” labeling. He’s a real stickler!
You won’t find the noisome wraps or vile tortilla roll-ups at Rio Rancho’s Burrito Express, a restaurant with a long history of preparing and serving burritos the way God intended for them to be made. Burrito Express has been doing it that way since 1984 in two Roswell locations and another in Albuquerque. Its website boasts of “the best burritos in New Mexico,” burritos constructed on homemade tortillas, your choice of white or wheat. Breakfast burritos–a whopping twenty-three of them–are served fresh all day. You can even build your own burrito with such meat choices as hamburger, steak, chicken, steak and asado (sic); fillings such as potatoes, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions or jalapeños. Of course, you can top them with your choice of red or green chile…or both. Carlos loves that there is no “weirdness” on the menu.
It isn’t solely about burritos, however. The menu is a veritable compendium of New Mexican favorites delicious all day long. In addition to the nearly one-googol breakfast burritos, there are three breakfast plates that Rip Van Winkle would get up for. If you tried a different lunch burrito every week, it would take you half a year to sample them all. Carlos has done the Math. There are some twenty-six burritos on the menu. You’ll also find six quesadillas, ten plates served with beans and rice and…only one taco. Side orders include many of the usual suspects: salsa and chips, nachos, chile cheese fries, guacamole and chips and much more.
When Carlos read my review of Lava Rock Brewing in which I waxed poetic about “Italian nachos,” he accused me of “selling out” and proceeded to deliver a passionate spiel about “real nachos.” He’s got a thing about authenticity in salsa and chips, too. Salsa has got to be made with chile. Jalapeños won’t cut it in his book. The salsa and chips at the Burrito Express will spare me a “jalapeños don’t belong on salsa” lecture though he might complain that it doesn’t have much bite. In his opinion, if salsa won’t scald Satan’s tongue, it’s too wimpy for any self-respecting New Mexican.
Because of Napoleon Dynamite’s grandmother, Urban Dictionary offers one definition of quesadilla that declares it “Something you want to make when you’re low on steak and there’s nothing else around to eat.” The Burrito Express features a quesadilla that might have Urban Dictionary looking at its definition of cheeseburger. It’s the cheese burger quesadilla and it’s made with everything you might expect to put into a cheeseburger. Yes, that includes mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, melted Cheddar and onions. Of course, New Mexicans will order it with green chile for a tortilla-based green chile cheeseburger…and if you’re adventurous, throw in some bacon, too.
Mashed, the self-professed “ultimate destination for all things food” calls the chimichanga “a nutritionist’s nightmare” and places chimichangas on its list of “things you should never order from a Mexican restaurant. Carlos wouldn’t order a chimichanga because it was invented in Arizona, a state “whose Mexican food is even worse than Tex-Mex.” We certainly agree on that. It’s probably apparent from the frequency with which I order chimichangas that I don’t agree with him about the merits of this “deep-fried burrito” (though he’ll tell you I order them because of masochistic tendencies). Burrito Express’s version isn’t deep-fried to the consistency of an egg roll as are far too many chimichangas. In fact, it’s got an oven-baked texture that leaves the tortilla soft and pliable. Order it with steak and topped Christmas style.
Also on Mashed’s ignominious list of things you should never order from a Mexican restaurant are fajitas which the writer contends “might be made with mystery meat.” According to the article “restaurants have taken to subsidizing various cuts of mystery meat (labeled “beef for fajitas”) which are so tough they need to be tenderized with enzymes which can easily over-perform to the point where meat turns to mush.” My Kim’s beef fajitas burrito had none of the undesirable qualities mentioned by Mashed. In fact, the beef was rather on the chewy (in a good way) side with a nice pull. From an experiential standpoint, my Kim missed the sizzling plate and sides of shredded cheese, sour cream and guacamole, but this a burrito she’d order again.
Lest I left you with the impression that my friend Carlos is troglodytic in his opinions, maybe it’s about time I told you about the dozen or so patents he’s got for weird science things most of us can’t even pronounce, much less comprehend. Nah, if I told you, his ego wouldn’t let him through the door…and he’s probably on his way out now…to Burrito Express.
1592 Sara Road, N.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 18 April 2020
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Cheese Burger Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa, Chimichanga Plate, Beef Fajita Burrito