Ithaca, a foodie town where tapas and sushi are commonplace, has yet to master one of the most basic elements of a diverse and gourmet food scene: the burrito. I suppose that for such a seemingly simple concept, it is quite difficult to do right. Of course, I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a town two hours from the Mexican border, so I guess you could say I am a bit of a “burrito elitist” (it’s a curse, really).
Throughout my Cornell career, I have been searching for a reasonable substitute for the dozens of greasy burrito joints that line the streets of Tucson, where a foot-long burrito costs three dollars but gives you exactly what you need, but so far I’ve come up short. Maybe it is a bit unreasonable of me to pass judgment on Ithaca, a town almost as far as possible from the Mexican border. Hey, I’m sure Ithaca’s Canadian cuisine runs circles around Tucson’s.
I’m not saying that Ithaca’s Mexican food is awful. ¡Viva! in the Commons offers up some pretty solid Mexican cuisine, but it’s far from campus and fairly expensive. Loco’s burritos are decent, but they’re also tiny. And I hardly even count Manndible’s burritos — they’re more wraps, really. So far, one of the better burritos I’ve been able to snag from Ithaca’s limited burrito medley was a fairly simple carne asada from Mexeo in Collegetown. The meat was juicy, the salsa sufficiently fiery… Still, for one regular-size burrito, the check ran up to an impressive 11 dollars, which is pretty crazy for a burrito. However, I should give Mexeo props for being extremely vegan-friendly; that’s difficult to do when your fundamental ingredients are meat and lard.
See, I think what most burrito-makers don’t understand is that complexity is not key. A burrito is a fairly rustic, rugged piece of food: If you throw some plain steak in a handmade tortilla with some refried beans, it is guaranteed to satisfy. Sauces, spices and marinades overcomplicate a burrito, covering up the simple interplay of the fillings below. You should be able to feel the blackened edges of grilled meat crackle in your mouth and taste the lard in the refried beans. The tortilla should sizzle in your hands, and that first bite should spew billows of steam, warming the center of your being as it crawls down your esophagus...
All I can say is thank God we’ve finally been graced with a Chipotle. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
If anyone finds a truly delicious burrito, please let me know — I’m jonesin’ hard.