Burritos are comfort food, in the same way that pizza and fried chicken are comfort foods. You may have been lucky enough to grow up in a house where these dishes were homemade. You would be even more fortunate if you both knew those recipes and were able to recreate them at will for your dinner table.
The rest of us who learned to love these foods in childhood, generally did so at a specific place, a neighborhood spot that all the locals knew, yet never was famous enough to be the subject of a food writer’s review.
I grew up in Chicago, and these places inhabited every neighborhood. They were the sort of restaurant that occupied a store front in the middle of a block, usually with street parking or perhaps a few spots in the back along the alley. They were owned and operated by a family, generally using grandmas’ recipes, often with grandma as the original cook. Though of varying ethnicities, they all shared one commonality. They were masters of their respective cuisines.
I had a favorite place to go for each of these foods. Some of them were places my family went to as far back as I remember; some were places I found as I grew up and struck out on my own.
Sadly, most of my family’s original favorites no longer exist, or have been taken over by subsequent generations who in a desire to put their own stamp on the family business have changed the recipes.
Happily, my all-time favorite burrito place still exists, is run by the original family and produces the same flavors I still crave. Since I no longer live in Chicago, going there is a rare treat as it is more than an hour’s drive in each direction.
Since moving out here to what my family still calls the hinterland, I have been on a hunt for the perfect burrito. I know it will never be possible to top, nor even match the seasoned steak, chiuaua cheese and cilantro concoction I crave, but I am willing to settle for a close second.
As regular readers may remember, I recently developed an extreme food allergy. This is one of God’s most cruel jokes, making someone who loves nothing more than discovering that next great, little-known storefront restaurant so highly allergic that I can no longer indulge in my previous favorite past time.
I love an adventure as much as the next diner, yet I prefer that it doesn’t include Epi-pens, emergency rooms, garden hoses in my vein, or even the verbal dance of “Are you sure there is no MSG in this item?” with the staff. The next mistake could well be my last, which generally tends to dampen my enthusiasm, not to mention my appetite.
So, I need help. I need opinions. I need a great burrito!
As is typical of my luck, I had found a place that made a pretty darn good burrito, but they have since closed. Since it had been there for nearly two years before I found it, I’m thinking the location may have played as much a part in its closing as did the generally dismal economy.
I don’t want to list the places I’ve tried and have found wanting, as what defines a good burrito – or pizza, or fried chicken – is a matter of personal taste. I have a friend who swears by a local pizza place that to me tastes like something I could have gotten out of a vending machine. This is a person who is an accomplished cook and has generally good taste with which I agree. The saying “to each, his own” is proven no where more true than when discussing food.
So, I’d like to hear about your favorites. I promise to try every one I can, and to write up my favorites. I also promise not to slam any place simply because I don’t care for it. Obviously, someone liked it enough to suggest it, and if it is still in business, their opinion is in good company.
My only caveat is that it is not made with Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. To me, that is cheating. Any crap can be made to taste better with the addition of that stuff, but it takes real food and real talent to make something taste great without it. Those located in Plainfield will get tried first, but I am willing to venture into neighboring communities as well.
I’ll start off with the latest place I tried, El Burrito Express at 967 Brookforest Ave. in Shorewood. Not in Plainfield, but close enough that it wasn’t a burdensome drive.
The owner is proud of the fact that they didn’t use MSG in their seasonings or marinades. I admit the meat was of a much higher quality than one normally would expect in a burrito, and was so tender it nearly melted on the tongue. I would go back there as it is better than other’s I’ve tried, but I would not put it in the same category as my all-time favorite place in Chicago.
If nothing else, if you have a favorite place, you’ll be giving them some free advertising and at least one new customer.
In the meantime, I think I better schedule some extra treadmill time, as I may be eating out a bit more than normal.