Legend has it that the burrito was born in northern Mexico as a hearty, portable lunch for workers. To properly observe National Burrito Day (April 4), however, one can actually spend weeks in California, exploring the many nuances of these tortilla-wrapped delights.
In the Bay Area, your burrito is often served Mission-style, with rice, meat, and beans inside. Down in San Diego, burritos often come partially stuffed with french fries (yes, you heard right). And Los Angeles County offers a pastiche of styles: In 2018, Food & Wine declared the purist-pleasing, bean-and-cheese burrito at Al & Bea’s in Boyle Heights the best burrito in the entire state. And while that may be true, L.A. County offers a multitude of variations, including Indian and Korean burritos.
The best way to become a burrito authority, of course, is to try as many as possible. Here are 10 more excellent contenders, starting from just north of the border.
Lucha Libre Taco Shop, San Diego
Ask for a California burrito in this SoCal city and you’ll find french fries inside, like the classics at county-wide chain Roberto’s Taco Shop (try the location right next to scenic Torrey Pines State Beach). But it’s hard to argue with the local flavor of Lucha Libre in Mission Hills, where the menu includes The Surfin’ California (with steak, shrimp, fries, pico de gallo, and avocado) and the in-house TVs show old Mexican wrestling matches.
Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, Los Angeles
This Korean-Mexican food truck does great tacos but also an acclaimed Kogi Wet Burrito: inside you'll find spicy Korean pork, salsa verde, scrambled egg, hash browns, and crunchy iceberg lettuce. Outside the “wet” sauce is a red Kogi mole, with melted Jack cheese and cilantro onion lime relish. Be sure to track the truck’s schedule, which may include Pasadena, North Hollywood, or Fox Plaza.
La Azteca Tortilleria, Los Angeles
This East L.A. staple, located off I-710, has been family-run for two generations. It’s known for its housemade tortillas and its chile relleno-fueled burrito that features carne asada, pinto beans, pico de gallo, and a deep-fried, cheese-stuffed pepper.
The Bombay Frankie Company, Los Angeles
One of the best out-of-the-box burritos in L.A. can be had inside a Chevron station on Santa Monica Boulevard. Seriously. Its roti rolls (often called “frankies”) are India’s version of a burrito and include chicken tikka, chickpea spread, mint chutney, cucumbers, and tamarind sauce rolled up in fluffy naan as the tortilla. Don’t scoff at the gas station element: The place has been called one of the best Indian restaurants in Los Angeles.
La Costeña and Taqueria La Bamba, Mountain View
In Silicon Valley, Mountain View is ground zero to a serious burrito rivalry: La Costeña and Taqueria La Bamba. La Costeña (the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest burrito, made in 1997 and weighing in at 4,456 pounds) is housed in a grocery store, and meat options include sirloin carne asada and pollo borracho, or chicken stewed in beer sauce. At La Bamba, the menu mixes Mexican and Salvadoran flavors, with plenty of shrimp options.
The Mission burrito (meat, beans, rice), like so many other entities, came into its own in 1960s San Francisco. El Faro, then just a grocery store on Folsom Street, claims it was created here in 1961 (adding sour cream, salsa, and guac) to feed a bunch of firemen. Nearby La Cumbre also says its founders created it around the same time, while running a meat market. Today, La Cumbre’s menu also includes burritos with prawns or falafel; El Faro also does breakfast burritos, like the Machaca stuffed with grilled beef strips and a two egg omelet.
La Taqueria, San Francisco
This classic spot in the Mission District has topped a number of best-of lists, including Nate Silver’s data-driven FiveThirtyEight. But the taqueria is contrarian in a few different ways: it offers now-retro crispy tacos and unconventional corn-tortilla quesadillas. Also, its burritos are rice-free, filled instead with meat, beans, and pico. (Meat options include chorizo, carnitas, or beef tongue.)