Confessions of a Burrito Monomaniac

Aaron Gilbreath
7 min readJan 4, 2020
My Tucson Burrito Church, photo by author.

Having a “burrito-eating system” might mean that I’m fussy, but I don’t believe that being particular makes me difficult to please. I’m easy to please. Just give me a bean burro made with flavorful refritos wrapped inside a lightly grilled tortilla that won’t split at the bottom and spill beans on my lap, and I’ll be happy. Is that the mark of a difficult eater?

Burritos are hand food. Like hotdogs, samosas and satay, they are, as a form, cheap, filling and self-contained, which makes them ideal for people living with space, money and time restrictions. Whether they’re enormous, overstuffed Mission Style burritos or the thin, flimsy tubes of northern Mexico, burritos’ portability means they can be eaten quickly, without utensils, either standing in a cramped taquería or walking down the street. As someone raised in Phoenix, Arizona on both green chile and refried bean burros, I find the burrito a developmental highpoint in the span of culinary evolution, a food nearly perfect in its flavor and architectural simplicity.

Consider the burrito as an idea. Its most visible design element embodies its nature: the flour tortilla. Tortilla de harina is to-go container, utensil and ingredient, as injera is to Ethiopian food, pita is to schwarma, and the cone to ice cream. Tortilla’s message is one of relaxed hospitality: “Why lay these ingredients on a plate to be eaten with a knife and fork, when you can eat them and me at once, with your hands?” So too does the burrito’s name reflect the dish’s dependability and rugged functionality.

In Spanish, burrito means “little donkey.” The reference is straightforward: on the 19th century Western frontier, donkeys carried miners’ heavy loads. So too could these large “rolled tacos” carry the mounds of charred meat and beans that frontier cooks piled into them, and they could manage the routine hardships of backcountry transport, the proverbial heavy-lifting of their four-legged namesake.

Although I’m no snob, I consider myself a burrito-devotee, meaning, I’m very particular about what I like in my burrito — just refried beans and salsa fresca, no cheese, aka “puro”; or a green chile burro, sin queso — and I could never live anywhere where I couldn’t easily access burritos. They are the defining food of my childhood, and my devotion to them runs so deep…

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Aaron Gilbreath

Essayist, Journalist, Burritoist. Longreads Editor. Writing: Harper’s, NYT, Slate, Paris Review, VQR, Oxford American, Kenyon Review. 3 nonfiction books.