Burritos are big business. Just ask Mexican grill Chipotle, which is rolling out new diners quicker than Alejandros can tunnel under the Texan border. With the chain opening 150 restaurants a year while pocketing annual profits of $240 million, burritos, along with their culinary cousins (quesadillas, tacos and fajitas) are bigger than Jesus himself.
Where America waddles, the rest of the world follows, with a clutch of Chipotles springing up across London. Will Edinburgh be next? Who cares? We don’t need conveyor belt fast food to bring us the ‘authentic’ taste of Mexico; Scotland’s capital can already sate those cravings thanks to a triumvirate of takeaways posited across the city.
On Leith Walk, there is Los Cardos. On Lothian Road, there’s Illegal Jack’s. And now, in Tollcross, we have Taquito. Three Mexican takeaways, each competing for your affections. All are good, but good’s not good enough. I wanted to know which one was best.
Where can I find Edinburgh’s best burrito?
Resolving that question would involve demolishing three burritos in four days – a tough assignment, but one I was willing to accept in the interests of righteous journalism.
A few doors down from Taquito lies Tuk Tuk, where the menu is supposedly inspired by Indian street food. It’s all part of the area’s inexorable gentrification, a trend which I first highlighted when reviewing The Blackbird. Taquito, in fairness, suffers no such aspirations, contenting itself with serving simple fare for the working man. Street food as humble as a humble carpenter from Nazareth.
This was the third time I’d tried visiting Taquito; on previous occasions, the shop had been closed. At first, I appeared to have drawn another blank: the lights were on and there was a man behind the counter, yet the sign on the door read CLOSED. This seemed odd for a Saturday lunchtime.
I pushed the door hesitantly and it swung inward. Taquito was open for business after all, its proprietor, I concluded, still stirring from his siesta. With the sign flipped and the grill warmed, it was time to order. Taquito’s burritos (say it as fast as you can) are served with the usual accompaniments and a choice of four fillings: chicken, pulled pork, beef barbacoa and chorizo. The obligatory fajitas, quesadillas, nachos and tacos can also be found on the menu.
The first thing to know about Taquito is that it’s cheap. We’re talking £3.30 a burrito cheap. That’s proper street food. Given the choice between a £3.30 Tesco sandwich or a fresh hot burrito, I know what I’d be spiriting back to my office if I worked in Tollcross and actually had an office.
With only three stools inside the pequeñito Taquito, lunch is best devoured at your desk. As it happened I got seated easily, which may have had something to do with the closed sign that had only just been remedied.
On the opposite side of Home Street lies the boarded up remains of Blockbuster. Some would deem this view depressing, but I found it strangely reaffirming as a testament to man’s folly. How the hell did that place survive for as long as it did? Probably drug money.
(It’s OK to slander failed businesses BTW. What are they gonna do, sue for loss of earnings?)
As I took my maiden bite of a Taquito burrito, it dawned on me that this reviewing assignment was going to be harder than I had thought. Lunch was fresh and satisfying, but all I can tell you is that it tasted like a burrito.
I’m not saying that all burritos are created equal. I’m just saying that the differences between a good burrito and a great one are subtle. And by subtle I mean disguised amidst a cornucopia of flavours, fillings and spices.
Still, since when have stunted taste buds prevented a blogger from expending several hundred words on the topic of what they had for lunch? The burrito fillings – beans, salsa and guacamole – appear to be of the bought in rather than the homemade variety, but once heated, they’re fine. Taquito is tasty, cheap and – save for a limited drink selection – hard to fault. What more do you want for £3.30?
In the West End of Edinburgh, there is one business whose name is synonymous with burritos – Illegal Jack’s. Lothian Road’s ‘South West Grill’ has been serving up the usual Mexican staples with the usual three strengths of salsa since 2009.
Unlike Taquito, Jack’s doubles as a diner. What’s more, it’s a diner where you can unpeel a burrito while downing a cold BrewDog or Corona. This I like.
It’s not blessed with the most imaginative decor – dictionary definitions on the wall (fa-hee-ta) and nondescript tables and chairs – but it’s warm and roomy.
Fresh pork, dead pony
My small burrito came to £6.95 – twice the price of Taquito – but at least I had a proper table and free wifi, which is always a deal-breaker for antisocial bloggers. (Deal alert: at lunchtimes, Jack’s do a burrito and soft drink for a fiver.) With my choice of fillings squashed into a wrap and heated, it all tasted like smush. Good, spicey smush, but smush nonetheless.
The fajitas, which are fried to order, looked great. As I chewed my burrito and glanced around, plate envy intensified. I wasn’t here to review other people’s fajitas though – I was here to rate Jack’s burritos. For sheer flavour and size, they pip Taquito’s, but only by the width of a cactus spike.
To complete my triumvirate of burritos, I took a trip down Leith Walk this afternoon. Los Cardos is another well-established Mexican cafe – one my mate swears by. He can’t visit Edinburgh without visiting Leith’s preeminent burrito maker. Irvine Welsh is also a fan. I had a sneaky feeling Los Cardos might deliver the most banging burrito yet, but was reluctant to get my hopes up. Partly because as an impartial reviewer I’m not supposed to pre-judge establishments. And also because excess hope only leads to disappointment. Speaking of which, the burritos on Los Cardos’ website look like this:
While in real life they look like this:
For the record, I am perfectly okay with my burrito looking like a big squishy mess. That doesn’t deter me in the slightest. Stock photos do though. I’d thought it was only Chinese restaurants that used stock pictures on their menu. Clearly I was wrong.
Los Cardos is scarcely bigger than Taquito but it does have more tables – i.e it actually has tables – and dispenses hefty burritos with all your favourite fillings. Pricing is closer to Illegal Jack’s, with burritos starting from £6.35. For just 15p more however I could upgrade from humble chicken to juicy steak. Princess was treating me to lunch, so I decided to go loco and try the steak.
Size v Substance
One bite into my generously oversized lunch and the same thought that had dawned in Taquito and Illegal Jack’s recurred. This time, however, it crystallised:
In truth, it doesn’t matter what meat you choose in your burrito, be it chicken, pulled pork or steak: once it’s been drowned in cheese, guacamole, sour cream and salsa, it all tastes the same.
I devoured my burrito and then I helped Princess devour hers. Different filling; same spicey flavour. My dining partner was having something of a disaster with hers: “It’s coming out both ends,” she complained. Then this happened:
“It’s just flopped everywhere,” she sighed. I grabbed a fork and set about removing all trace evidence from the table. After we had left, I asked my dining partner which burrito she’d preferred; Los Cardos or Taquito. She plumped for Taquito, noting that while Los Cardos’ was a heftier offering, it needed to be tighter wrapped to prevent mass spillage. (She also felt that Los Cardos’ fillings could have been better proportioned: more meat, less everything else.)
Me? I just think she’s a messy pup who needs to learn better table manners.
After three burritos in four days, all I want is a break from Mexican food. Next month, Ed Uncovered searches for the city’s best pizza, and this time the quest is going to be completed in weeks, not days.
Taquitos, you were great. Illegal Jack’s, you were great. Los Cardos, you were great. Now it’s time for a quick conclusion and a long lie down.
So who does Edinburgh’s best burrito?
Ultimately it comes down to what you value most: good value (Taquito); seating, wifi and beer (Illegal Jack’s); or not having to stray from Leith (Los Cardos). With the Mexicans situated on opposing sides of town, I suspect most diners will settle for the closest option after conceding that burritos are like pizza: impossible to get wrong.
Burrito-makers of Edinburgh: If we’ve omitted your business, get in touch here to arrange a review.
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