It isn’t often in life that I am able to sit down to ponder the real questions: “Are double stuff Oreos actually any better?” “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” “Do I have class right now?” Sitting in the Goodband Commons, inspired by the inscriptions above me, I had something of an epiphany. The time had come for me to both set out on my own and seek what truth I could, however I might see fit.
In this spirit, the Common App asks us this year to write about a problem we’d like to solve. “It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale,” it writes. Well, college, challenge accepted. I am going to find the best burrito in Boston, a task that falls under each of those categories.
A couple of logistical notes: I bought the same burrito, as close as I could, at each eatery. This consisted of: carnitas, brown rice, brown or pinto beans, pico de gallo/mild/tomato salsa (these are all the same thing), lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. I chose carnitas because I figured there’s a lot more leeway with the stewed pork option than with steak or chicken- the capacity for nuance would expose the worse restaurants and let the better ones shine. I also chose not to add guacamole, because, while delicious, I thought it would overpower the rest of the burrito, and I wanted a pure experience. Secondly, guacamole is expensive, and unnamed members of the administration refused to fund this research. I won’t say whether or not they made the right decision, but I will say that a school that can’t afford a little research budget in the name of the greater good should probably reorganize its priorities or its newspaper staff.
Qdoba: 3/10. Worst first. This burrito was incredibly uninspired. Overall, it was cold (read: unpleasant). The tortilla was chewy and covered in a light dusting of flour, which didn’t help. The meat, while soaked in liquid, still managed to be a little dry- it had great flavor, but it was tough to get through it all. Finally, the construction of the burrito was both shoddy and problematic. Not only did it fall apart in my hands, but it was short and squat to begin with, and I rarely tasted more than one ingredient in one bite. The surly teenager behind the counter didn’t help. Mix in an effort, bud. The most expensive option at $8.40 plus tax.
Chipotle: 7/10. I’ll admit, I was a little wary of Chipotle going into it. A national chain that advertises freshness, cutesy, organic slogans on all of their t-shirts, the oddly industrial decor with corrugated steel hung on the walls… I was pleasantly surprised. The chief virtue of this burrito was in its freshness; they don’t lie when they claim this. Their salsa was almost as fresh as any I’ve ever tasted- while excess lime may have enhanced this impression, there’s no faking good ingredients, and they exhibited this. The carnitas were superbly cooked, with both great moisture content and strong, conventional flavor. One thing that disappointed me about this burrito was its ratios and proportions; my first six bites had no sour cream, and my last three consisted almost exclusively of it. Occasional bites had mainly rice or lettuce. The ingredients, while on their own generally excellent, weren’t combined nearly as well as they could have been. The burrito tasted more like a salad than I would have liked, with lots of lime and lettuce. $7.25 plus tax.
Boloco: 8/10. A large part of me wanted to give Boloco a 10/10. First off, as soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a big, smiling Mexican guy behind the counter. “How can I help you today?”, he asked confidently.
“I’m looking for a burrito.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place.”
This was the only restaurant that conveyed this sort of fun confidence and welcome. Unlike every other place, they didn’t use a bar style construction, where they slid the tortilla down and I created the burrito as I went, but rather took initiative into their own hands and just made the burrito for me. This they did in about thirty seconds, which was astonishing turnover. As to the meal itself, there’s a lot to be said here. Most importantly, the carnitas were unorthodox, surprising, and absolutely delicious. The meat was smoked, rubbed with some brilliant combination of spices, and then stewed, if my taste buds can be trusted. This sounds sophisticated, but really all that mattered was the end result: amazing carnitas that were well seasoned and well cooked. They, like the entire burrito, had a lot more kick than I expected, and there was a slight hint of sweetness to them that was unusual and fascinating. While a purist might label this unauthentic, I found that I couldn’t care less. This burrito was unique. As to the rest of the ingredients, the salsa was average, but the rice and beans both flavorful. The cream was good, but unfortunately the cheese (cheddar, if I’m correct) felt a little sharp, and thus out of the place in this burrito. The burrito wasn’t well constructed- some bites had exclusively rice, extra tortilla was folded along one side, and there was a little too much cheese. Overall, this bold burrito took risks, and in general they paid huge dividends. The most unusual and creative burrito I ate by a wide margin. Also the cheapest burrito I ate, at $7.20, tax included.
Anna’s: 8/10. Another word here about atmosphere; it matters. While the cute collegiate blonde behind the counter at your local Chipotle arguably conveys an advantage all on her own, there is simply no matching the feeling of walking into Anna’s, lined with colorful Mexican tiles and painted a bright yellow. The loud mariachi music they play constantly is matched only by the rapid Spanish spoken by the employees behind the counter. The burrito I ate was delicious. One thing Anna’s does well is the toasting of the burrito in oil before filling; this melts the cheese, something which the bigger chains astonishingly haven’t caught on to. Frankly, it feels like other restaurants simply don’t care enough to do this. The salsa in my burrito was far and away the best I tasted; it was outstandingly fresh and perfectly balanced; strong flavors such as onion, lime, and cilantro played perfectly off of each other. The carnitas here were great in terms of flavor, but a little dry. This burrito also exhibited magnificent structural integrity- every bite included nearly every ingredient, and I can’t say enough about how much this does to improve the experience. The rice was flavorful and well cooked, and these were the best beans I ate throughout the search; they tasted full and not too salty. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that they were cooked with some of the juice from the meat, or at least with good spices and onions. If the devil is in the details, then so is the divine. This burrito nailed it in all the little ways, from the tortilla to the freshness of the salsa, and that made it great. $7.90 plus tax.
So what did I learn? I learned a lot; first off, that was a lot of burritos to eat in a short amount of time, and I’ll probably avoid that sort of frequency in the future. Secondly though, I learned that the question of “best burrito in Boston” must be met by each person individually. This is simply a matter of personal preference. For now, I’ll happily go to Anna’s or Boloco. If you’re looking for my recommendation, I would say that you should go to Anna’s for the best overall experience. But if you’re ever feeling a little adventurous, Boloco should stay on your radar.
One last note; there’s really no substitute for making a burrito on your own. While these restaurants are great, the satisfaction to be had in exercising complete control over making your food and then eating it is pretty astonishing. Don’t knock it until you try it.