I arrive at my favorite burrito place at dinnertime. It’s been a long day. I’m starving.
The entire place smells authentic and delicious. This has become a comforting and familiar scent for me as I come here several times a week, every week.
My favorite burrito roller is also behind the counter. This excites me and eases my mind. I’m in good hands.
I know the menu backwards and forwards, but I still look over the shoulder of the guy in front of me and check out the ingredients arranged in metal pans behind the short wall of glass.
What’s looking good today? I ask myself.
I love the carnitas, and I’m glad to see that it looks fresh and the pan is full. I’m getting that for sure.
The black beans are almost gone, though. I don’t want the dregs, so I guess I’m going for pinto beans, or maybe half pinto and half refried. Yeah, that’ll be good.
The line moves up and now it’s my turn. I ask for a burrito.
The burrito roller puts a tortilla on the steamer. He asks if I want cheese and I nod, so he throws some cheese on the tortilla and steams it.
Seconds later, the tortilla is gently peeled off the steamer and moved to the counter. It’s softer now, more malleable, and the cheese has melted to a gooey perfection.
We talk our way through the ingredients as he moves down the line. Rice. Half pinto, half refried. Carnitas. He scoops quickly and with precision, artfully arranging each ingredient on the tortilla.
Pico de gallo. Medium salsa. It’s amazing how fast it all comes together. It’s beautiful.
Guacamole. Lettuce. We’re so close to the end now. I’ll be able to stuff my face momentarily.
He wraps everything inside the tortilla, and then rolls it snugly in tin foil into a magnificent cylinder.
I cash out and sit at the closest table. I devour that burrito.
All great burritos start with flavorful, well prepared ingredients, and there’s so much that goes into this. Tasty recipes executed with care. Consistent preparation day in and day out. The sourcing of high quality meats and beans and cheese and vegetables.
And still, so much depends on the burrito roller.
Because an outstanding and thoughtful burrito roller can transform those ingredients into a transcendent eating experience.
On the other hand, if all of those wonderful ingredients are thrown together haphazardly, it can be unbelievably disappointing. The harmony that could’ve existed between all of the flavors and textures is missing. And the joy of eating that burrito will be significantly diminished.
So what separates a great burrito roller from a mediocre one?
To start, a great roller delivers without fail on the three telltale marks of a superbly rolled burrito: right proportion, even distribution and restrained massiveness.
Right proportion means that the burrito’s ingredients have been put together in the proper ratios. Too much of any one thing can overpower the entire experience. And if there’s too little, then that ingredient won’t assert itself like it should, and the burrito will be out of balance.
For a burrito to be excellent, its ingredients also need to be evenly distributed throughout, so that each bite contains a little bit of everything. A poorly rolled burrito might contain large sections with just one ingredient. I take a big bite and all I get is rice. That’s off-putting.
A burrito should also be massive, but not so massive that the tortilla is bursting apart. The ideal burrito is fully packed, but also comfortably contained within the tortilla, so that there’s no real danger of the ingredients breaking through and spilling all over my hands.
Beyond always delivering on these telltale marks, what truly distinguishes great burrito rollers is that they care. They understand the impact they can have on your day, and they take that responsibility seriously. They apply the golden rule and roll each burrito as if they were rolling it for themselves.
To all the great burrito rollers out there, thank you for what you do!