I am a burrito aficionada, which isn’t an uncommon claim in Southern California. My favorite activities fall into the “SoCal teenager” stereotype: going to the beach and eating burritos. Lots and lots of burritos. Therefore, I believe I have the necessary qualifications to judge a good California burrito, a delicacy that boasts a delightfully fattening combination of carne asada, French fries, cheese and the occasional dollop of guacamole or sour cream — the best burritos have both. After reading “The Daily Meal” ratings that named the California Burrito from Nico’s Mexican Food the second best in the nation, I knew I had to go try it. [Note: their #1 burrito was from Tito’s Tacos in L.A.]The article also made me wonder how local burrito joints, like Roberto’s and Kotija Jr., stacked up. With an empty stomach, I set out to crown the best California burrito in San Diego for myself (and the Falconer).
My first stop was the famous Nico’s Mexican Food in Ocean Beach. Even with its hidden location and rather stressful parking situation, the restaurant was packed — a clear testament to its popularity. Waiting for my California burrito ($6), I noticed that the restaurant didn’t advertise it’s recent claim to fame. And I soon found out why — Nico’s burrito didn’t need the award to prove its worth. The mix of guacamole and mildly-spiced carne asada with flawlessly cooked French fries was heavenly. It was rich, but didn’t leave me with the heavy food baby that typically follows a California burritos. My only complaint is that the salsa was uncomfortably sweet. Nonetheless, the first burrito set a high standard for those to come.
Next was a last-minute suggestion by Falconer photographer, Eric Cunningham, to go to Ortiz’s Taco Shop in Point Loma, which was a truly serendipitous trip. The burrito ($6.45) was delicious, and completely different from Nico’s. Despite being heavier and having fewer ingredients, the burrito was equally flavorful without being overwhelming. Simply put, Ortiz’s burrito was bold. The juicy burrito contained grilled-to-perfection meat and soft fries. The salsa beat Nico’s; it was tangy with a slight spice. The heaviness left me feeling bloated, but the meal was worth it.
After the first two taste tests, I traveled back to North County to try my local favorites. Located right along Torrey Pines State Beach, was Roberto’s, which wins best location — I can never turn down the chance to enjoy my burrito ($6.40) with a view. Because of my frequent lunch trips there, I was already biased in favor of Roberto’s. But sadly, Roberto’s could not compare to either Nico’s or Ortiz’s. The burrito’s one huge fault was its failure to smoothly combine all the flavors. Even though my lunches will still be catered by Roberto’s on a regular basis, its burrito was admittedly not as masterful as the others.
Kotija Jr.’s California burrito ($6.99), my other lunch favorite, was also a disappointment. It suffered from the same weaknesses as Roberto’s — little mingling of the flavors and an overall lack of a wow factor. The burrito not only had the worst quality meat, but was also overpowered by the taste of French fries. Its only redeeming quality was its sheer size.
I left the taste test with an extra five pounds and enough burritos to satisfy my craving for a little while. In the end, I decided to crown Nico’s the best California burrito in San Diego. Ortiz’s came in a close second equal in taste and quality, but the lightness of Nico’s burrito pulled it to first. My local favorites didn’t win the competition, but I’m glad I discovered two new burrito joints. I wouldn’t mind some future trips to O.B. to get the second best burrito in the nation — and the best burrito in my book. Nico’s, you did the California burrito right and made me a satisfied “SoCal teenager.”