Pity the poor breakfast burrito. Present on menus throughout San Diego, it's often overlooked, rarely ordered, infrequently eaten. A tragic shame. It should be the standard breakfast, condensing everything we want in a full breakfast-eggs, cheese, potatoes, meat product, garnished with salsa, even sour cream and/or guacamole, or that magical fruit, the bean-into a tortilla (which must be fresh but unyielding), creating a one-fisted tubular to-go meal that, more often than not, will also suffice as lunch, and can be easily packed away while navigating the perils of the freeway. Here are five a.m. options for those who have had enough of the standard McBreakfast.
The burrito at El Portal Fresh Mexican Grill (5618 Mission Center Road, 619-299-0331) is decent if not exciting. The eggs tasted fresh, certainly, and the kernels of bacon were real, but there was no one flavor that jumped out. I was a quarter of the way through before I could taste the cheese, and past the halfway point before I came across my first potato. Why is there no salsa, so spice, no zing on the inside? It's the sort of breakfast that will get you over, but not so good that you'll remember it with fondness throughout the day.
El Zarape's (4642 Park Blvd., 619-692-1652) breakfast entry featured diced tomatoes, which initially gave me cause for concern, as tomato + tortilla = soggy. But the entire affair held up surprisingly well, and the tomatoes gave the entrée a little splash of flavor not found in its peers. It took some time to find the ham, but all told, the El Zarape entry was both tasty and satisfying, and almost more meal than one wants to eat in the morning. The only downside is the restaurant's opening hour (10 a.m.), which leaves weekday commuters looking for a different breakfast option, and turning this treat into a brunch burrito, or something to be enjoyed Monday through Friday by the un- and self-employed.
I did not expect my fistful of food from Senor Panchos (5089 College Ave., 619-287-9272) to be nearly as good as it was. After all, the little walk-up taco shop, mere blocks from SDSU, is often satisfying but doesn't project the air of a place that would actually give a damn about its breakfast burrito. There is nothing flashy about Panchos' version-eggs, cheese, beans, ham, with potatoes added for a worthwhile extra four bits. The beans are what truly make this breakfast burrito surprisingly flavorful-they're salty and rich, giving the entire production real taste, and enhancing the potatoes and somewhat dissolute ham. The end result is quite good, though you immediately have the sense that something that tastes that good can't possibly be good for you.
The entry from Santana's (6545 University Ave., 619-583-2434) was a monster of a burrito, the venti version as big as Popeye's forearm and considerably better tasting (caveat-I have not eaten either of Popeye's forearms). The bacon was real, coming in small crispy crumbles, far from the ham that sometimes rears its head in many breakfast offerings around town. Still, eat this big boy quickly-the tortilla became slick with burrito juice, necessitating a napkin with each and every bite.
All of the above breakfasts are worthy options, but for my money-and perhaps yours-the best breakfast burrito comes from Lalo's (1266 University Ave., 619-294-6810). This is a big, festive burrito stuffed full of fresh eggs, cheese, salsa, potatoes and complete strips of real bacon that run like a crispy pork river through the entire meal. You are never looking for the bacon with a Lalo's burrito-it finds you. I highly recommend adding beans to your order, as their frijoles add a creamy goodness that smoothes out the rest of the tastes and completes the entire package. Personally, I can never quite finish one of these. I find myself staring at the final four or five bites, and much as you may find yourself on a vision quest to finish your meal, don't force yourself. Eat what you can and move on. I say this from experience, having stuffed myself with the finale on more than one occasion. It doesn't matter if you finish the entire thing, you still won't need another meal until the evening. You've already had a burrito for breakfast. Give yourself a break.