Marie Tran-McCaslin is off this week. In her place is guest writer Kristin Díaz de Sandi, who blogs at lifeandfoodblog.com.
Twenty-three years ago, a street-food cart with the name "Burros El Tocayo" painted on the side began serving up massive carne asada burritos to locals in Tijuana. Owner Manuel Tirado hails from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, and got the name for his stand after friends gave him the nickname "Tocayo" while growing up. Today, that cart has blossomed into two separate locations, in the city's Hipodromo and El Lago neighborhoods. After a visit to the 13-year-old location in El Lago (Calle Lago de Chapultepec 18944), it was clear why these colossal beauties have been around for so long.
Pull up a stool and watch the burrito-making process unfold. Naturally, the first thing to catch my eye was the long piece of flour dough resting on the cutting board, just waiting to be sliced and shaped into large balls. To the side of that were cooked tortillas, sitting conveniently next to a rolling pin, just to show their actual size—these tortillas mean business.
The menu is straightforward, including carne asada, shrimp, chicken and shredded beef. If Tirado started his business more than 20 years ago serving just the carne asada burritos, then that's what I needed to order.
Tirado seasons and then tosses the meat onto the heated plancha (flat-top grill). All burritos are made to order, the flour tortillas rolled out and cooked throughout the day. Just as the beef begins to brown, he grabs one of the larger-than-my-head tortillas, slathers it with mayonnaise and adds thin slices of bright-red tomatoes and fresh avocado. The mayo acts as a bonding agent, and though you may be filled with guilt, that last bite of the burrito with just a bit more mayonnaise than the others is truly delicious.
You also have the option to add cheese, and at this point, the more the merrier. The tortilla is placed onto the plancha next to the cooked meat, and Tirado lets it sit there for less than a minute, just enough to warm it and melt the cheese. In goes the carne asada, and then he asks, "Would you like me to add hot sauce?"
It's a chipotle-based sauce that adds a nice hint of smokiness and a subtle amount of heat. Like it a bit more spicy? Dip into the bowl of pickled jalapeño chiles sitting on the bar. Before you know it, two halves of a burrito have filled the little plastic basket in front of you. One burrito can easily feed two people, but Tirado did mention that "If you eat three, it's free!" If anyone can consume three of these burritos, they deserve more than a free meal.
The size of these burritos is not common in Tijuana; most of the time, the burritos are small and consist of a single guisado—" stew"—filling. Come with an empty stomach.
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