Mike Favila, Janet Thornhill, Sundeep Singh, Ritul Walia and Pradip Singh have lunch at Chinito’s Burritos, famous for its 5-pound Gomez burrito.
In the vernacular of food marketing, everything is the “undisputed” this or “most amazing” that you’ve ever or never indulged in.
And while we’ve grown immune to the siren song of retail temptations, unsubstantiated menu claims still grab our attention.
Which is why when we noticed that Barracks Row poultry purveyor Chicken Tortilla claims to have the “biggest burrito in Washington, D.C.,” we immediately donned our fact-checker hat.
Rather than gorging ourselves on every oversized, condiment-leaking creation in town, we elected to measure Chicken Tortilla’s two-handed “burrazo” against a half-dozen of its most portable peers, a prerequisite that eliminated most sit-down joints. (And assured that our dry cleaner will make a killing this month.)
For the sake of comparing apples to apples, only carne asada offerings were evaluated. And the field was deliberately left open to accommodate kitchens providing the highest quality (top-shelf ingredients, artful execution), value (most generous portion for the price) and variety (burrito selection, diversity of add-ons), or any combination thereof.
Chicken Tortilla The signature burrazo ($8.95) served as the baseline. Given that this place is more Peruvian chicken joint than Mexican stronghold, expectations were, at best, medium. But as staff began assembling the overly generous meal, the excitement began to build.
Chicken Tortilla staff started with a freshly pressed 12-inch flour tortilla, then piled on heaping spoonfuls of steamed white rice, tender pintos, cubed grilled steak, roasted corn, diced tomatoes, sliced jalapenos and sour cream. Once complete, they don’t fold so much as smash the mammoth construction in half, rolling and wrestling it into the shape of a small medicine ball. (Staff estimates a fully dressed burrazo weighs about 1 pound.)
Their deliberation hit home as soon as we pierced the bulging shell. Once punctured, the only real alternative is to wolf down as many mouthfuls as possible before the floppy framework fully disintegrates. We tried desperately to stay ahead of the unwieldy meal but still witnessed chunks of cilantro-covered beef (meaty and flavorful) and slivers of sensory-jabbing jalapenos (scintillating) sliding through our fingers.
VERDICT: solid starting point 1100 Eighth St. SE; 202-543-190 chickentortilla.com Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Burrito Brothers Part of the once widespread chainlet, the Capitol Hill arm of Burrito Brothers has branched out significantly from its narrowly tailored predecessor. Where drunken club-goers previously had to settle for just a few gut-busting selections, patrons today can choose from a rainbow of specialty wraps (whole wheat, jalapeno, spinach, tomato or multigrain) and more substantial fillings (from plain eggs to multi-ingredient omelets at breakfast to tilapia for dinner).
The Big Daddy steak burrito ($6.50) looked impressive — staff estimate a fully dressed BD averages about 1.5 pounds — but it failed to deliver on several counts. For starters, the supposedly jalapeno-flavored tortilla, which bumped the price up 50 cents, was bland.
The steak, while adequate, was almost totally muted by the combination of Mexican rice (so-so) and refried beans (wonderfully rich). The jack cheese was a snoozer, and the pico de gallo much too tame for our taste.
VERDICT: total has-been 205 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-6835 ourburritobrothers.com Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Chinito’s Burritos The new kid on the block has been getting a lot of love from cash-strapped college kids and zeitgeist-chasing food scribes since it opened in February. And with good reason.
Founder/owner Won Jin Chong, a seasoned chef with a penchant for daily shopping runs, insists his recipe for success is more about scratch cooking than secret spices. “We treat it as if we’re feeding our family,” he said of his affinity for fresh ingredients.
Our carne asada burrito ($7) — Chong estimates an average one can tip the scales at 2 to 3 pounds, depending on the enthusiasm of the customer — definitely proved his point. The interior was a mouthwatering mix of exquisitely seasoned and tender steak (Chong marinates his beef for up to 12 hours in a proprietary pepper-steak-style sauce loaded with fresh pineapple and soy sauce), zesty tomato salsa and sharp cheese.
Each order can be accentuated with a handful of intoxicating homemade salsas. According to Chong, his spicy chimichurri, crafted from fresh cilantro, lime, onion, garlic, jalapenos and black pepper, is the runaway favorite, while a custom wasabi-lime comes in at a close second.
“You can’t find that anywhere else in the country,” he said of his citrusy fire starter. We’re still stuck on the XXX super hot sauce, a punishing preparation requiring a full case of habaneros (roughly 7 to 10 pounds) per batch.
The Gomez is named after Gallaudet grad Carlos Gomez, who bowled Chong over by ordering a burrito filled with every single ingredient, devouring it in the store and returning 45 minutes later for an encore. While whipping up the second kitchen-sink feast, the incredulous Chong told Gomez that if he was able to finish it, he’d pick up the tab and name a food challenge after him.
Chong said aspiring gluttons come specifically to tussle with the now-standard menu item. Contenders who consume a burrito filled with all 15 toppings (average weight: about 4 to 5 pounds) in less than 15 minutes pay nothing. Those who fall short of the challenge must foot the full bill (about $20.)
“We do at least one Gomez a day,” Chong said, although he is fairly certain burrito enthusiasts now more often than not share the surreal roll-up. To wit, at least one gentleman attempted to showboat by ordering a Gomez contained by three overlapping tortillas pushing the 9-pound mark.
“He didn’t even make a dent in it,” Chong said of the supersized fail.
VERDICT: best quality 635 Florida Ave. NE; 202-544-4447 chinitosburritos.com Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
District Taco The one-time suburban Virginia food truckers have finally taken root in their namesake city, establishing a brick-and-mortar outpost that’s as famous for ridiculously long lines as the original Arlington cart.
Co-founder Osiris Hoil noted that while tacos remain the main attraction, burrito fans have gravitated toward two distinctive menu items: the sauce-covered burro mojado and 24/7 breakfast burrito.
The burro mojado with carne asada ($8), which Hoil said consistently weighs in around 2 pounds, was somewhat daunting. The flour shell arrives zebra-striped with contrasting bands of fiery, cheese-spiked salsa and cool sour cream. The filling is composed of peppery steak, seasoned rice and sweet black beans, all of which tumble out and plummet into the surrounding well of spicy tomato salsa when the wrapper is pierced by tooth or cutlery.
The breakfast burrito ($7) goes even more overboard, tricking out each tortilla with a layer of pork-studded melted cheddar (and your choice of free chorizo or bacon), while padding the interior with more pig, scrambled eggs, savory fried potatoes and dulcet black beans.
“It’s better than a Red Bull!” Hoil said of the multilayered eye-opener.
VERDICT: best variety 1309 F St. NW; 202-347-7359 districttaco.com Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
The Well Dressed Burrito The grandfather of grab-and-go Mexican dining has been helping customers get their burrito fix for more than a generation. And demand does not seem to be waning.
On any given day, the folks huddled in the cramped, out-of-the-way eatery are Well Dressed Burrito regulars who have called ahead so they can haul their customized prize back to their desks or burrito connoisseurs eager to learn what the fuss is about.
The answer is manifested in the marinated beef El Gordo ($6.75), a mammoth serving that works out the jaw muscles at least 1.5 pounds per encounter. Each folded-over tortilla is parked dead center of a carryout container and then buried beneath a supporting cast of shredded lettuce, steamed white rice, roasted tomato salsa and grated cheddar. The interior boasts a medley of stewed and shredded beef (infused with tomato and onion), creamy refried beans and heart-stopping pockets of melted cheese. Thrill seekers can up the ante by spreading on the house hot sauce, a mishmash of minced hot peppers that’ll ring your bell but good.
VERDICT:best value 1220 19th St. NW; 202-293-0515 thewelldressedburrito.com Open for lunch Monday through Friday.
Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., poses for a selfie with LSU football fans as she campaigns at tailgate parties on the Louisiana State University campus before the LSU-Mississippi State game on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Buy photo here.