All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
In late August 2005, Vicky Zamora was sweeping the parking lot in front of her restaurant when a car zoomed up. La Victoria had been open for a little over a month — Zamora had given the formerly derelict spot on Haskell Avenue a quick renovation and deep clean — and focused on lunch, dinner and tamales. A man in the car who looked to be in his 60s leaned out of the car and belted, “Hey! I need to order a dozen breakfast burritos.”
“What?” Zamora asked, confused. Zamora moved to Dallas in the mid ‘80s — her family is from Durango, Mexico — around the time a magnitude 8 earthquake shook the country in 1985.
“I hadn’t heard of a breakfast burrito," Zamora says. "In Mexico, growing up, we would have picadillo burrito, the beef burrito, the chicken burrito, but not the breakfast burrito."
The man, who was broadcasting his urgency by not stepping out of his car, said he was visiting his daughter from Corpus Christi, and in Corpus, there were breakfast tacos on every street corner.
“Do you have them or not?” he asked. Zamora said no but asked the man to describe them in detail.
“I told him: I give you my word. Next time you come in, you’ll be able to get breakfast burritos for you and your daughter," Zamora says. "I’ll get them on the menu.”
No more than a day later, in an unrelated moment of fate, a representative from Dallas ISD asked for something similar: 1,100 breakfast burritos. Zamora’s the kind of person who answers when a good opportunity knocks, so she jumped on it.
“I’ve known from the time I was 13 that this is what I wanted to do,” she says when talking about her restaurant and the light catering she does on the side.
Since that day in 2005, breakfast burritos have been the No. 1 item ordered at La Victoria. They're also some of the most homey and delicious breakfast burritos in the city. Zamora quickly axed dinner service in 2005 and began opening her new restaurant in East Dallas at 7 a.m. to make hot, fresh breakfast burritos. You'll find them today the same as they were then: Always grilled and always ready to be cloaked in hot sauce.
I walk in on a seemingly slow morning. The chairs are empty at the counter, but Zamora’s in the kitchen, hacking into avocados. She places to-go containers filled with food on the ledge. Earlier that morning, before opening at 7 a.m., she made 10 dozen breakfast burritos for a nearby business.
La Victoria is Zamora’s spirit. She’s generous and accepting, and she has shifted and pivoted her restaurant based on feedback from the neighborhood. A longtime patron named Zack was passionate about his breakfast burrito combo of chopped bacon, potato, scrambled egg, pinto beans and diced fresh jalapeño. For the customer’s birthday, Zamora put it on the menu. Don’s Delight, a burrito that spans the diameter of the plate and is punctuated with crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh guacamole and raw onion slices, is named after another longtime patron who has been going to La Victoria since it opened.
All of Zamora’s burritos are free of pretension or trend. Each is simply a giant and tasty breakfast burrito with a tiny bowl of hot sauce on the side. They don’t come with sides, each burrito costs less than $5 and they all taste like home. Dallas home. They have the fresh, hot, un-chef-ness of a dish your mom would hug you with.
“You shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for good food,” Zamora says. She learned her craft from a local caterer around the corner in East Dallas, where she and her mother worked when she was a kid.
The guacamole is fresh and blinking with heat. Keep an eye out, and you’ll notice that Zamora doesn’t whip up the guac until the last minute. She knocks open an avocado seconds before the finished burrito makes it onto my plate. The avocado is mashed with fresh pico de gallo, onion, tomato and jalapeños, of course, and that’s layered onto scrambled eggs and chopped, deeply crispy bacon. Raw onions drop over everything for crunch, and the 10-inch tortilla gets a seal from a blistering flat grill. With a little hot sauce, it’s stupendous and hangover-curing. It’s an iconic and utterly Texas burrito.
“We haven’t changed anything,” Zamora says. “I’m always getting told by customers: Why don’t you add caldo, add shrimp tostadas, add menudo? ... I think you Americans have a saying: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
Everything on Zamora's menu, no matter what time you visit, tastes like mom's kitchen. On my visit, Ave Maria is playing over a crackling radio. A tall, icy Coca-Cola is in front of me to balance the flicker of heat from the hot sauce. Lingering, herbaceous jalapeño heat clears my head like a wildfire through Texas brush.
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Her cousin, a former partner, worked in fast food and suggested grilling the tortillas to add a warm zap of flavor. That’s why every burrito is grilled, she says, but quickly follows up: “Well, that’s not true.”
There’s one customer who asks for his burrito to be rolled and delivered without touching the grill. He likes it fluffy and soft.
“He says it reminds him of home,” she says.
La Victoria, 1605 N. Haskell Ave.