On The Range: Burritos

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On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

San Francisco in the mid-1960's. Peace, love, and cable cars. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

If you were into music, you could go to the Avalon Ballroom or Bill Graham's Fillmore West Auditorium and for a couple of bucks hear such bands as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, whose thirty-minute workouts on Bo Diddley's classic "Who Do You Love" are the stuff of legend. But for no cost at all, you could make your way to Golden Gate Park, where the Diggers organized free food for all ("It's free because it's yours!"), every day at 4PM. You were merely asked to bring your own bowl and spoon.

Or, if you were really adventurous, you could wander down to the Mission District, birthplace of the modern San Francisco-style burrito--available today virtually everywhere in Dallas.

Like tacos and enchiladas, burritos were well-known in Pre-Columbian times, when Aztecs used corn tortillas to wrap vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, mushrooms, and avocados. Much later, gold miners in Sonora and the American southwest relied on flour tortillas to fold over spiced meat. These hungry miners used burros to transport their equipment, so they dubbed their staple "burrito" (little donkey).

Burritos are referred to as burros in some Arizona restaurants.

The dish evolved over the years, eventually settling into many Mexican establishments. In The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy recommends stuffing them with chilorio (shredded pork), mochomos (crispy shredded beef), machacado de huevo (beef and eggs), or making a fried paste of either pink or pinto beans and muenster cheese or chorizo.

In his highly irreverent SF Weekly article, "Cylindrical God", John Roemer notes that the modern day, two-fisted burrito originated in 1960s San Francisco when El Faro grocery store owner Febronio Ontiveros created a massive variation to satisfy the demands of hungry customers:

"Ontiveros said that on the first day he was open, a group of firemen from the station down the street came in wanting sandwiches. He didn't have any, but the industrious businessmen wouldn't disappoint them twice. The next day he was ready with burritos. Soon, he made them a staple of the store's growing takeout trade. There were no big tortillas commercially available in those days, so to make the super burrito he overlapped three six-inchers and charged a dollar."

Fast forward to Dallas 2009. You can still get old-fashioned meat or bean and cheese burritos in almost every Mexican restaurant, covered with queso or ranchera sauce. However, San Francisco-style burritos are the darlings of the rapidly growing fast-casual dining scene. There is a Chipotle, Qdoba, or Freebirds on just about every corner, it seems.

Planet Burrito works like most of the others in that you can build lunch to your specifications. Steak, chicken, pork, or brisket can be paired with rice, queso, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, onions, and your choice of sauces--including the wicked Diablo salsa made from Scotch Bonnet peppers. You can even omit the flour tortilla and just have your meal in a bowl if your watching carbs.

And thus left coast fare has become part of the Tex-Mex lexicon. In fact, all across the nation. Such a strange vibration.

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