The term “burrito” appears in the 1895 edition of the “Diccionario de Mexicanismos,” describing a “tortilla arrollada, con carne u otra cosa dentro, que en Yucatán llaman coçito, y en Cuernavaca y en Mexico, taco.”
Known as “coçito” in Yucatan and “taco” in the cities of Cuernavaca and Mexico City, the burrito is a rolled tortilla stuffed with meat and other ingredients. Over a century later, the burrito is a ubiquitous dish, found in restaurants all over the world and, certainly, all over Pittsburgh.
Burritos can be many things. Burritos can be breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. Burritos can carry history and traditions. Burritos can be fast food, a relatively cheap option to fill bellies on a budget.
There’s a consensus that soft corn tortillas are involved, but practitioners have pursued liberal interpretations of “otra cosa dentro.”
Favorite Burrito Picks
Back in my college days, I remember fiendishly awaiting a late-night burrito at the first location of Taco Loco in the South Side. The restaurant shared a space with a daytime operation and was only open in the evening. The place felt like a secret. Its proprietor Edgar Alvarez has run a number of establishments since opening that first Taco Loco in the early aughts, Edgar’s Best Tacos in the Strip District being the latest incarnation.
Edgar’s burrito, made with soft corn tortillas and topped with your choice of lettuce, sour cream, tomato, onions, cheese, and cilantro, scales up. Add pollo (chicken), carnitas (slow-simmered roasted pork), picadillo (marinated beef), or chile relleno for a buck. Two bucks gets you chorizo (Mexican pork sausage), pescado (baked fish), soyeizo (soy sausage), or camarones (marinated shrimp). $3 for lengua aka slow-cooked beef tongue. And $4 for barbacoa, lamb marinated overnight.
Burritos are a relatively fast meal: quick to make and necessitating a speedy engulfing before the juices soak through the soft tortilla. El Burro, with locations in the Northside and Regent Square, offers a selection of burritos. The shrimp diablo verde strays from the norm with shrimp and salsa verde. You can be forgiven for thinking that a burrito with fries in it is a Pittsburgh thing, but their California burrito with its carne asada, french fries and guacamole hails from San Diego. With a few alterations, a burrito can easily downshift into vegetarian or vegan mode, and El Burro offers a variety of these options.
Many restaurants that have a great burrito also have fantastic non-burrito options. In the South Side, La Palapa plays into hometown pride with the “Burrito Steelers,” a delicious melding of flavors. I recommend getting it with steak, but the chicken was great, too. While you’re there, pick up a juicy half chicken (pollo asado) or a slow-roasted lamb shank (chamorro de borrego en guajillo) or slow-cooked tilapia (tilapia a la veracruzana).
Taquitos, a food truck in the parking lot next to Spak Brothers in Garfield, has a great burrito, offering a number of interesting fillings from sautéed hibiscus flower to slow-cooked cactus to campesino (Mexican sausage). There are also six salsas to choose from, including pineapple habanero and a tasty chipotle salsa.
Burritos for Breakfast
Origin stories can be slightly murky, but Tia Sophia’s, a Greek-owned diner in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is purported to have first used the term “breakfast burrito” back in 1975. While the term is relatively new, New Mexicans have been wrapping their breakfast in a soft tortilla shells for some time.
You often find burritos at Mexican (or Tex-Mex or New Mexican) restaurants, but breakfast burritos transcend restaurant style. Kelly O’s Diner in the Strip District has one. Nearby, DeLuca’s Diner offers their Famous Breakfast Burrito stuffed with egg, cheese, home fries, and your choice of meat.
Eatunique in Oakland has a luscious chorizo and potato egg burrito.
In Oakland, Atarashi offers a quartet of things they call burritos. Picture a spring roll from Pho Minh but stuffed with albacore tuna tataki or crabstick, shrimp, and crunchy onion. So, if you want a burrito but also want to feel refreshed, check out these sushi burritos.
Down the street, Ohio chain Piada Italian Street Food sells piadas, an Italian flatbread that looks dangerously close to a burrito.
More Burritos by Neighborhood
In Pittsburgh, it seems like every neighborhood offers at least one way to get a burrito.
Downtown, Bea Taco Town offers five burritos including the “Black & Gold” with a special half mole, half chipotle queso salsa sauce.
If you’re in Bloomfield, check out the newly-opened El Sabor Latin Kitchen, or indulge in 18 different burritos at Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant, or get the massive 1.75 lb. Bigly Gordita Crunch beef burrito at Baby Loves Tacos.
Down the hill in Lawrenceville, Round Corner Cantina is serving up shrimp verdes, chile relleno, and carne asada campechano burritos, among others. The restaurant is taking reservations for its indoor and outdoor seating.
A favorite in Oakland is Centenario Mexican Grille. They have a California burrito and some big portion deals for the student population, but also the intriguing Burrito Centenario with steak, chicken, sausage, and pineapple rice. Green sauce and avocado round out the ingredient list. Nearby, pizza shop Beta Bites also makes burritos, including what I presume to be the only falafel burrito in Pittsburgh.
In Shadyside, burritos are available at Tocayo Taqueria & Tequila, though in this COVID-19 existence, the to-go margaritas or cocktails may be a necessary pairing.
The Southside isn’t party central anymore, but Tres Rios offers festive burritos like The Birmingham (deep-fried fish burrito) and the Ancho-BBQ sauce and cilantro slaw-covered Barbacoa Burrito.
Etna’s California Taco Shop has at least 18 burritos on the menu and more if you count a chimichanga as a burrito.
Local favorite Chicken Latino moved from the Strip District to Beechview. Definitely try the giant crispy chicken burrito, but also shop around their delicious menu of Peruvian dishes.
While in the South Hills, the long-running Mendoza Express in Carnegie serves up a few burrito options. El Paso in Bridgeville has a lot of fun choices like the Burrito Azteca with shrimp and crab meat and Burritos San Jose, a pork burrito topped with enchilada sauce. Taco Diablo in Mt. Lebanon has a cool beef brisket and potato burrito. Also in the neighborhood is Totopo Mexican Kitchen and Bar and their Drowned Burrito, a tasty dish smothered in cheese sauce and roasted tomato salsa.
Heading north, El Campesino on McKnight Road in Wexford was a favorite for some in Pittsburgh’s rock scene circa 2004. Still going strong, they have a selection of big-appetite burritos.
And if you like visiting multiple neighborhoods but still want to eat at the same restaurant, Emiliano’s Mexican Restaurant & Bar (in South Side, Cranberry, Gibsonia, McCandless, North Oakland, and Bethel Park), Patron Mexican Grill (East Liberty, Fox Chapel, Monroeville, Wexford, Cranberry), and Mad Mex (many locations from Canonsburg to Erie) might fit the bill.