Londoners love their lunches, and a combination of convenience, (relative) cheapness and proper hearty meals has meant Mexican food is a popular option for the capital’s convenience diners. Burrito shops are now almost as ubiquitous as Pret, Subway and Pizza Express, and there’s no shortage of competition. Here’s my brief rundown on the big players.
It was a voucher shoved through my letter box that for a free Chipotle burrito that sparked my curiosity, and my quest to find London’s best burrito, so it seemed only fair to start there. Given that it was free I went for the expensive option: Barbacoa steak from farm assured beef. I could definitely taste the barbacoa, but not the farm, and barely even the steak, which ended up as an expensive vehicle. The refried beans cooked with bacon are a nice touch and irresistible to a meat-lover such as myself, but ultimately a gimmick. Brown rice, medium salsa (more than enough, especially in combination with the barbacoa) and some excellent, largely sweet corn based garnish are all nice, and the wrap itself is great, thin but golden and tasty. It’s like a cool Instagram filter on a fairly average photo though; overall, there are too many flavours going on. The shop itself is pretty grey and functional, and maybe suffered from being relatively quiet. The quirky, conversational phrasing of the menus and my voucher, and a sign on the wall that says ‘Smile, you’re on Burrito Cam’ can't quite disguise the feel of corporate gigantism. At £6.95 as standard, plus £1.15 for a can of coke and 90p nachos (which to be fair were excellent), it’s not exactly a cheap lunch either.
Meat: 6/10 Guac: 5/10 Garnish: 7/10 Wrap: 7/10 Extras: 6/10 Value: 2/10 Atmosphere: 2/10
This was my local Mexican in my first year at Uni, and I was concerned my nostalgia was unwarranted. From the moment I was presented with the beautifully wrapped metallic cylinder though, I had a better feeling about today. It’s notably cheap; £4.95 for a medium which was plenty for a working lunch. After yesterday’s experience I went for the grilled chicken but with onions and peppers rather than beans; apparently this technically makes my lunch a fajita but it was certainly no worse for it. They provide a more crunchy and flavoursome compliment to the chicken, and the tomato rice helps too; it's properly warm and moist. I opted for both sour cream and cheese, and on that basis stayed away from the guac; it was an extra 70p and I felt like I had enough going on already. It all came together beautifully, each bite taking in a little of everything and comprising a great balance of flavours. Beer bottles and pictures of Tortilla's transatlantic outposts adorn the walls, there’s lively music, and it was busy even at 3.40 on a Tuesday; surely a good sign. I didn't feel like I needed nachos to add to my afternoon snack, so I passed. They and a decent selection of beers are available as well as refill hot drinks, which sound like good value at £1.40 but given the amount of time you're actually likely to be there, may not be. To top it all off, you can choose from a range of the world's spiciest sauces to take home with you; my halls committee in my first year of university tried these out for initiations, and they're not for the faint hearted, or the clumsy, as I discovered when absent-mindedly scratching my eye during a game of FIFA some 40 minutes hence.
Meat: 7/10 Guac: N/A Garnish: 8/10 Wrap: 6/10 Extras: 7/10 Value: 8/10 Atmosphere: 6/10
Two days of standard fare - I needed a bit of a change-up. Chilango seemed to provide it in the form of a new filling: grilled prawns. Having gone for the onions and peppers/medium salsa combo again, and no choice of rice, I felt like a bit of adventure was necessary; the introduction of spiced invertebrates seemed to fit the bill. The prawns in themselves are excellent, and combine well with the burrito as a concept. The peppers were a bit burnt though, and the salsa not as tasty as it might have been, meaning the occasional bite was delicious but I was more often than not disappointed - more Carlos Vela than Javier Hernandez. With the extra cost of the prawns, nachos would have stretched my student budget. A variety of 'Mexican' soft drinks are available but again at a price; the cokes and fantas and so on are the standard fare. The place itself is brightly coloured and busy but a bit soulless, if I'm honest - they do advertise themselves as the largest Mexican chain restaurant in London, so maybe I shouldn’t be disappointed.
Meat (I know, prawns aren't meat): 8/10 Guac: 5/10 Garnish: 3/10 Wrap: 5/10 Value: 5/10 Atmosphere: 4/10
Being taken for the first time to Benitos Hat by a fellow ST intern was what sparked my fascination with the wrapped wonders, so I had to go back and see if it lived up to my memory. I went, as I had been strongly advised to that first time, for the braised pork with everything on, and I wasn't disappointed. Huge, tender chunks of pork dissolve as you bite into them, releasing their delicious marinade. Rice, cheese, salad, sour cream and tomato are all worthy compliments, and the guacamole deserves special mention in the 'best supporting actor' stakes, but the meat is the headline act. It's also available in smaller 'Burrita' form, but in my view if you're in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound; it's probably worth the extra mile on the exercise bike and definitely worth the extra £1.50. Nachos are complimentary, which is a nice touch. Mexican beers are available but I'd personally go for the horchata, a cinnamonny, milk-based Central American drink that goes rather soothingly with the giant, spicy burrito. It's also a nice, friendly place to sit and while away half an hour discussing how the articles you write aren't high-brow enough, with maracas, sombreros and music that keeps the 'fiesta' image the right side of tacky.
Meat: 9/10 Guac: 8/10 Garnish: 6/10 Wrap: 6/10 Value: 7/10 Atmosphere: 8/10
When my waistline and bank account have recovered from this sustained Mexican assault, I’ll be trying to find the best of the independent burrito stands and shops in the capital - Tweet me your contenders here.