The Toronto Burrito Tour: Part 1 (downtown core)

I’ve held a lot of random jobs growing up.  Some were easy like selling luggage or Christmas trees while others were pretty intense like being the grunt on a construction yard or the dishwasher in a busy restaurant.  No job however prepared me for the intensity of a particular daily event in my current life, ordering lunch in the downtown food courts of Toronto.  I remember my first time going to fancy salad, the sandwich box or the burrito place and being overwhelmed by the ordering procedure. ” White or whole wheat?!” “Chicken or beef?!”  “What kind of veg?!” “Hot sauce?!” “Toasted?!” “Sorry, cash only!”  “NEXT!” I remember my first experience at fancy salad (which was actually my first day of work out of university) I was so overwhelmed I just said “everything” or “okay” to each person along the assembly line…the “fast food” salad cost me around $15…and I was still hungry after.  In fear of becoming “the jerk that holds up the line” you learn the various menus and ordering procedures pretty quickly and within weeks you are an expert.

Before moving to Toronto burritos were never anything I got excited about.  Mind you my experience up until that point had been limited to Taco Bell or Taco Time.  After being introduced to Fresh West Grill in the TD food court by some co-workers, it opened my eyes to the glory of burritos.  As I hold the warm bundle of meat and veggies in my hands, I face southwest towards the San Francisco bay area (which has been described to me as the Mecca of burritos), and say a short prayer to the burrito gods that the tortilla maintain its integrity and that the meat be succulent and flavorful.  The burrito scene in Toronto is becoming very crowded so I set out to find Toronto’s best burrito.  And so began the Toronto burrito tour.  I am still continuing on my journey but I thought I would begin sharing what I have found.

Fresh West Grill is located in the TD food court and was the first burrito I tried in Toronto.  This spot quickly became a regular on my weekly lunch lineup and remains so today.  The line is usually lined up to the back of the food court but this little shop could be the most well oiled machine in the PATH.  You could have 40 people in front of you and still get a burrito in under 10 minutes.  I think there are three options for “burritos”.  There is the salad, which I have never had (after all, you don’t make friends with salad) but consists of lettuce instead of a tortilla or rice and with some mango citrus dressing.  They throw the rest of the burrito toppings on the salad.  The standard burrito comes on a huge flour tortilla that can be filled with rice, choice of meat (chicken, steak, shrimp or soy), choice of beans, stir fried veggies (which costs extra unless you order the veggie burrito), corn, burrito sauce, hot sauce, lettuce, green peppers, several different kinds of salsa (the mild looks like diced tomatoes while the medium and hot have a more watery consistency but with some heat), cheese, sour cream, and guacamole (which sadly is also extra).  The burrito is then wrapped and placed on a grill where it is seared on both sides to seal the burrito and give the tortilla a bit of a crisp when you bite into it.  It is delightful.  The last kind of burrito you can order is the inside-out burrito.  It’s basically the same as the standard burrito but served in a container without the tortilla (they add a lot more rice though).  The inside-out is a little cleaner since you eat it with a fork.  These days I get the standard burrito about half the time while opting for the inside out the other half.

IMAG0121Z-Teca was the second burrito shop to hit my radar in the downtown core and is located in Commerce Court under the CIBC building.  First you choose between a regular burrito (with beans), a fajita burrito (with stir fried veggies instead of beans), the burrito bowl (sans tortilla, like the inside-out) or the salad.  They offer two types of tortillas, flour or whole wheat, with cilantro rice, choice of salsa, cheese, fat free sour cream and burrito sauce.  The choice of meat consists of chicken, steak, beef barbacoa (slow-cooked shredded beef), shredded pork (carnitas) or shrimp.  This place very lightly grills the burrito simply to seal it.


The third burrito shop downtown is Mucho Burrito which recently opened in the Brookfield Place (old BCE building) food court.  They offer three sizes (pequeno, medio and mucho XL) and in similar form as the others places (veg vs. bean or bowl vs. tortilla).  They offer a variety of meats including chicken, steak, pork, and chorizo.  They have similar toppings and also throw in guacamole at no extra cost.  In addition to burritos they have tacos, quesadillas among other Mexican inspired entrees.  I have only tried the burritos but am often tempted to try the other things since the pictures on the board depict then oozing with cheese.

IMAG0131So, how do the downtown burritos stack up against each other.  Well each has their merits and I honestly mix it up depending on my mood.  Fresh West Grill has the freshest ingredients and their chicken is by far the best in the area.  The chicken at the other places is a little bland in comparison and Fresh West gives you huge chunks of juicy, wonderfully marinated chicken.  Fresh West is also slightly cheaper than the other places but it is cash only.  I also like the crisped tortilla but wish they gave you the stir fried veggies and guacamole without the extra cost.  Z-Teca has the best beef burrito downtown.  The slow roasted beef is so rich in flavor and has that mexican kick you expect from good burrito meat.  I like that you can get the stir fried veggies for free and I think of the three, Z-Teca is the most filling.  I was carrying one back to my desk today and I could feel it weighing down on my arm.  This gave me some mixed feelings… either I’m getting really weak which is sad or this is a heavy burrito…  I think it was a bit of both.  The veggies don’t taste as fresh but the whole wheat tortilla is a nice “healthy” option.  Mucho burrito unfortunately falls a little short of the other two in veggie freshness; amount and flavor of meat; and value (it is the most expensive) but what it lacks in flavor of ingredients it makes up for in heat.  Of the three burritos it is by far the spiciest (if you get the hot sauce and the spicy salsa, which is my default order at all three places).  So on days when I feeling a little chilly or am craving a tingle in my mouth and fire in my belly, I opt for Mucho burrito.  It’s still a good burrito, it’s just that the other two are really good.  When I think about the chicken and veggies at fresh west or the marinated beef at Z-Teca it makes my mouth water.

I think I’ve devised a plan of attack for the rest of the burritos in the city, many of which I have already tried and placed on my burrito hierarchy.  On the west end we have some varieties like Burrito Boyz, Big Fat, Mission, New York Subway or Burro.  On the east end we have Chipotle, the sandwich shoppe, Moe’s, Quesada and the burrito house.  I’ve heard that some place called burrito banditos opened up somewhere too.  Who knows, maybe a Johnny banana, El Trompo or El Asador may top the list.  Only time will tell.  This is a long journey that may take me months or even years but it is one that I’m glad to be eating my way through.  Feliz comiendo a mis amigos (that’s probably totally wrong).


~ by jlowjlow on October 20, 2009.

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