Munch goes to El Burro Comedor
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So, let me get this straight: The New York Times' Pete Wells makes a few cruel jokes at the expense of Guy Fieri and his new Times Square eatery, which is the restaurant critic's equivalent of beating the fat kid in a foot race, and all of the sudden he's a hero to foodies and Facebook snarkers alike?
Say, Pete, here's a shotgun. You see that barrel of fish over there? Have at it, bub.
Aw, heck, who am I kidding? Munch is just jealous, is all. The Gloomy Gourmand has been making fun of Guy Fieri for years, for a variety of reasons, such as there is no good reason to wear your sunglasses like that and please explain your ridiculous albino hair, and yet the closest Munch has come to viral-sensation status was a case of measles in third grade.
Well, shoosh, that's life. Some folks get all the breaks. Other folks, like Munch, get pimples on prom night. The point of this piece is not to kvetch about the fame and fortune and nice clothes and reliable car that have eluded Munch to date; instead, on this day in particular, we're here to give thanks for what we have. And what we have, as of a few weeks ago, is a pleasant little burrito and taco shop on the North Side.
It's called El Burro Comedor, which, in Spanish, means "The Donkey Commodore," so I'm guessing that's a historical reference to the age of the conquistadors, when the Spanish were exploring Central and South America, and many of them were felled by malaria. So many, in fact, that the ensuing shortage in military leadership meant dozens of the smartest and most heroic war donkeys were given battlefield promotions to the position of commodore. (Previously, the highest rank donkey conquistadors could achieve, for political reasons, was lieutenant commander.)
Or so the legend goes. The rest, as they say, is history, possibly. The point is, Munch has no idea what Francisco Pizarro would make of these California-style street-food staples, but Munch liked them just fine.
Not great or mind-bending or drive-out-of-your-way-for-an-hour-delicious, but fine.
Burritos, about a dozen of them, make up the bulk of the menu. Munch's carne asada burrito ($6.95) was serviceable; better were the rolled tacos (basically fried tacos, or tacos fritos, similar but not identical to the larger and fluffier flautas), which come four to a serving. Munch's quartet of rolled potato tacos ($4.95) were essentially a fistful of re-fried french fries.
Redundant? Perhaps. Delicious? Very much so.
The "flying saucer," a Frisbee-sized taco salad ($6.95), was a heaping pile of Mexican staples -- guacamole, sliced chili peppers, beans and such on a bed of lettuce and tomato (meat can be added for $2). There are few other vegetarian options on the menu, too -- bean and cheese burritos, chilaquiles dishes and several of the sides.
Munch's lunch companions, Mexican fiends all (that is, Mexican food fiends), were on the same page with Munch -- good food, but nothing that yet fully elevates El Burro above competitors. The shrimp diablo burrito ($7.49) lacked diablo, the shredded chicken burrito ($6.95) was meekly filling. All of us left full but also left wanting -- spice, cilantro, lime wedge, something, the unknowable objet petit-a that keeps us coming back.
The takeout spot -- it has seating for about eight, but most people buy and fly, especially during the busy lunch hour -- is co-owned by Wes DeRenouard and San Diego transplant Derek Burnell, who also runs the Round Corner Cantina, a Lawrenceville hot spot. The narrow storefront at 1108 Federal St., now dressed in warm red and soft yellows, was once occupied by Toula's hot dog shop, whose owner died, and whose building fell into disrepair and was later auctioned at a sheriff's sale.
This is a better and higher use (partly given the two other hot dog shops nearby, but doubly so in light of the building's condemnation), and with the only "competition" in the North Side coming from a Taco Bell a mile away, Munch suspects that El Burro's take on Mexican food will fill the neighborhood's burrito-shaped void quite snugly.
Will fame and fortune find El Burro? Will Derek Burnell be the next Guy Fieri, wearing preposterous bowling shirts all the time and opening a series of hyper-successful Mexican joints that ultimately gets savaged by The New York Times? Probably not. Which, when you think about it, is something we all ought to be thankful for.
And you know what? I just realized that "comedor" means "dining room," so never mind the part about the war donkey.
First Published November 22, 2012 12:00 am