Today is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, an observance barely noticed in Mexico that has been celebrated with eating, dancing and explosives by Californians of Mexican descent since the late 19th century and, these days, by everyone else.
A Chicano holiday should be commemorated with Chicano cuisine, of which there is no dish more iconic than the burrito. Introduced to Los Angeles in the '30s and popularized throughout the Southwest in the '50s, the fat, rice-stuffed burrito is a thoroughly American creation, best avoided much south of Juarez.
Here are 10 really good ones to eat while contemplating the many contributions of the Mexican diaspora to our nation's culture.
The Cali Burrito: Roughly the size of a bouncer’s forearm and stuffed full of carne asada, french fries, guacamole and salsa, the version of this SoCal monstrosity at the Sellwood La Sirenita is the city's most horrific.
The King: So, we usually go to King Burrito for the burger, but when you're drunk and starving, you can do a lot worse than the $3.95 King, stuffed with saucy steak picado and a pair of chiles rellenos.
The Breakfast: I usually prefer the New Mexican standard breakfast burrito, with potatoes, egg, bacon, green chili and nothing else, but the rococo version at Woodstock's El Gallo is almost good enough to change my mind: $7.50 for a huge package of chorizo, eggs, potatoes, pepper jack, cotija, pico de gallo, cilantro and onions.
The Al Pastor: To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in Portland prepares the classic spit-roast version of this marinated-pork classic. That's OK—we'll make do with the sweet, tangy, nicely grilled version at El Nutri Taco ($5.50).
The Gut Grenade: Bora Bora was a surprise hit at this year's Eat Mobile festival, with its delicious spicy barbecue and chicken-suited hype man. While I'd usually order something more interesting than a burrito after making the trek out to city limits (Southeast 158th Avenue and Powell!), I will make an exception for the holiday and recommend La Burrona, an irresponsibly huge rice and bean burrito with your choice of meat. If you're man enough, order the cabeza.
The Carnitas: It takes some courage to enter Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon. Its neighbor, with whom it shares a parking lot, is a plasma bank, and de Leon tends to be surrounded by that establishment’s vacant-eyed and incompletely toothed customers. But it's worth it! De Leon is the best place anywhere in the metro area for carnitas. If you don't want to eat in front of the plasma zombies, zip around the corner to Columbia View Park.
The Cochinita Pibil: This is real Mexican food, denatured by its burrito wrapping. That's the way we like it, and we like it even better cooked in a converted double-decker bus protruding from the wall of Taqueria La Estacion.
The Vegan: We have not forgotten you, tofu-eaters. Taqueria Los Gorditos has cornered the market for meatless Mexican-American fare by—here's the crazy bit—actually bothering to put a little effort into their product. The Soyrizo burrito is a day's worth of calories for $5, and tastes almost like it isn't a soy product.
The Korean: God bless America! Here we have a fusion of not two but three cuisines: the Boolkogi beef burrito ($6) mates Korean beef with a Mexican tortilla, then, in classic American fashion, makes the tortilla much too large for a single meal.
Should you desire to eat way, way too many burritos, WW is sponsoring an ill-advised burrito-eating contest at Portland's Cinco de Mayo celebration this Saturday.