Wanted: One Good Burrito

Don't get me wrong -- I love a good Caracas-style arepa, and I think Salvadoran pupusas are top-notch. Argentines are rightly proud of their steaks; a Brazilian feijoada can absolutely satisfy; and the ceviches of Ecuador and Peru may represent the finest ways of preparing the fruits of the sea that mankind has ever devised. Nevertheless, despite the wonderful cornucopia of Latin American food that sits on America's doorstep and expands thousands of miles southward, the U.S. really got lucky by specifically sharing a border with Mexico. Because Mexican cuisine, and all of the elements it comprises (well, most of them anyway; some of those sauces are just too damn spicy), is the most perfect national cuisine of them all.

Though mole poblano is considered Mexico's national dish, the complexity of it renders it difficult to eat while watching television or reading a book; knife and fork are absolutely necessary here, or you'll look like a jackass. You make one bonehead move with this stuff, like temporarily setting it on your knee to change the channel, and it's all over the floor and your pants. Now, provided you don't watch TV or read while you eat, this isn't a problem. But to truly be recognized as gustatory royalty, though, a food must be equally accessible and enjoyable to TV-watching/book-reading eaters and non-TV-watching/book-reading eaters alike, which disqualifies mole poblano from such exalted status. This situation renders the burrito, by default if for no other reason, as the king of Mexican food.

For the burrito is -- and I mean no disrespect to the Chiquita banana here -- quite possibly the world's most perfect food. If you put guacamole on a banana, that banana gets worse, not better. Omnivores can enjoy burritos; vegetarians and vegans can, too. One-meal-a-day folks can get much farther on a burrito than they could with a less comprehensive dish, and that includes burrito's less-versatile cousins taco, enchilada, and tamale, all of which generally require at least two in quantity to fill up a plate. A burrito, of course, stands alone, and since the rice and beans are already rolled up and tucked inside, their respective separate placements on a plate aren't necessary either. All you have to do is put that burrito on a plate, and it's ready for one-handed dining. It's that easy.

With this respect for the burrito in mind, then, I've embarked on a quest to find the greatest burrito in the United States, exclusive of San Francisco. (Burritos there belong in their own class and deserve their own competition, a contest that's already been claimed and hosted by the San Francisco Chronicle. Including Mission-style burritos that are actually from the Mission would be akin to putting the Canadians in an ice hockey contest against Bangladesh and Jamaica.)

Preliminary results from New York City have been encouraging, but not altogether satisfying. No one in this fair city, it would seem after six straight days of burrito-eating, knows how to roll a burrito properly. Fissures and leaks abound, and typical New York craftsmanship tends to fall apart after just two or three bites. You should be able to kill a man by striking him over the head with a burrito, similar to what a Clue-style assassin would do with a lead pipe. If your plumbing bursts in the winter, you should be able to rig up a temporary solution with an uneaten burrito (what's more, in this situation, the burrito's ingredients will help filter the water as it sluices toward the faucet, thereby making frozen pipes a not-so-altogether awful problem).

The burrito competition will continue for an unspecified amount of time; I recognize that while it is quite hard to become sick of burritos, there nonetheless remains a non-zero probability that it can happen. I am also aware of the innate problem in a burrito competition, namely that it can and will entail consumption of sub-par burritos. In my mind, this "problem" is mitigated by the natural fact that a bad burrito is quite frankly better than a good anything else, so even America's cellar-dweller can't be that bad.

And now, it's time to eat burritos.