And just like that, we're out of meat! It's been weeks since we began chronicling the national taco chains, breaking down their options one by one. First fish, then ground beef, steak, carnitas and chicken. But there is still one thing left to discuss: the vegetarian burrito.
In recent years, fast food outposts and fast casual chains have played to an emerging vegetarian demographic, often with success. But what do you really get when you order a vegetarian burrito?
First, let's look past the bean & cheese. Obama may not have mentioned this in his DNC speech, but as a nation it is imperative that we move past the bean & cheese as the only available option for vegetarians at our taco chains. The B&C has its place, of course, but real people looking for (at least an approximation of) real food deserve more than sloppy pinto beans and greasy cheese. All of the burritos in this tasting offer either a comprehensive vegetarian option or a fresh take on the bean & cheese burritos of old.
In trying veggie burritos from seven different chains, here's what we know works, and absolutely what doesn't.
- Main Ingredients:It doesn't have to be beans (although that's a protein-rich favorite), it just has to be prepared well. Other options like squash, mushrooms or peppers need to be sautéed enough to feel warm and lightly smoky or grilled, but still have plenty of textural crunch to go around. And nothing too weird in there, like canned peas or broccoli (more on that later). For black beans, they should be soft and still whole, but break up easily when biting through. Refried pinto beans shouldn't be so smooth that you can't pick out tender nuggets of beans still in the mix, and must find a balance between being too soupy and too pasty. Rice, another popular option, would ideally have some sort of additional flavoring tacked on, either cilantro and a touch of lime or more traditional Mexican burrito rice. Also, it shouldn't clump and stick together too much - we're not here to eat sushi-ritos.
- Toppings: With veggie burritos, the line can start to really blur between toppings and mains, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; they just can't hijack your flavor. Lettuce, pico de gallo, onions, cilantro and even corn salsa mixes offer great supporting flavors and textures while still letting the base ingredients satisfy your hunger. But when ten ounces of your one-pound veggie burrito gut bomb is pure guacamole and sour cream. We've got a problem. Go easy on the creamy stuff, unless you like indistinguishable mush wrapped inside a tortilla.
- Tortilla: Flour tortillas are widely used here, big round thin disks that stretch but don't break under more than a few packed ingredients. Preferential treatment will always be given to a tortilla with a little history on a griddle, which offers a light, warm crispiness in scattered bites. Steamed tortillas work just fine, but if your interior ingredients are nothing but a puddle of thin beans and guacamole, you won't be getting any support from your tortilla.
The Chains We Tried
*True, not a burrito, but much better than the burrito option in this case.