Bay Area Bites Guide to 10 Favorite East Bay Burrito Spots

Carne asada and carnitas burritos. (Kim Westerman)

While burritos are ubiquitous in U.S. Mexican restaurants, some argue that they aren’t an authentic Mexican dish. Indeed, the history of the burrito is a muddled one. Researchers have traced their origin to central Mexico in 1895 — likely the clever, practical result of wrapping just-cooked food in a tortilla to keep it warm — but they only exist today in the northern part of the country, the province of flour tortillas (as opposed to corn).

Throughout Chihuahua, for example, you’ll find small burritos of thin (and not super-glutinous) tortillas wrapped around just two ingredients: meat or fish and beans or potatoes. In other words, a real burrito doesn’t resemble anything we find today in the Bay Area.

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That said, we sure do eat a lot of them. Burritos in the U.S. have experienced much the same fate as has pizza in North American hands: anything goes. More traditional Mexican restaurants have developed their own burrito styles within the general parameters of rice, beans, and animal protein, while less traditional are all over the map in terms of fillings. Both tend to be enormous, enough for two or more people to share, and both styles are discussed here, primarily because the latter offer more variety for vegetarians. And I haven’t considered tortillas at all, as I have yet to find a flour tortilla in a burrito joint that I would recommend on its own merit.

For the sake of consistent comparison, I primarily tried carne asada and carnitas burritos, but also went for promising vegetarian options and pursued a few one-off standouts recommended by friends.

This is an Oakland-heavy list because of its destination neighborhood for Mexican food, Fruitvale. Berkeley gets a few hits in the traditional department as well, and the more experimental vegetarian styles tend to appear in the hipster lands of downtown Oakland and West Berkeley. Richmond also has a solid collection of Mexican restaurants that made the cut for burritos.

Did I miss your go-to burrito spots in the East Bay? Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

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Mi Grullense, the always-hopping duo of trucks outside the Goodwill store on Fruitvale and 30th, is one of my top three taco places in Oakland, so it’s no surprise that their burritos stack up. The asada is chopped small, which allows pieces to get crispy on the griddle, and the meat-to-other-ingredients ratio is high.

Burritos are served with whole pinto beans, melty white cheese, and the usual short-grain-rice. The carnitas are among the best I’ve tried in the East Bay, crispy but not greasy, and medium-chunky. Make sure to ask for salsa, a slightly bitter, medium-spicy, pureed chile blend (mostly arbol).

Mi Grullense
1301 30th Ave. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94601
Ph: none
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 8am-midnight; Fri-Sat, 8am-2am
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)
Cash only

Mi Tierra is a grocery store in West Berkeley that has fresh-pressed juices in the morning, made-to-order burritos all day, and a killer selection of piñatas. The destination burrito here is desebrada, moist shredded beef, made mojado style (smothered in a bright, tart, and mildly spicy green chile sauce and white cheese). I’ll be back for the carnitas, big chunks of crispy pork just hacked off of a big hunk of shoulder.

While their flour tortillas are packaged (as are those of every burrito spot on this list), they’re the best I’ve found for my own home use—flaky, relatively light, and not too chewy. I love going in at midday and waiting in line at the counter with the neighborhood crowd, an interesting mix of laborers, hipsters, and moms.

Mi Tierra
2082 San Pablo Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94710
Ph: (510) 540-8946
Hours: Daily, 7am-9pm
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

La Mission Mexican Grill, a welcoming spot on the University Avenue strip in Berkeley, is a place I’d never been until a friend recommended their spicy chicken mole. While I typically wouldn’t think of mole as a burrito filling, this version was unabashedly spicy, which I appreciated, and full of surprisingly tart pickled onions. But it worked, as did the lamb barbacoa, which I got with black beans instead of the requisite pintos.

For the sake of due diligence, I also tried the carne asada, a solid bet, though not as exciting as the other two. The rice here is a bit longer-grained than the norm, and it’s good for absorbing the wonderful sauces.

La Mission Mexican Grill
1255 University Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94702
Ph: (510) 845-5898
Hours: Mon-Sat, 8am to midnight; Sun, 9am-11pm
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

Picante, in West Berkeley, was one of the first Mexican restaurants in the East Bay pitched to a broad audience, with a focus on well-sourced ingredients. Over the years, the menu has gotten unwieldy and the quality of the cooking, quite unpredictable. But it’s still a good choice for vegetarian burritos, especially the carbo-laden rajas con papas: roasted poblano peppers with soft, peeled potatoes, caramelized onions, pinto beans (or black, if you prefer), and crema.

Another vegetarian mainstay is the legumbres picadillo: potatoes, carrots, and zucchini in an ancho-guajillo chile marinade with crema. The carnitas is also respectable, though more stewy than crispy.

Picante
1328 Sixth St. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94710
Ph: (510) 525-3121
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-10pm
Facebook: Picante
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

Two places on this burrito tour offered suadero, a beef cut from between the belly and the leg — and it’s the best meat I can think of for rolling up in a tortilla because, while while carne asada and carnitas lose any crispiness they might have started with in the steamy confines of a wrap, suadero isn’t meant to be crispy, just meltingly fatty, along the textural lines of beef cheek.

El Paisa@.com, oddly named as the place doesn’t seem to have an online presence, was recommended to me by a friend for its organ meats. While I’ll eat just about anything, I don’t go out of my way for offal, but this is a kitchen that treats all its meats with care, and then pairs them up with crazy-good salsas. The medium green is lovely on the suadero, while the slightly bitter red is good with the carnitas. The asada, pleasantly salty and coarsely chopped, goes well with the pickled jicama, quite spicy and addictively crunchy.

Taqueria El Paisa@.com
4610 International Blvd. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94601
Ph: (510) 534-2180
Hours: Daily, 9am-9pm
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

One of two Richmond burrito finds, Taqueria La Bamba looks like a 1950s drive-in. Once inside, the atmosphere is oddly sedate, with bad lighting and no music. But the food is more thoughtful. The carne asada is smoky and tender, and the carnitas a perfect combination of soft interior and crispy edges. Both are rolled up, without fanfare or choices, with pinto beans and rice cooked in a little tomato sauce, with pico de gallo upon request (recommended).

Taqueria La Bamba
12345 San Pablo Ave. [Map]
Richmond, CA 94805
Ph: (510) 235-2288
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-10pm
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

The other Fruitvale truck I found that serves the elusive suadero, Tacos Sinaloa, also has excellent carnitas. There are two trucks on the same lot; one serves seafood dishes in addition to the rest of the menu. So, if you’re ordering only meat items, choose the shortest line. There’s almost always a wait, but the line tends to move quickly.

The suadero is juicy and delicate, with thin sautéed onions and dark, medium-spicy salsa, while the carnitas is as good as they come: crispy and deeply flavorful. The friendly servers will add any condiments you like for free, including raw onions and cilantro.

Tacos Sinaloa
2138 International Blvd. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94606
Ph: (510) 535-1206
Hours: Daily, 10am-10pm (truck hours are irregular, so call ahead)
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)
Cash only

Tres Hermanas is my favorite of the new places I tried, a sit-down restaurant in Richmond that’s open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner. I ordered a desebrada (shredded beef) burrito at the recommendation of our server, and a carnitas, too. Both were generously meat-centric, not weighed down by beans, the latter served with chopped white onions, a nice touch.

The desebrada is one of the few burritos I ordered as “super” because the guacamole had just been made and it was a very simple version, as I think good guacamole tends to be: just avocadoes, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. I’ll definitely be back to try their big breakfast plates in the near future.

Tres (3) Hermanas
12622 San Pablo Ave. [Map]
Richmond, CA 94805
Ph: (510) 237-1094
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 8am-7pm; Fri-Sat, 8am-7:30pm; Sun, 8am-5pm
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

Xolo is the new Mexican restaurant from the owners of Doña Tomas and Tacubaya, and I recommend it here particularly for its vegetarian burritos. While they’re smaller and more expensive than average, they’re made with actual vegetarians in mind, not just people who want to avoid meat. The hongos (mushrooms) comes with sautéed crimini mushrooms, avocado salsa, black beans, rice, cheese, and cilantro.

There’s a compelling smokiness in the combination, either from the salsa or the mushrooms themselves. But if you want extra salsa, you’ll have to fork over $.75 for a tiny cuplet. The chile relleno burrito sounds unappealing, but the crispy, cheese-stuffed poblano is quite delicious with black beans and a mild tomato-chile sauce.

Xolo
1916 Telegraph Ave. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 986-0101
Hours: Mon-Tues, 9am-10pm; Wed-Thurs, 9am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 9am-midnight; closed Sundays
Facebook: Xolo
Twitter: @XoloTaqueria
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

I showed up at Taqueria Los Comales early during weekday lunch, and was surprised to find no one sitting at tables, but a line out the door and down the block. I went straight for my two stand-bys, carnitas and carne asada burritos, and both were pleasantly small, with ingredients chopped finer than average, making for easy blending of ingredients (as opposed to big chunks of this and that).

The carne asada dice was downright tiny, and the carnitas was practically delicate. Both are served up from a steam table, where you can ask to add ingredients impromptu. For me, the biggest draw was the salsa bar, with one of the fieriest habanero purees I’ve found. Its natural fruitiness worked well on both burritos, even in small amounts.

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Taqueria Los Comales
2105 MacArthur Blvd. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94602
Ph: (510) 531-3660
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-8:30pm; Sat, 9am-4pm; closed Sundays
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

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