Fast, Cheap and Full of Veggies

March 13th, 2012  |  Published in Culinary Creative, Eat, Feature, San Diego Dining  |  5 Comments

While contemplating my inaugural article for Culinary Creative, I thought long and hard about what to write about. It would have to be good. It would have to be memorable. What could I write about that would leave an impression—something beautiful, something innovative, something International? With no inspiration to fit any of those categories, I decided to scrap the pretense and write my first article about something I am passionate about—burritos. Specifically, veggie burritos.

I didn’t grow up in California, and as a So-Cal transplant, burritos are still sort of a novelty to me. Even after the (what must be) hundreds of burritos I’ve consumed in the few years I’ve lived here, to me, they’re still a special food that I associate strictly with California. They’re cheap, everywhere, good for a quick meal, and with our proximity to Mexico, the authenticity can’t be beat.  However, vegetarian-friendly burrito options tend to be hit-or-miss. Not all veggie burritos are created equal, but thankfully I’ve put my time into doing the research and I’m here to share my results. First though, are my four essential qualities of a good veggie burrito.

  • A good tortilla. This goes for all burritos, not just veggie, because a good tortilla is essential to a tasty burrito. It’s the foundation. A good tortilla is always warm & floury, and a little too big for the burrito itself. That way there’s always those few bites at the end where the extra tortilla overlaps, and those are the best parts.
  • A wide assortment of non-meat ingredients. A certain chain, which will remain nameless, but that my friends and I like to call “Regretto’s,” gave me a bean and cheese burrito topped off with what must have been a pound of shredded iceberg lettuce and tried to pass it off as a veggie burrito. Let it be known: that is officially NOT cutting it. I need something else—rice, potatoes, guacamole, sour cream … salsa, at least. The possibilities are practically endless.
  • High quality veggies. Another chain, which will also remain nameless, has a grilled veggie burrito that I ate in a moment of hungry desperation after a whopping nine months without a real Southern California burrito. The grilled veggies weren’t so much grilled as they were soggy and water logged. It’s not often that a place will put Portobello mushrooms in their veggie burritos, but unfortunately it’s a moot point, because mushy mushrooms never make for a good burrito. You would (hopefully) never put bad meat in a California burrito, so why put bad veggies in a veggie burrito?
  • A good deal. I’m a college student and unless my parents are in town, I don’t have six dollars to blow on one burrito. And considering vegetables are cheaper than meat, veggie burritos should always be a good deal! Unfortunately, such is not the case. If it’s going to be the same price as a meat burrito, at least include the guacamole for free.

With my criteria out of the way, here are my top three favorite places to get veggie burritos. These are the places that satisfy my high standards—the places I’ll gladly make a special trip for, the places I get cravings for, and the places I flock to on weekend mornings after a night on the town. (Pro tip: burritos are the best for hangovers).

El Zarape: (4642 Park Blvd, between Madison Ave & Spalding Pl)
Before I launch into how amazing their burritos are, let me be clear: there are two locations, Taqueria El Zarape on Adams, and the one I’m referring to on Park. While I’ve never been to the Adam’s location, I’m sure it’s just as delicious (plus they have tequila).

Every time I go to El Zarape, I order the veggie supreme burrito. I can’t help it. It’s a delicious mix of rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, potatoes, sour cream, and guac, all wrapped up in a delicious warm tortilla. Paired with the green house-made salsa, which has a creamy cilantro flavor, it is out of this world. At $4.99, it’s big enough for two small meals, or if I’m feeling particularly ravenous, one complete meal that will keep me full all day. With a surprisingly large menu, a friendly staff, and a brightly-colored interior full of Mexican artifacts, I think El Zarape is my favorite choice for burritos.

Lucha Libre: (1810 W. Washington St) 
I’ve never gotten a burrito “to-go” at Lucha Libre, because eating there is just as important as the burrito itself. Named and designed after those iconic masked Mexican wrestlers, the interior is full of colorful, energetic fun. There’s even a winner’s booth, completely covered in gold, which you can sit in if you have the foresight to call a day in advance. Located near the airport, Lucha Libre is often the first or last burrito that I take visiting friends and family to enjoy.

Lucha Libre has a whopping twelve vegetarian options, but the best deal for the budget-conscious is the Build-Your-Own. For the low price of $4.25, you can choose four ingredients from beans, rice, fries, lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, guac, and cheese, with extra ingredients for a small additional fee. Personally, I usually go for rice, beans, fries, cheese and guac, since apparently I like to eat like I’m a marathon runner carbo-loading before a race. The fries are hand sliced and fried fresh, which makes for the perfect crunch. Between the atmosphere of Lucha Libre and the incredibly well-priced and substantial Build-Your-Own burrito, it holds its own among San Diego burrito superstars.

Taco Surf: (4657 Mission Blvd, between Diamond St & Emerald St)
Taco Surf is my go-to spot in Pacific Beach. Their authentic surfing-themed interior and close proximity to the breakers make it a favorite among local beach-goers—you may recognize Taco Surf’s iconic logo on hundreds of bumpers all over the city.

Even though I’ve only eaten at Taco Surf a handful of times, their build-your-own veggie burrito still holds a special place in my memory. For $5.55, you get beans plus your choice of four of the following ingredients: cheese, guacamole, sour cream, rice, hash browns, black olives, lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, mushrooms, grilled onions, and bell peppers. Taco Surf definitely wins my vote for best ingredients—I don’t think I’ve ever been able to narrow it down to just four.

There you have it, my favorite places to get veggie burritos in San Diego. These may be my favorite, but they are by no means the best or the only places. What are your favorite places for vegetarian burritos? I’d love your comments and recommendations.

Erin Emiko

Erin Emiko grew up in Portland, Oregon, immersed in the culture of what has become one of the finest food cities in America. With food carts, farmers markets, & good coffee in her blood, she came to San Diego for college & brought her passion for food with her. “Loose vegetarian” since 2009, veteran of San Diego Farmers Markets, & Española at heart, Erin has four passions in life: art, travel, good food, & the space in which all three converge.

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  • I loved this post Erin – I tried the veggie burrito at El Zarape and was blown away by how good it is – I think it's the potatoes (mashed to creamy perfection with delightful spices) they must put crack in them. Thanks so much, can't wait to try Lucha Libre and Taco Surf too!

  • Ryan

    I think the most underrated burrito in all of SD is at Ranchos located in North Park and Ocean Beach. They cater to vegetarians and vegans and everything is FRESH. El Zarape forgets to provide chips with burritos, which, for me, is a deal breaker.

  • Good to know. Which burrito do you like best at Ranchos? I'd love to try it. I think at El Zarape you only get chips if you order in (or at least I've always gotten them), but to-go orders never have chips.

  • Erin Emiko

    Thanks Jeniffer! I love the guacamole too…but really I just love everything about it.

    Ryan, I think Jeniffer may be right. I always eat in because I can't wait to eat my burrito, & I've gotten chips. Ranchos is amazing too, though.

  • Erin- Great, great post! I haven't been to Taco Surf in YEARS, and you motivated me to head down there and try out their veggie special. The last really deelicious burrito I had was the Chili Relleno burrito at El Zarape. Look forward to reading more of your posts. 🙂