Lunchtime lines at Chipotle notwithstanding, New York has never has never really embraced the burrito with the same fervor as San Francisco, San Diego, or Los Angeles. I eat tacos multiple times a week; I eat burritos once every other year — at the most. In fact in certain gastronomic circles, it’s almost common to ask if someone is pro-burrito (or anti-burrito) before suggesting the brick-sized foodstuff as a meal option. The burrito is never a given in New York the way a bagel, BEC, or pastrami sandwich is.
Alex Stupak runs three restaurants in Manhattan. All of them sell tacos; only one of them, Empellon Al Pastor in the East Village, sells a burrito. “I tend to dislike burritos not out of snobbery but because I often find them to be too big and I dislike it when there is too much rice in relation to everything else,” Stupak tells me in an email.
This perhaps explains why Stupak’s burrito is lighter not just on rice but on meat as well. It is a breakfast burrito. This is curious because Al Pastor isn’t open for breakfast. In fact during the week it isn’t even open for lunch, which means even late risers who take their eggs after midday are out of luck until 4 p.m. I thought about the gentle irony of this situation, and then I remembered that Stupak, once the pastry chef at both the avant-garde Alinea and the erstwhile WD~50, never likes to make things easy.
I flipped through the essay section of his website — he once penned a screed about how he’d never sell tacos at one of his restaurants, which he eventually backtracked on — and within seconds found this gem of a line: “I decided to put these breakfast burritos on the menu at Al Pastor where we have zero intention of ever actually opening for breakfast.” Classic Stupak.
So last night I swung by Al Pastor, sipped at a mezcal pina colada, and ordered a breakfast burrito. It arrived in under ten minutes, griddled and split in two. The flour tortilla was filled with a modest supply of achiote rice, a sturdy portion of hard scrambled eggs, a hint of chihuahua cheese, and bits of bacon and chorizo laced throughout. The dish tasted precisely like its component ingredients: smoky, spicy, salty, melty, and fluffy.
On the side was an oversized cup of “modified Valentina” salsa made from tomato, serrano chile, chipotle, garlic, and pig’s foot broth. It’s “designed to be like a tomato soup that is almost too spicy,” Stupak says, and it’s best use here is for dunking, imparting the burrito with a dose of heat and a current of acidity.
And while a burrito at Chipotle can turn into an evening-ending affair, Al Pastor’s $9 offering is substantially lighter; I was still hungry enough to eat two tacos afterward. It might not turn New York into a burrito loving town, but I’ll be back to try it again. I’m calling it a BUY.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).