Blame it on flour tortillas, but it’s not every week that New York City gets a new burrito — let alone a restaurant devoted entirely to their craft. At Electric Burrito, two veterans from East Village cocktail bar Mister Paradise seek to do justice to the somewhat-maligned California burrito, some 2,700 miles from their home city. Their restaurant, located at 81 Saint Marks Place in the East Village, opens for takeout on May 17.
Electric Burrito is a collaboration from Will Wyatt, co-founder of East Village cocktail bar Mister Paradise, and Alex Thaboua, a San Diego transplant and general manager at the bar. Their restaurant serves close to a dozen burritos in total, including one very special, lesser seen version on this coast: the California burrito, a french fry-filled, refried bean-slathered tortilla commonly found in San Diego, but rarely in New York City.
The version of the dish Thaboua grew up eating, and the one he serves at Electric Burrito, is made with refried beans, cheese, french fries, and pico de gallo. In San Diego, they’re sometimes served with carne asada by default, but here customers have the option to order them with pollo asado or carnitas ($12 to $14).
The full menu also includes burritos made with bacon, eggs, crema, and chipotle portobello mushroom. A humble bean and cheese burrito, a school lunch staple in Southern California, is made here using a blend of cheddar, Monterey jack, asadero, queso blanco, and cotija cheeses ($8). Electric Burrito also serves tacos, by the way. They’re great, according to Thaboua, but in his words, “We’re not called Electric Taco for a reason.”
Electric Burrito previously had plans to serve canned hard seltzers based on cocktails from Mister Paradise, but the restaurant won’t be selling alcohol for its opening — and may never. Instead, Wyatt has created two housemade sodas for the restaurant’s menu. One, dubbed the Pico Pop, is made from “pico de gallo runoff,” that pungent mixture of jalapeno, tomato, salt, and lime that’s left at the bottom of a salsa bowl. Another, a riff on a lime soda, is made using spent lime husks.
When the duo announced its salsa soda over Instagram in January, one commenter responded — “This sounds gross dawg” — and for others who fall in that camp, there’s also a selection of bottled beverages, including Jarritos, Mexican Sprite, Coke, and Topo Chico.
Like countless takeout and delivery businesses across the city, Electric Burrito was born out out of the pandemic. At a time when many New Yorkers were feeding — and later, not feeding — sourdough starters under quarantine, Thaboua was making salsa. Specifically, he was trying to figure out the recipe for a slightly creamy, orange-colored salsa from one of his favorite hometown taquerias.
Eventually he found it, along with a bigger issue: Southern California salsas are only as good as the Southern California burritos they drench, which — in the case of New York — historically have not been very good. “The burrito culture here can feel like an afterthought,” Thaboua says. “You have all the ingredients to make amazing tacos. Why not throw in some rice and beans, add some meat, wrap it in a bigger tortilla, and call it a burrito?”
While there are a handful of standout burritos to be found in the five boroughs, few resemble those of San Diego, which are closer in style to the refried bean and cheese tacos at Yellow Rose in the East Village. More often, restaurant menus advertise Mission-style burritos, named for the Mission District in San Francisco and typically made from guacamole, rice, and whole black or pinto beans.
Why so few California burritos exist in New York is something Thaboua has reflected on for years, having moved to New York City over a decade ago. “One of the biggest factors is very few people leave San Diego,” he says. “It’s a very specific dish that comes out of a part of the country people tend not to move away from. It’s created this void in New York.”
Electric Burrito consists of a walk-up counter, a few wooden stools, and standing rails for eating on-premises. It’s about as casual as restaurants get, but getting to opening week has been “serious work,” Thaboua says, consisting of hours of recipe testing and building the restaurant out by hand. “These were eight hour days of cooking and figuring out whether to do two scoops of rice or add eight more fries,” he says.
The restaurant’s flour tortillas — a thorny subject for some chefs from the southwest United States — are the result of days of taste testing, during which Thaboua and Wyatt ate hundreds of raw and grilled tortillas. (The one they landed on comes all the way from Pasadena, roughly two hours north of San Diego.)
Then there’s Electric Burrito’s fries, a thinner, shoestring-style spud that’s also served at Mister Paradise. Salty and with a little bit of a chew, they appear in many of the restaurant’s burritos and also under heaps of cheese, guacamole, and salsa in the form of carne asada fries ($14). Thaboua will be the first to admit that the fries here aren’t quite as thick as the ones he grew up eating in San Diego, but they’re “absolutely perfect.”
Electric Burrito is open from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and noon to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.