In mid-January, when Mexican restaurant Nina’s Great Burrito Bar threw open its doors on the Upper West Side at 522 Columbus Avenue, near West 85th Street, the debut marked a culmination of decades of work for its namesake proprietor Nina Flores and her family.
Oaxaca-born Flores is the former owner of the Great Burrito, a shoebox-sized shop on the Upper West Side where she and her family sold burritos and quesadillas for neighborhood regulars for nearly 30 years. In 2020, complications with the building’s landlord brought the operation to a halt just as the city itself shut down, according to Flores’s daughter, Beatriz Flores. The family made a quick pivot to takeout and delivery, in partnership with neighborhood restaurateur Jeremy Wladis, and ending up being able to sustain the operation for nearly two years throughout the pandemic. That success has now morphed into Nina’s Great Burrito Bar, a full-scale, sit-down Mexican restaurant owned by Beatriz and run by the Flores family.
At the restaurant, the team is going beyond burritos to showcase a full range of their favorite regional Mexican dishes. That starts with huaraches, which Beatriz is proud to introduce to many New Yorkers who may not be familiar with the food, she says. Thick tortillas are stuffed with refried beans, shaped in the form of a sandal sole — hence the name, which translates to sandal in Spanish — and topped with queso fresco, crema, and a subtly spiced mole that Nina Flores perfected over decades at the Great Burrito. The menu also includes jalapeno-laced aquachiles from Veracruz; Yucatán-style slow-roasted, juicy cochinita pibil; and a few old, signature favorites, including chicken mole and ground beef burritos.
“We have family all over Mexico City and I grew up eating all kinds of different foods from there,” Beatriz says. “We’re trying to let everybody have a taste of everything that’s from Mexico.”
The restaurateur who they partnered with for takeout and delivery, Wladis, had turned over a couple of restaurants in the space where Nina’s Great Burrito Bar now stands, including Japanese spot Hachi Maki and a sushi joint, Sushi 85. After it was clear that Sushi 85 was going to close down — while the Great Burrito’s takeout operation, in the same space, was going strong — the initial plans for Nina’s Great Burrito Bar were born. Wladis now operates the bar while the Flores family runs the kitchen and dining room, which includes 70 seats indoors and 54 seats outdoors.
It had long been her mother’s dream, while running the Great Burrito, to open a full restaurant where she could serve a wider breadth of Mexican food, Beatriz says. Now, the name of the restaurant is a homage to Nina, who is not in the kitchen as much due to health complications, Beatriz says, but is keeping a watchful eye over the menu. “After many years of having the Great Burrito, she always wanted to have a nicer restaurant,” Beatriz says. “I think this is like a great way of integrating what we have with what she wants, and I think it worked out really well.”
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar is open for dine-in, takeout, and delivery from Monday to Thursday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar menu: