2496 Broadway, Golden Hill
I've rarely been more than a ten-minute drive to Los Reyes over the years, and for the past few it's been about a five minute walk. The place is entirely what I expect from San Diego burrito shop — beginning with cheap — and when I moved into the area, I considered its proximity a perk.
In fact, by that time I was finally getting over what verged on an addiction to the Los Reyes al pastor, a beautifully moist and savory take on the dish that I'd occasionally order as a taco, but more often as a burrito.
Maybe it's heresy of me to say that I prefer a Mission burrito to our local style. While I admit it's mind blowing to think anything with the name Mission wouldn't hail from San Diego, this burrito's what you get from places like El Farolito, in San Francisco's Mission District. The difference? Our burritos usually focus on meat, cilantro, onions and maybe some beans. A Mission burrito adds beans, rice, and if you're doing it right guacamole, sour cream and cheese. Sort of like a seven-layer dip in a giant flour tortilla. Can anybody fault that?
It didn't take long before I started asking the good people at Los Reyes to add some rice to my al pastor burrito. I'm pretty sure I asked for guac right from day one. As add-ons go, these are pretty typical requests. And at somewhere between five and six bucks per baseline burrito, I felt like I had some wiggle room to go larger without emptying the wallet.
As I got a little more brazen, the other Mission ingredients started making my way into the order. It probably wasn't until I heard myself saying, "Hey, maybe throw some lettuce on there?" that I started to think I might be getting carried away.
The important thing to note is they were willing to work with me. As I made my way through the different taco and burrito toppings Los Reyes had to offer, I even began to mix it up a little. No beans or cheese but maybe sour cream and cabbage to go with my carne asada. Authentic? I couldn’t pretend I was going for anything close. I simply became like a kid in a candy shop, where the candy consisted of jalapeños and grated cheddar.
But my finest moment came more recently, as I tried to decide between the flavorful carnitas and the mellow spice of the chile relleno. I ordered the relleno, then waited a beat. "Add carnitas," I said, my eyes daring, even steely. Or maybe just squinting —– it's tough to tell behind my glasses. My enabler on the other side of the counter raised an eyebrow, perhaps finally thrown by my audacity. "Okay," he shrugged.
And so, the carnitas chile relleno burrito, with rice and beans. And guacamole as a matter of course. The melted cheese of the relleno mixes with the slightly crisp chewiness of the carnitas. The rice absorbs the salsa roja generously poured over each bite (or verde, if you want to go super southwestern). The beans... do whatever it is they ever do. This is what having it all is like, with no royalties due to San Francisco.
Oh, I'm sure you can find such a thing there, and here, in restaurants with crafted names and real wood tables. But this is Los Reyes, my very own plastic, low-key local which serves horchata and will even make you pear juice if you want it. These are some of my favorite last-minute dinner flavors coming together in one excellent, maybe-8-dollars-and-change, burrito.
And soon afterward, this will be a nap.