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Return of the big burrito

Beans & cheese, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and more from La Baja Mexican Food

A bean and cheese burrito from La Baja Mexican Food
A bean and cheese burrito from La Baja Mexican Food

Earlier this year, life circumstances led me to untie my bib, close the laptop, and take a break from scouting restaurants for Feast. I ate well at home, thanks principally to my wife’s skillful cooking, and to a rotation of fresh produce thanks to our weekly CSA Box from Oceanside’s Yasukochi Family Farms. While I wound up dining out with about the same frequency, and kept up the habit of spreading my business around to a bunch of different eateries, I pretty much stuck to one dish. I’ve been eating lots, and lots, of burritos.

Place

La Baja Mexican Food

10010 Campo Rd #B, Spring Valley

And not necessarily the burritos you might expect from a professional eater. The majority were what I consider San Diego’s most underappreciated specialty: bean and cheese burritos. I’d call them San Diego’s most undervalued specialty, but thanks to the inflation economy, I’ve seen a number of friendly neighborhood taco shops charging upwards of $9 of late. When I first started writing in this space, they cost less than $4.

If I cared to peel back the layers behind my bean and cheese burrito obsession, it’s possible I only started ordering them because they were cheap. But now they’re comfort food, almost a guilty pleasure I invariably seek out when I’m eating a meal nobody’s going to read about.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Most of the time, I don’t even add salsa. Just embrace the warm heap of refried beans and (mostly) melted cheese, the only semblance of structure coming from a (hopefully) overstretched flour tortilla, gnashed carefully closed with each bite to seal off the flow of hot, larded goop, in all its pasty, unphotogenic blandness. Are mashed pinto beans a food of last resort, or gastronomic miracle? I could make an argument either way.

Anyway, I’ve returned, refreshed and full of beans (approximately $300 worth since I last wrote in), and in possession of a new, go-to burrito spot.

Beer and sports are served at La Baja

There are a number of criteria to consider when deciding on a go-to burrito spot, and top of the list is locality. My go-to isn’t the same as my favorite — in a city this size, with so many great little Mexican restaurants, it would be a wild coincidence to find the county’s best burritos being made within five minutes of home. It also needn’t be my favorite taco spot. Tacos meet a different craving, and I have a different set of places to go for those, where I go in to eat them fresh. For burritos, what I’m after is a place I can call in a to-go order and be back home taking my first bite within fifteen minutes (okay… add a taco to eat on the ride home).

This still leaves plenty of options within five minutes of my home, most of them occupying a short stretch of Campo Road in Casa de Oro. There are Sarita’s Taco Shop and La Posta Acapulco, literally next door to one another. There’s a drive-thru of the local chain, Santana’s, and another that’s been home to many different shops over the past ten years — Rafa’s, Silva’s, Somos Tacos, and Cotija’s — but is lately called El Rey.

I’ve bounced between them all, but my go-to burrito stop is a different, recent arrival: La Baja Mexican Food, a medium sized shop, equipped with a small bar and TV broadcasting sports. It’s name suggests Baja styled dishes, but it doesn’t seem to strict an interpretation. Amid all the worthy mariscos and beef birria options, for example, you’ll find a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos menu.

A glimpse inside a Flamin' Hot Cheetos California burrito

Another thing I want from my go-to burrito shop is a willingness to go beyond the basic burrito. I like my bean and cheese ($6.50), and have no trouble getting down with a tortilla mostly stuffed with carne ($11). But sometimes I want to cram as much joy into that burrito as possible. And for those times, La Baja can provide me with the decadence of a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos California Burrito ($13). Crispy shoestring fries, plus crispy Cheetos crumbles, plus carne asada with guacamole and sour cream — you almost don’t need to add a pair of fried jalapeño poppers for and extra $2, but of course I’m inclined to do so.

However, the last criterion I look for in a go-to burrito spot is a willingness to modify my burrito. Unlike many San Diegans, I firmly embrace including rice and beans with whichever meat fills my rolled tortilla, and appreciate a shop that makes it easy to add or subtract ingredients from a menu item.

Primarily, I’m looking for a place that delivers a satisfying version of my true number one: a chili relleno burrito, add carnitas. I believe it should be a staple of every taco shop menu: a poblano chili stuffed with melted cheese, a smattering of rice, a smear of beans, and salty, crispy carnitas to balance the whole thing into one big, tough to finish, yet easy to love burrito.

The bib’s back on, and I’m ready to get back out there and try something different again. But it remains to be seen whether I’ll eat anything as satisfying. Stay tuned.

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A bean and cheese burrito from La Baja Mexican Food
A bean and cheese burrito from La Baja Mexican Food

Earlier this year, life circumstances led me to untie my bib, close the laptop, and take a break from scouting restaurants for Feast. I ate well at home, thanks principally to my wife’s skillful cooking, and to a rotation of fresh produce thanks to our weekly CSA Box from Oceanside’s Yasukochi Family Farms. While I wound up dining out with about the same frequency, and kept up the habit of spreading my business around to a bunch of different eateries, I pretty much stuck to one dish. I’ve been eating lots, and lots, of burritos.

Place

La Baja Mexican Food

10010 Campo Rd #B, Spring Valley

And not necessarily the burritos you might expect from a professional eater. The majority were what I consider San Diego’s most underappreciated specialty: bean and cheese burritos. I’d call them San Diego’s most undervalued specialty, but thanks to the inflation economy, I’ve seen a number of friendly neighborhood taco shops charging upwards of $9 of late. When I first started writing in this space, they cost less than $4.

If I cared to peel back the layers behind my bean and cheese burrito obsession, it’s possible I only started ordering them because they were cheap. But now they’re comfort food, almost a guilty pleasure I invariably seek out when I’m eating a meal nobody’s going to read about.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Most of the time, I don’t even add salsa. Just embrace the warm heap of refried beans and (mostly) melted cheese, the only semblance of structure coming from a (hopefully) overstretched flour tortilla, gnashed carefully closed with each bite to seal off the flow of hot, larded goop, in all its pasty, unphotogenic blandness. Are mashed pinto beans a food of last resort, or gastronomic miracle? I could make an argument either way.

Anyway, I’ve returned, refreshed and full of beans (approximately $300 worth since I last wrote in), and in possession of a new, go-to burrito spot.

Beer and sports are served at La Baja

There are a number of criteria to consider when deciding on a go-to burrito spot, and top of the list is locality. My go-to isn’t the same as my favorite — in a city this size, with so many great little Mexican restaurants, it would be a wild coincidence to find the county’s best burritos being made within five minutes of home. It also needn’t be my favorite taco spot. Tacos meet a different craving, and I have a different set of places to go for those, where I go in to eat them fresh. For burritos, what I’m after is a place I can call in a to-go order and be back home taking my first bite within fifteen minutes (okay… add a taco to eat on the ride home).

This still leaves plenty of options within five minutes of my home, most of them occupying a short stretch of Campo Road in Casa de Oro. There are Sarita’s Taco Shop and La Posta Acapulco, literally next door to one another. There’s a drive-thru of the local chain, Santana’s, and another that’s been home to many different shops over the past ten years — Rafa’s, Silva’s, Somos Tacos, and Cotija’s — but is lately called El Rey.

I’ve bounced between them all, but my go-to burrito stop is a different, recent arrival: La Baja Mexican Food, a medium sized shop, equipped with a small bar and TV broadcasting sports. It’s name suggests Baja styled dishes, but it doesn’t seem to strict an interpretation. Amid all the worthy mariscos and beef birria options, for example, you’ll find a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos menu.

A glimpse inside a Flamin' Hot Cheetos California burrito

Another thing I want from my go-to burrito shop is a willingness to go beyond the basic burrito. I like my bean and cheese ($6.50), and have no trouble getting down with a tortilla mostly stuffed with carne ($11). But sometimes I want to cram as much joy into that burrito as possible. And for those times, La Baja can provide me with the decadence of a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos California Burrito ($13). Crispy shoestring fries, plus crispy Cheetos crumbles, plus carne asada with guacamole and sour cream — you almost don’t need to add a pair of fried jalapeño poppers for and extra $2, but of course I’m inclined to do so.

However, the last criterion I look for in a go-to burrito spot is a willingness to modify my burrito. Unlike many San Diegans, I firmly embrace including rice and beans with whichever meat fills my rolled tortilla, and appreciate a shop that makes it easy to add or subtract ingredients from a menu item.

Primarily, I’m looking for a place that delivers a satisfying version of my true number one: a chili relleno burrito, add carnitas. I believe it should be a staple of every taco shop menu: a poblano chili stuffed with melted cheese, a smattering of rice, a smear of beans, and salty, crispy carnitas to balance the whole thing into one big, tough to finish, yet easy to love burrito.

The bib’s back on, and I’m ready to get back out there and try something different again. But it remains to be seen whether I’ll eat anything as satisfying. Stay tuned.

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