1814 W. Chicago
$4.95 (plus 40¢ sour cream = $5.35 total)
Think comfort. As in comfort food in a comfortable environment. I was a little bit reluctant to include Tecalitlan in the bracket at first, on the theory that it just seemed too darn nice. It's the only restaurant we've been to so far where you actually have to wait to be seated, for instance, and the only one where the waiters are dressed in full uniform, including ties. But then I came to my senses and realized that there's nothing wrong with a little extra style -- provided that you aren't paying through the nose for it. You can go all upscale at Tecalitlan if you like, paying for $16 seafood dishes and $6 margaritas ... but you can also order a chorizo burrito for less than $5 and feed yourself for about a week. It's sort of like the heart of a little taqueria trapped within the body of one of those fancy dives on Wells Street.
The Food: When I encounter a burrito as large as the ones that you'll get at Tecalitlan, I've gotten into the habit of cutting it in half. This is partly to increase its photographic value, and partly to make it a little bit less intimidating to consume. When I did this today, I immediately realized that I'd made a mistake: about half the finely-ground chorizo came tumbling out, like candy out of a piñata. Really, though, the mistake might have been ordering a chorizo burrito to begin with. Chorizo is a fine ingredient for tacos, and a fine complement to any number of Latin dishes that run the gambit from breakfast to dessert. As the primary filling in a burrito, however, it tends to create some problems with structural integrity.
So, forgiving the fact that this burrito was a big holy mess that required the use of a knife and fork to consume, it was a pretty tasty affair. Tecalitlan's chorizo has a distinct and attractive flavor, tending toward the sweet side rather than spicy, with tastes of both paprika and cinnamon. It was also sort of mixed together with the refried beans into one continuous whole, which tended to reinforce the sweetness. The quality of the meat itself was decent, but it was perhaps ground up a little too finely to optimize texture. The tortilla was a strength -- thin and just slightly crispy. But the house salsa, a sort of spiced up pico de gallo, while very fresh-tasting and quite a nice complement to the free tortilla chips, was a little bit too weak to do much to augment the stronger flavors of the chorizo.
All in all, it was an above-average burrito that would be easy to mistake for excellent an one under the influence of a few of Tecalitlan's potent margaritas. But I suspect that it's not the best item on their menu, nor does it rank with the 'elite' dishes that we've tried in the competition so far (Traspasada's torta, Dona Naty's al Pastor, and La Pasadita's carne asada are clearly in the elite group; El Taco Veloz's chorizo tacos were close).
The Experience: This is where Tecalitlan really distinguishes itself; you're getting a more professional service experience for no more than you'd pay elsewhere. Particular bonus points go to the complimentary chips, which were perhaps the freshest that we've tried so far. My waiter seemed slightly surprised that I'd left about one-third of my burrito unfinished -- I can't really understand that reaction, since this burrito was easily big enough to satiate two normal-sized adults -- but he offered to wrap the rest of it up for me to go, which is always a nice thing to do.
Tecalitlan's interior is beautiful, atmospheric without being overwrought, the highlight of which is a fresco-style painted ceiling. The seating area is probably more designed for couples and groups than it for lone hungry wolves on their lunch break, but the bar area and the takeout counter represent alternatives, and you'll wind up feeling a little bit spoiled either way.
Posted by Nate Silver at 6:07 PM