WTF is the Burrito Bracket?
The Burrito Bracket is a competition to determine the best food and overall experience from among 19 cheap Mexican restaurants in Chicago's Wicker Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Each week, I will be visiting two restaurants and having the same item of food (carne asada burritos, for example) at each one. The restaurant that provides the superior experience advances to the next round of the bracket.
Why isn't Taqueria So-and-So Included in the Competition? I had a really great burrito there.
Probably because it isn't close enough for me to walk to. I do not claim that these are the best taquerias in the city of Chicago; rather, I'm trying to visit every taqueria within a reasonable walking distance, and see which of that subset is best.
Why are there 19 restaurants instead of some logical number like 16? What is up with these "eat-in" matches?
There originally were supposed to be 16 taquerias, which is a symmetrical number from the standpoint of a 4-round, elimination style competition. However based on feedback from friends and readers, as well as my travels around my neighborhood, I discovered that I'd excluded several restaurants on account of ignorance that would otherwise be qualified for the competition. Since the idea was to be as comprehensive as possible, these were added at a later date. This required some of the lower-seeded restaurants to engage in "eat-in" matches (essentially a zeroth/preliminary round) to reduce the size of the bracket from 19 to 16 restaurants.
Do you eat the burritos at the same time, like in a "taste test"?
No, but I try to go to them on consecutive days of the week, and I take notes on my experiences. It isn't a perfect method, but I believe it's the best available alternative for a number of reasons.
How is the particular item of food selected each week?
The most basic requirement is that the item is common to both restaurants that we are sampling. A lot of the more gringo-ized restaurants don't have something like pork al Pastor on the menu, for example, whereas at the other extreme, a couple of the carnicerias don't offer chicken (the only completely common ground seems to be steak/carne asada). A secondary requirement is that we try and vary the items at a given taqueria between different rounds of the competition in order test quality across its entire menu. So if for example I have a carne asada burrito at La Pasadita in Round 1, I will have some kind of meat other than steak (chicken or pork) and some kind of 'vessel' other than a burrito (tacos or a torta) if La Pasadita advances to Round 2.
As long as I stay within these parameters, then pretty much anything goes, but there are fewer degrees of freedom than you might think.
Why aren't any veggie burritos represented?
I like my meat, so mostly I'm just trying to keep my tummy happy (I probably eat lighter on average for dinner than for lunch, for what that's worth). I would also argue that you can learn the most about a taqueria based on the quality of its meat-based products, since there are more things that can go wrong in preparing them.
I may eventually have some guest bloggers working on a separate mini-bracket on veggie burritos.
Why are you doing this?
For fun. I eat a lot of Mexican food as it is, so all I'm really doing is organizing my lunch plans twice a week. It also gives me an excuse to goof around in a number of areas (food criticism, photography, web design) that I've always been curious about but haven't had a good reason to engage in.
Are there plans for another bracket-style competition once Burrito Bracket has concluded?
Not really, although I've considered the possibility of doing a 'Super Burrito Bracket' involving all of Chicago. It will mostly depend on how much enthusiasm I can maintain for Burrito Bracket by the time it concludes in December or January, and to a lesser extent, how many people are tuning in. Less likely, I'd branch out into other foods like sushi, pizza, burgers, or Midwestern microbrews. However, all of these things would make you fat, broke, or drunk if you ate them for lunch twice a week.
Burrito Bracket looks crappy in my browser.
Contact me at the e-mail address listed on the sidebar, but before you do that, get Firefox.
WTF is the Burrito Bracket?
Posted by Nate Silver at 5:17 AM