New York City Burrito Odyssey: Pinche Taquería's California Bean & Cheese

09/10/2010 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Burrito season is in full swing, and given the nature of the daunting burrito-eating festival/competition ahead of me, I went simple on Tuesday--and not all that Mexican, to be perfectly honest: a California Bean & Cheese from Pinche Taquería in New York. Given the Pacific Ocean-inspired nature of this particular burrito, I matched it with a couple of Pacíficos, the Mazatlán beer that serves as the unofficial cerveza of choice among Sinaloan drug traffickers. Usually, Pacífico is the province of drinkers who want to display some savvy beyond Dos Equis or Corona, but with a California Bean & Cheese, it's absolutely essential.

Now, given my affinity to Mexican food, it may seem somewhat stupid to opt for an American version of the burrito so early in the game, but Pinche's reminded me of my boyhood home on the West Coast, where bean & cheese's are de rigueur at least two or three times a week--and many, many more if marijuana and/or soccer practice is involved. Every home in Oregon, Washington, and California is required to maintain a couple packages of tortillas in the freezer (ideally, one corn and one flour); a few cans of refried beans in the pantry (vegetarian or regular); and respective blocks of Monterey Jack, Jalapeño Jack, and Cheddar in the refrigerator. (This was one of the obscure laws that the governors of the Pacific Coast states dreamed up in a smoke-filled backroom and rammed through the state legislatures behind the citizens' backs.) To wit, Idaho has no such law, and burrito-eating has become a furtive, endangered practice in Arizona (Call it a "wrap," though, and you're fine.)

Interestingly, a recent commenter noted to me that burritos "aren't really Mexican," and another confirmed, saying that the burrito, as we know it, is really only available in Mexico's tourist areas. Naturally, "as we know it" is a bit elastic, because you can lie about how much you know about burritos almost as much as you want without getting called on it. Political candidates are wont to do this at restaurants while campaigning in Southwestern states; as long as they're somewhat sincere, I'm okay with this charade because it increases burrito awareness among the populace, or at least among those who vote.

I'm of the mind that a burrito is whatever ethnicity or nationality that the eater wants it to be, even if you're eating it in Stockholm. (And Stockholm burritos, as it turns out, are pretty good. Anne Skoogh, a Swedish food blogger, told the L.A. Times in 2006, "I would wager that every family in Sweden has tacos at least once a month, and maybe a third eats them every week.") Admittedly, tacos aren't burritos, but since we're dealing with Sweden, where "there don't seem to be too many Mexicans," according to the Times, I'm willing to be a little more lax here.

Because of its unique nature, a California Bean & Cheese cannot be rated by the traditional rules of burrito adjudication. For one thing, these bad boys are supposed to fall apart, unlike their lead-pipe brethren. Because there's no sour cream or vegetables involved, it's incredibly rewarding (and not at all gross) to be forced to eat half of it as a dip; that is, by tearing off pieces of the tortilla and using them to mop up the burrito's innards. If you had to use a bean-and-cheese as a weapon, you'd be better off unrolling the whole thing and using it as a smothering device, much like a sociopath would do with pillow or a really moist sponge cake. Seriously, this is one burrito that's better off serving as home plate than as bat; the best you'll get, hitwise, is a dribbler, and you'll only reach first if the catcher and pitcher have some sort of communications problem regarding who's going to go out and get the ball.

Ultimately, Pinche's burrito succeeds because of its ingredients. The refried beans are some of the best I've ever had outside of a West Coast metropolis. And as for the cheese, which pleasantly bubbles out in rich yellow and white, there is, frankly, a lot of it. This mitigates the beans' bean-ness (which, when wielded with the wrong hands, can get pretty out of control, no matter how good they are; this is a common problem with the aforementioned homemade jobs). Pinche's beans and cheese warmed each other like two dogs sleeping in the basket of a hot-air balloon, and the food stayed hot much, much longer than most of New York City's finest burritos.