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NYC Burrito Challenge III: Dos Toros Taquería

09/13/2010 05:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Every food has a "cheater" ingredient, a sort of killer-app component of a recipe that can bail out even the most disappointing piece of work. While baking scones and muffins at Great Harvest Bread Co. in Portland, Oregon, I determined quite early that enough butter could save even the most over-mixed or under-flavored baked good; brown sugar was also effective at making people clamber for more. Cadillac used to feel this way about enormous trunks and spoked rims. The cheater ingredient in a burrito is guacamole, whose etymology the good people at Burritophile claim is based on a combination of the Nahuatl and Spanish words for testicle and lawyer, respectively. Guacamole is some serious business.

To Dos Toros Taquería in New York, then, to try the burrito judged by the New York Times to be "simple and succulent," "bright and balanced." This is pretty good alliteration, but fancy phrasing does not a good burrito make, and to be honest, the only real basis on which to judge a burrito is the quality of the burrito itself, not by the floridness of a particular restaurant critic's review. I mean, no one ever vouched for the Detroit Lions' prowess on the football field just because Paper Lion's prose is so good. You have to read Paper Lion and then watch the team on the field in order to form an opinion about them. In fact, you probably don't even have to read Paper Lion at all.

At Dos Toros, the guacamole is outstanding. It's so good in fact, that with its 92-cent price point, eating it feels like robbing a bank and then escaping scot-free on a school bus. Seriously, you feel like you're getting away with two things when you order it: the robbery and the lam in the hyper-conspicuous vehicle. In my experience, most guac doesn't have enough lemon, salt, and pepper -- a little confusing as these are the simplest and most readily-available ingredients in the sauce. With the possible exception of a minor pepper deficiency, though, Dos Toros gets the green right.

But at this point the taquería gets lazy, leaning on that guacamole to prop up an otherwise B/B-Plus burrito. The primary problem with Dos Toros is construction; these burritos are the Mexican-food equivalent of McMansions in a Sunbelt subdivision. It's impossible to work more than one-third of the way down the burrito before having it succumb to the pressures of being eaten. Food shouldn't succumb to consumption; isn't delivering a worthy culinary performance its job?

Most Dos Toros work is defective from the get-go: bean-leaking fissures formed before the tortilla is even rolled; half-melted cheese that really ought to make up its mind regarding its status as a liquid or solid; and puzzling wrapping techniques that don't allow for a foil exoskeleton that, at least in Dos Toros' case, would be an overwhelmingly welcome set of training wheels. According to the Times, Dos Toros boasts a "Californian" attitude, which in this case means a "laid-back confidence." Confidently laid-back is a more appropriate descriptor, though, because food always tastes better when it feels like the person preparing it actually wants you to enjoy it. Here, you get the distinct sense that the enjoyment sought by the staff is that of watching Dos Toros workers work at Dos Toros.

Don't get me wrong; the burrito is still an above-average creation, but since it devolves into a burrito salad three minutes into its eating, the unmerited cockiness with which it was prepared engenders some understandable resentment. It would be nice to see at least a little effort and industriousness behind this otherwise quite tasty product.

Obviously, there are better jobs in New York City than rolling burritos on Fourth Avenue, and I'm sure the good folk at Dos Toros would rather be soaring above Manhattan in hot air balloons, but to celebrate being "laid-back" when laxity that is the prime contributing factor in a product's dereliction just doesn't sit right. Now, though I am concerned that being a Mexican-food Puritan could be translated as being a chauvinistic New World friar fresh from Spain, when burrito quality is at stake, it's a risk I'm willing to take.