In Eater SD’s new series, Highly Opinionated, Eater editors and contributors delve into one specific, oft-debated food obsession in San Diego. This month, as a part of our deep dive into all things cylindrical and hot, we take on the burrito — from an improved-upon twist on a classic carne asada burrito to a smaller but flavor-packed burrito that makes a perfect day-starter.
The California burrito is undoubtedly king in San Diego, but it’s far from the city’s only option. Our burrito scene is remarkably deep compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles. With more than a handful of styles common to nearly every taco shop or casual Mexican restaurant, not to mention the specialty burritos unique to each spot, it’s no wonder the dish is such an essential part of the city’s food culture.
Here are Eater’s current favorite burritos around town. Think we missed something? Send us your top picks and we’ll try them.
For the best twist on a classic: La Perla Cocina Mexicana #3’s King Kong burrito
Before I discovered the King Kong, my go-to was a chile relleno burrito. Built differently depending on the taco shop, it centers around a cheese-stuffed mild chile, either a dark green poblano or a skinnier Anaheim. They’re usually accompanied by rice or beans, although I prefer just a swipe of refried beans in the tortilla. But as someone who cannot stick to one item, I always felt compelled to tack on a little something extra, usually a single carne asada taco, to make it feel like a more complete meal.
So imagine my delight when I asked about the specialty burritos at La Perla Cocina Mexican #3, a frequent refueling spot after walks along nearby Shelter Island, and was told that the King Kong combined carne asada (one of the shop’s specialties) with my beloved chile relleno.
A cross-cut of the burrito reveals a battered poblano oozing with melted cheese at its core, the still-juicy chile retaining a pleasant bite and an earthy, grassy, and subtly sweet flavor like a regular green pepper leveled up to its true potential. More cheese, but not an excessive amount, loosely binds the rest of the filling: tender griddled bites of steak, fresh pico de gallo, and guacamole.
And despite its imposing moniker, the King Kong isn’t that huge. It’s a totally manageable size, big enough to satiate but not so enormous that you’re stuck with next-day leftovers and forced to deal with the horror of warmed-over guacamole. The King Kong can also be found at La Perla Cocina Mexicana #2 in Pacific Beach on Grand Avenue.
For pork lovers: Carnitas Uruapan’s Maggi Burrito
East County’s champion of carnitas for many decades, the restaurant has been in its La Mesa home for more than 10 years. While its drive-thru and location just off the highway make it a convenient stop for passing through, it also has a pleasant dining room.
Most popular are its dinner plates, which come with enough slow-cooked pork for one or two people, plus fresh garnishes like onions and cilantro along with rice, beans, and tortillas. But the plush, fall-apart meat, braised in its own fat with herbs and seasonings in the style of Michoacán, the Mexican state where the dish originated, also factors into my favorite burrito on the menu.
The Maggi burrito starts as a standard carnitas burrito that would be a highlight of any menu, the pork mixed with lardy, creamy beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole. But it goes a step further, incorporating pieces of chicharrones — the crunchy fried pork skin sold in bags at the front counter — which have been stewed until rehydrated and softened into super porky morsels with a gentle, springy chew.
Carnitas Uruapan’s burritos are hefty two-handers, but I prefer digging into the Maggi with a knife and fork, ferreting out the chicharrones to ensure that each bite contains at least one of the nubbly chunks. A few drops of spicy, habanero-orange hot sauce help to brighten up the pork-upon-pork richness.
For the best alternative breakfast burrito: Mujer Divina’s slender burritos
As much as I love to greet the day with a breakfast burrito, it can be a lot of food to commit to before being properly awake and caffeinated.
Enter the less taxing but no less gratifying burritos at Mujer Divina, a National City coffee shop run by Priscilla Curiel, the chef behind the award-winning birrieria Tuetano Taqueria. While their provenance can be traced back to the burritos de hielera — skinny, pre-prepared burritos usually sold out of a cooler— Curiel’s creations are made to order, the 10-inch flour tortillas wrapped around flavorful guisados, left open-ended and griddle-seared on all sides.
Tuetano’s 30-hour braised birria is one of the standout fillings, as is the machaca made from a family recipe (Curiel’s parents own a popular breakfast spot in Tijuana as well as Chula Vista’s Talavera Azul).
But I’m maybe the biggest fan of the simple but sublime papa con chorizo. The potatoes and onions cook together with beef chorizo, whose rendered fat infuses into the vegetables along with paprika, chile powder, and the warm spices from the sausage until everything is velvety. It comes with very good salsa macha and salsa taquera, but there’s really no need.
You might be tempted to eat two of these burritos, and that would be perfectly fair, but consider pairing one with a sweet shell-shaped concha, baked locally in flavors like strawberry, coconut, and mazapan.
Complete the morning trifecta with a coffee, brewed with beans sourced from Oaxaca and Chiapas. A traditional cafe de olla made with piloncillo and cinnamon seems like the move, but maybe an iced latte sweetened with cajeta is equally fitting.