California Burrito from Sombrero's, Lakeside CAMy whole life I’ve eaten burritos.  I grew up in Long Beach, CA - a “suburb” of Los Angeles with 460,000 residents, the southernmost city in LA County along the coast.  My childhood consisted of the memories in between Mia Lupitas’ burritos smothered in Ranchero Sauce and half-off burritos from El Burrito Jr. when you tore the coupon out of the Seal Beach Sun.  

I’ve spent a hundred life-hours waiting for the Breakfast Burritos from Nick’s Deli, their potatoes seem to soak up the essence of chorizo better than any other I’ve had.  Let’s not forget the Carnitas at Super Mex either; my dad used to take me to the one on 1st and Alamitos before they opened one closer to home on 2nd.  

If you are what you eat, I’m more than 25% burrito.

California Burrito from Rudy's, Carlsbad CA
After living in San Francisco for 5 years I was surprised to discover a phenomenon that emerged while I was away from Southern California, the California Burrito.  My jaw dropped when I pulled into the drive-through of a Cotixan and asked what one consisted of.  

If I were to have guessed the contents of a California Burrito it would have been something with brown rice, black beans, avocado, maybe fish, maybe sprouts, and definitely a whole grain tortilla.  Much to my chagrin, they are something down a completely different path.

In my research at more than a half-dozen Mexican joints in the San Diego area, the common thread that binds them all is carne asada (steak, for you gringos), cheese, and potatoes - which are overwhelmingly in the form of French fries.

French fries?  Yes, French fries.  CA Burritos have more DNA in common with a cheeseburger and fries than they do to any real Mexican food.  No doubt they were the product of alcohol.  They are greasy and dense and warrant a post burrito nap or Metamucil, depending on how well they were prepared.

California from El Cotixan, Encinitas CA
What is most interesting is that controversy abounds at every turn regarding the California Burrito; where it orginated (was it really San Diego?), what restaurant first put it on the menu (many folks point to Santana’s), even what defines a true pure-breed (is it sour cream or guacamole?  Does pico de gallo come standard?).

Urban dictionary user, Ren Daasnes, states that a real CA Burrito has sour cream and if guacamole is substituted then it is an imposter, called a Cyrus Burrito.  Right or wrong, I love her logic.  Besides, how to better honor the founder of the Persian Empire by ordering a Cyrus Burrito at a Mexican drive-through?

California Burrito from La Gordita, Vista CA
In any case, the California Burrito is metastasizing.  It has been sited as far north as Sacramento (at Oscar’s), and I personally spotted one in Isla Vista, just north of Santa Barbara, at Cantina.  When done right, they can be phenomenal; synergistic, just like you would imagine when you combine two comfort foods, the burrito and the cheeseburger.

Be forewarned; however, when done poorly they can be disastrous.  The grease from the fries only fills the gaps in between the gristle of the carne asada and makes the salsa pool at the surface.  The two oils battle for your attention by dripping out the bottom onto your pants, making it look like you may have wet yourself a little while at lunch.

No bueno.

Next time you are in San Diego County, or see one in a higher latitude, check them out.  According to the San Diego Examiner, “Some of the top spots for the Cali meat-bombs in San Diego include La Posta de Acapulco's on Washington, Taco Surf in PB, Trujillo’s by State, Vallarta Express in CLMT and occasionally Santana’s.”


Authordavid koch
CategoriesHistory, Humor
8 CommentsPost a comment

Chili Shrimp Tacos with Mojito Cole Slaw

Gastronorgásmico, [and just in time] for Cinco de Mayo.  These just might be "my most perfect tacos," ever.  The heat of the chili powder in the shrimp is cooled by the mint and sweet jicama in the cole slaw.  The earthiness of the cabbage, the taste of the sea.  Que rico!

These tacos put me on a beach, the sand between my toes, the sound of the waves peeling off a right cobblestone point break in the background.  The heat of the midday sun beating against the nape of my neck.  A Corona in one hand, a taco in the other.  

This recipe was inspired in one part by a conversation with The Teenage Glutster about how one of the more underrated aspects of Mexican cuisine is mariscos, seafood.  In another part, these were inspired by my friend Biggie gifting us a jar of his homemade "Chilli Powder."

Some notes:  

"Chilli Powder" is Biggie's version of AB's Chili Powder by Alton Brown.  It contains dried ancho, cascabel, and arbol chilies along with cumin, garlic powder, dried oregano, and paprika.  You basically blend everything together and the result tastes like the store bought variety but with far more depth and punch.

FYI gringos, Cinco de Mayo is not "Mexico's 4th of July," that's on September 16th.  On May 5, 1862 the Mexicans beat the French in the Battle of Puebla.  Although Cinco de Mayo is not as widely celebrated in Mexico as it is in the US, it is still a celebration of Mexican culture.  So, salud.

The Jicama plant is native to Mexico and has an edible tuber that has the texture of a raw potato and is nearly as sweet as a pear.  It is wonderful sliced raw for crutide - and even better with a squirt of lime juice, some salt, and a dash of chili powder on top. 

I wanted a slaw with some sharp acidity to it to counter the heat of the Chilli Powder.  Lime was the natural choice but then I wanted some more depth and thought the mint would brighten things up and add a freshness.  The jicama adds the sweetness to the mojito which rounds everything out.  Lime, mint, and jicama + cabbage = Mojito Cole Slaw

The slaw takes a little prep, it can be done the day ahead, and the flavors get more pronounced over time.  The tacos take almost no time at all, maybe 6 minutes.  Note:  If Biggie didn't give you a jar of "Chilli Powder," you can use store bought Chili Powder and add some Cayenne Pepper.

For the Mojito Cole Slaw (printable recipe)

  • 1/2 a large cabbage, chopped into thin shreds
  • 1 large carrot grated or shredded in a food processor 
  • 1/2 a jicama, julienne
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons of mint, chiffonade
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • the zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt


Make the dressing first by adding the yogurt, salt, pepper, mint, lime juice, lime zest, and celery salt in a bowl.  Mix the cabbage, jimaca, and carrot together in a large bowl.  Then, incorporate the dressing and the cabbage mixture well.  Keep refrigerated.

Homemade "Chilli Powder"

For the Chili Shrimp Tacos (printable recipe)

  • 1 pound 36/40 Shrimp "Medium Large," or really, whatever size you like
  • 4 tablespoons of Chilli Powder (or, 3 tablespoons of Chili Powder + 1 tablespoon of Cayenne)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 2 large, ripe avocados, sliced into wedges

Heat the corn tortillas so that they are soft and pliable.  Over the open flame of a gas stove works best, otherwise, heat then in a dry skillet, turning once.  As they warm, wrap them in a stack in a kitchen towel tightly to keep them warm.

Rinse, de-vein, and clean all the shrimp.  Dry them well with paper towels.  Douse them with the salt, pepper, and Chilli Powder and toss them well so that the are evenly coated.

Bring a pan to medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil.  If you don't have a large enough pan, cook the shrimp in two batches.  Add the shrimp to the hot pan, turning, and cook through until they are pink, about 5 minutes.

Assemble the tacos.  Place a few shrimp into a corn tortilla, top with a healthy smothering of the cole slaw, 2 avocado wedges, and a dash of your favorite Mexican hot sauce.

Muy delicioso, viva Mexico!


Authordavid koch
12 CommentsPost a comment

I'm a big fan of soups.  They are usually easy.  They can be done quickly.  They are often cheap.  Who doesn't like cheap, fast, and easy?  Only communists.  That's who.  

This "Tortilla" Soup only requires about 30 minutes when you use one of those pre-cooked chickens from the supermarket.  I always stock onions, carrots, and celery and this whole thing, albeit delicious, was an afterthought.


A half an onion, one rib of celery, a large carrot, salt, pepper, oil, cumin, coriander, paprika, chicken, and water - oh yea, and tortilla chips.  A knife, a pot, and a

Authordavid koch
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These were amazing!  The meat was flavorful, and had just the right texture; tender, but not without a slight chew to it.  You could taste the cumin and chili, and though it wasn't distinct, the bay leaves added another earthy note.  The recipe made plenty and we reheated it two days later and I think it may have been even better.

Adapted from the recipe Mexican Pot Roast Tacos in Tyler Florence: Dinner at My Place.

  • 2 pounds beef chuck roast
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs ancho chile powder
  • 1 Tbs cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 3 bay leaves
  • fresh corn tortillas
  • cups shredded iceburg lettuce
  • 2 cups queso fresco, crumbled


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Season all sides of the beef with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, or other heavy pot on moderately high heat put 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown all sides of the meat.

Add the onions and saute until soft,  add smashed garlic and saute for an additional minute. Then add the crushed tomatoes and all spices.  Fill the pot with water until it just covers the meat and bring to a simmer.  

Cover and place in a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Let the meat cool in the liquid. Once it is cool, shred meat with two forks.  Set aside.


Assemble the tacos:

Lay some shredded beef as a base inside the corn tortilla. Top with queso fresco, salsa (homemade or the stuff from the deli section beats jarred hands-down), and shredded lettuce. If you like additional heat try some hot sauce like Castillo's Salsa Habenera Orange (careful, it's extremely HOT).  Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves, unless like my father-in-law, you're a member of the I Hate Cilantro Community...


AuthorAmy Koch